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The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisitedby Louisa Lim
Synopses & Reviews
A quarter of a century after the People's Army crushed unarmed protestors in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the defining event of China's modern history remains a taboo subject. The consequences of Tiananmen Square are visible throughout China, in the collapse in moral values, widespread official hypocrisy, rampant corruption, and the government's obsession with maintaining stability; likewise, its impact on the nation's art, literature and music is everywhere apparent. Nor have the effects been constrained to China; though the killings of June 4th have been consigned to silence, this event unleashed the forces that shaped the country into a world power.
In The People's Republic of Amnesia, NPR's award-winning China correspondent Louisa Lim offers a new account of this seminal event, detailing the enormous impact the tragedy had on China and the reverberations that followed. Interweaving portraits of eight individuals whose lives have been shaped by the events of June 4--including a soldier who took part in the suppression, a diplomat at the scene, a student involved in the protest and a young student in China today--Lim provides a window into Tiananmen Sqaure unlike anything written before. Based in Beijing, Lim conducted hours of first-hand interviews and on-the-ground research into materials that have only recently come to light. With fluid prose and an eye for detail, she presentsTiananmen from the perspective of the survivors and student leaders; discusses the quarter-century campaign on the part of Chinese officials to control memory of the event; and considers the legacy of Tiananmen in China today.
No one has attempted to write such a book from inside China before. Lim's work is a valuable addition to literature on Tiananmen, offering balance and retrospective analysis from an insider who has witnessed its effects first-hand. The People's Republic of Amnesia is a timely survey of how the events of June 4th changed China, and how the world is still coming to terms with the implications of those changes.
"In 1989, an unprecedented outpouring of public support for democracy, human rights, and good governance arose in China, but after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, the country set about assiduously forgetting the entire episode. Lim, a journalist with years of experience in China, uncovers stories from that summer, still untold after 25 years, and explores the ways they have consciously and unconsciously seeped into the state's psyche. Even now she is taking a calculated risk: 'As the boundaries of what is considered politically acceptable in China narrow, the subtle algebra of self-censorship has steadily diminished free expression both within China's borders and beyond.' The concurrent protests and summary executions that Lim uncovers in Chengdu are almost completely unknown even in China, although afterwards 'public enmity toward the police... was so intense that policemen stopped wearing their uniforms,' and she argues that similar events occurred in dozens of cities. Tracing the fallout of Tiananmen in moving portraits of victims, soldiers, activists and officials, she probes the fissures of the aging dissident movement. Of the new generation, Lim says, 'I once asked a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Yunnan what she dreamed of doing when she grew up. Ã¢Â€Â˜I want to spend time with corrupt officials,' she answered. Ã¢Â€Â˜The more corrupt they are, the better.'' (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"One of the best analyses of the impact of Tiananmen throughout China in the years since 1989." --The New York Times Book Review
On June 4, 1989, People's Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, killing untold hundreds of people. A quarter-century later, this defining event remains buried in China's modern history, successfully expunged from collective memory. In The People's Republic of Amnesia, Louisa Lim charts how the events of June 4th changed China, and how China changed the events of June 4th by rewriting its own history.
Lim reveals new details about those fateful days, including how one of the country's most senior politicians lost a family member to an army bullet, as well as the inside story of the young soldiers sent to clear Tiananmen Square. She also introduces us to individuals whose lives were transformed by the events of Tiananmen Square, such as a founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, whose son was shot by martial law troops; and one of the most important government officials in the country, who post-Tiananmen became one of its most prominent dissidents. And she examines how June 4th shaped China's national identity, fostering a generation of young nationalists, who know little and care less about 1989. For the first time, Lim uncovers the details of a brutal crackdown in a second Chinese city that until now has been a near-perfect case study in the state's ability to rewrite history, excising the most painful episodes. By tracking down eyewitnesses, discovering US diplomatic cables, and combing through official Chinese records, Lim offers the first account of a story that has remained untold for a quarter of a century. The People's Republic of Amnesia is an original, powerfully gripping, and ultimately unforgettable book about a national tragedy and an unhealed wound.
Despite its emergence from backward isolation into a dynamic world economic power, a quarter-century after the People's Army crushed unarmed protestors--labeled anti-revolutionaries--in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, the defining event of China's modern history remains buried. Memory is dangerous in a country built to function on national amnesia. A single act of public remembrance might expose the frailty of the state's carefully constructed edifice of accepted history, one kept aloft by strict censorship, blatant falsehood, and willful forgetting. Though the consequences of Tiananmen Square are visible everywhere throughout China, what happened there has been consigned to silence.
In The People's Republic of Amnesia, NPR's China correspondent Louisa Lim offers an insider's account of this seminal tragedy, revealing the enormous impact it had on China and the reverberations still felt today. Official hypocrisy and the government's obsession with maintaining stability and silence have deepened June 4th's impact on the nation's psyche. Lim interweaves portraits of eight individuals whose lives have been shaped by June 4--including the two women who started Tiananmen Mothers, one of the first and most prominent grassroots organizations outside the Chinese government's control; a student survivor involved in the protests; a soldier who took part in the suppression; and a high-ranking government administrator who played a role in ordering the tanks into the square. In the process she offers a textured, intimate, and haunting look at the national tragedy and an unhealed wound.
About the Author
Louisa Lim is the China correspondent for National Public Radio, based in Beijing. She opened the NPR Shanghai bureau in 2006, and previously worked as the BBC correspondent in Beijing.
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History and Social Science » Asia » China » Peoples Republic 1949 to Present