3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This brave, searing, beautifully and sensitively written book builds, Bolero-like, quietly, through profiles of carefully selected Tiananmen "types" - the soldier, the stay-behind, the exile, the student - up to the shattering chapter on "the mother," as in the "Tiananmen Mothers," what we'd call a lobbying group of "little old (Chinese) ladies"/activists who, for 25 years, have sought to get the truth out and to get the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government to "reverse verdicts," on 3-4 June 1989. (Very emotional reading.)
And then and onward, with a score that beguns to thump a little, to martial strains...and a chapter on the thoroughly mobilized contemporary "patriot," completely ignorant - as are most Chinese his age - of the events of 3-4 June, the core of whose patriotism is the aggressive, increasingly militaristic nationalism the Party and government has sought (since the early 1990s) to cultivate in the populace as a substitute for ideology (I mean, who knew that a third of the output China's huge Hengdian film studio involves battles against Japanese "devils" and that some call the studio "a huge anti-Japanese revolutionary base"?)
Down into the home stretch, very like Ravel, Ms. Lim hits a revelatory (no pun intended) peak (especially for an old China hand) in a remarkable chapter on a man some of us will remember as pivotal in late-1980s China: Bao Tong, then the Politburo Standing Committee's secretary and deposed Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang's right hand man. Bao was arrested little more than a week after Zhao's last public appearance and the declaration of martial law in mid-May 1989. He spent seven years in solitary at the famous Qincheng Prison for disgraced senior officials, and now, an octogenarian, lives under perpetual surveillance. Why? Because he has the superpower of "seeing through" and has the system of China's "success" figured out, all the way down to the ground. Bao describes it to Ms. Lim as a long chain of "mini-Tiananmens" that go all the way back to the night the People's Liberation Army fired on its own children. Each odious event - the constant watching, the constant suppression if not quite forcible repression (but that too), the arrests of grandmothers, the obsessive following around and, if need be, putting away anyone seen as possibly threatening the Great Power by saying the wrong words to the wrong person, anyone who threatens to chip away at the collective amnesia, to undo the technique of forgetting history, and thus expose the rotten foundations of today's China - stands as a small-reproduction of mindset that mandated the actions of June 1989 at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. And all these take place with with the nearly perpetual complicity of a silent West, which shuts its eyes, covers its ears, and rakes in its profits from "People's China." Thus do all these single events that accumulated into one mountainous malignancy that ultimately renders "the China miracle" possible and all the Chinese who benefit complicit in the monstrosity of Tiananmen.
Finally, Ms. Lim's - and our - remarkable journey ends, in a Ravelian crescendo, in one of the not-so-mini Tiananmens that have, until now, dwelt in obscurity to both Western and Chinese eyes: Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, where Zhao Ziyang had as First Secretary led successful free-market agricultural reforms that dramatically increased production and led to a local jingle - "yao chifan, zhao Ziyang" ("if you want to eat, look for Ziyang" - punning on "Zhao"). Chengdu was another scene of the bloody suppression of students in June 1989 - reportedly one of the more than 60 major Chinese municipalities that experienced disorder similar to that of Beijing, but the stories of which have never been told, except in occasional snippets (we've heard, for example, about former President and CCP Chief Jiang Zemin's successes as Shanghai party chief, part of his hagiographic resume when he was named to head the party, state, and military).
Ms. Lim drags the Chengdu story out of the dark, and in doing so stimulated distant memories. Long before the events of 1989, I had stayed at the Jinjiang Hotel, scene of the most heinous events Lim has been able to surface and report. I can imagine looking out my window, into the courtyard where I had watched chefs skinning snakes for the night's dinner, and witnessing instead atrocities, committed by Chinese against Chinese.
And atrocities of a different sort are committed today in the Chinese leadership's failure to admit the success China today enjoys is built upon lies and serial inhumanity. We think of Lu Xun: men eat men. I know: we have our own ghosts in the American closet. (Think, for instance, of Ta-Nehisi Coate's persuasive argment that the greatest of the US economic achievement is built on the grimmest, ugliest feature of US history, indeed, an American holocaust: slavery and its ugly, prejudicial aftermath of lynchings, the denial of Federal benefits to African Americans, neighborhood redlining, overcharging, and on and on and on...) But here in the United States, we can discuss our ghosts, and worry about and become activists for solutions. We're able to expose the lie and have the power to TRY to disinfect the wounds.
But in China, one cannot raise the lies and serial inhumanities, because to begin that discussion risks bringing the entire corrupt house of cards down...and with it, the lives and fortunes of the families and friends who have benefited the most from the rot and corruption that permeates the "China miracle."
We owe Louisa Lim a debt of gratitude for bringing so much of the hidden story to light, and we can only hope that she has a legion of successors who will expose other stories of June 1989 from across China.