• Ideas
  • Mar 03, 2021

Capital Thaw: Beijing Dissidents on Film

Portrait of the art group, STARS, 1980. Copyright Helmut Opletal. All images courtesy AC Films, Inc.

The title of Beijing Spring (2021)—Andy Cohen and Gaylen Ross’s heartfelt, candid, and well-crafted documentary—refers to a brief, tumultuous watershed in Chinese history that began with Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976 and ended with the crackdown on Beijing’s Democracy Wall (a public forum of sorts where citizens put up big-character posters critiquing societal issues); the arrest of activist Wei Jingsheng, who racked up 18 years in Chinese prisons; and the shutdown of the avant-garde Stars Art Group’s open-air exhibition in late 1979.