VOA Journalist Mark W. Hopkins

Mark Hopkins was expelled from China for reports on Tiananmen Square.
Mark Hopkins was expelled from China for reports on Tiananmen Square. (Family Photo)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mark Wyatt Hopkins, 75, a Voice of America journalist who died of complications from liver cancer Sept. 25 at Sibley Memorial Hospital, broadcast from China's Tiananmen Square as tanks rolled in to crush the 1989 student demonstrations. He also was the first to alert the world in 1991 to former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's ouster in Moscow.

Mr. Hopkins, a Washington resident, was one of a number of journalists expelled from China for his reporting on the massacre in Beijing. He had worked in China earlier, establishing the VOA's first bureau in Beijing from 1982 until 1988, learning the Chinese language and covering earlier student demonstrations.

The VOA's Chinese-language broadcasts at the time were a key source of information for student demonstrators, The Washington Post reported in 1986, relying on VOA news programs for information about their own demonstrations and about similar protests in other Chinese cities.

Mr. Hopkins returned to China in 1989 to help cover Tiananmen Square events until he was kicked out a month after Chinese troops forcibly cleared the square, killing an unknown number of demonstrators.

At the time of his expulsion, he told the Milwaukee Journal: "The city has gone silent. The people who have another version of what's happening aren't speaking. They're afraid to talk to us. They can meet with a foreign journalist and later get picked up and interrogated for a few hours or a day. For the Chinese, that's nasty business. The army and the secret police are running the city right now. They can do just about anything they want to do."

Two years later, Mr. Hopkins was at the epicenter of another world-altering event. He was the Moscow bureau chief when the Soviet Union collapsed and covered the emergence of Russia and the former Soviet republics as separate states, as well as the attempted overthrow of Gorbachev. He won an Overseas Press Club award for his coverage.

From 1994 until retiring in 1996, he was chief of the London News Center. He then became the VOA's first ombudsman, spending a year as a critic of the organization's news coverage.

His longtime friend Tom Blinkhorn said Mr. Hopkins combined a strong sense of integrity about the news with an engaging conversational style of interviewing. "The cadence in his voice was such that he was able to make people comfortable, even people I knew . . . he detested," said Blinkhorn, a former journalist and World Bank official. Mr. Hopkins was born in Peoria, Ill., and served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1955. He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1956 and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in 1958. He also received a certificate from the Russian Area Studies program at the University of Wisconsin.

Mr. Hopkins joined the Milwaukee Journal in 1961 to work as a reporter, editorial writer and editor, specializing in Soviet and Russian affairs. A decade later, he went to Yugoslavia on an Alicia Patterson Foundation fellowship and later joined the VOA. He set up the organization's first bureau in a Communist country, in Belgrade. He subsequently worked in Munich as the VOA's eastern European branch chief.

Mr. Hopkins wrote "Mass Media in the Soviet Union" (1970) and "Russia's Underground Press: The Chronicle of Current Events" (1983), as well as a number of trade magazine articles. In retirement, he accompanied several National Trust tour groups to China, serving as a lecturer, and he traveled to Eastern Europe.

His marriage to Mary Jean Hopkins ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 18 years, Elizabeth Davies of Washington; four children from his first marriage, Jon Hopkins of Milwaukee, Elizabeth Hopkins of Washington, Paul Hopkins of North Adams, Mass., and Amy Silver of Chevy Chase; a brother; and 10 grandchildren.

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