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The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by [Lim, Louisa]
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Product Description

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, NPR correspondent 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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4839 KB
  • Print Length: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (5 May 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JMCZL56
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #157,246 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars 37 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book Based on Amazingly Revealing Research 4 June 2014
By Robert L. Moore - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinary book. It tells the story of June Fourth, or, what the international community often calls "the Tiananmen Massacre," through the eyes of various individuals: a student demonstrator, a soldier, the mother of a slain student, and so on. It is a fairly quick read, and very well written.

The most telling and inspiring chapter for me was the one focused on the Tiananmen Mothers, those Chinese women who, having lost a child to the People's Liberation Army's murderous rampage, have formed an organization that continues to press the Chinese government to admit to its wrongdoing and respond to their loss. There are so many touching and revealing details here. A particularly memorable one is the government's having placed a security camera over the spot where Ms. Zhang Xianlling's 19-year-old son was shot by the soldiers. The sole purpose of the camera is to deter her from her custom of revisiting the spot in memory of her murdered son. Additionally, whole platoons of security agents follow Ms. Zhang around every day. Often they don't even know why they are following her. One young female guard, after hearing from Ms. Zhang what the purpose of her assignment really was, walked off her post in disgust. What courage these Tiananmen Mothers have.

The sad part of the story is that the Chinese government's efforts at hiding what happened in 1989 have been fairly successful where the younger generation of Chinese is concerned. Many are completely ignorant about the massacre.

On the other hand, the massive and pervasive efforts that the government undertakes in order to keep its June Fourth massacre concealed from the public is an indication of just how frightened it is of the truth. I wonder what this implies for China's future.
46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the place to start your study of what happened on June 4, 1989 9 June 2014
By James Mowry - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
After reading a positive review in the Economist, I bought this book immediately and received it the next day (thanks, Amazon). After 25 years, it is certainly necessary to revisit Tiananmen, and from the book's description, I figured it would do a good job. This is a subject of great interest for me. I was in China on June 4, 1989, an expatriate American just beginning a new job in Shanghai. I stood in the beautiful gardens of the Xing Guo Guest House, now the site of a Radisson Hotel, as word of what had happened in Beijing filtered in from CNN and by telephone. Shanghai was spared the carnage of Beijing, of course, and after decamping to Hong Kong and back to the USA for a couple of months, I returned to Shanghai where my project proceeded--as did life in China in general.

Ms. Lim's book focuses very much on personal stories of those who were either directly involved in the events in Beijing leading up to June 4--students, officials, soldiers, mothers--and their reminiscences are valuable and shed some new light on what happened. They are marred by gaps of memory, however, and by the author's unwillingness to ask the really hard questions, such as about the treatment some of the interviewed people received in prison. Instead, Lim fills in the gaps by citing reports from Amnesty International and other sources. While there is no reason to doubt these, they weaken the narrative.

A far more serious weakness is that when reading these interviews, the reader needs a good knowledge of the chronology of the events leading up to June 4 and all the players involved to appreciate what those who were directly involved are saying. For me, this wasn't an issue, having read Gordon Thomas' Chaos Under Heaven, a painstaking almost minute-by-minute account of the events in Beijing written by a reporter who was there, as well as various other books. I find it ironic that in a book lamenting the amnesia that now persists regarding June 4 that Lim has actually further contributed to that amnesia by failing to fill in enough background information for readers who might be looking to this book for an introduction to what happened 25 years ago. (The book is short and could certainly have spent a few more pages on background. But Lim is a radio reporter, not a historian, and this weakness prevents her from providing the depth of research and perspective that is necessary.)

This book is much more effective in showing how the Chinese government turned to extreme, xenophobic nationalism as a way to distract the students from the corruption and other shortcomings of Communist Party rule. The current mindset of China as perpetual victim, seems to be working quite well, at least in keeping students distracted. And, of course, it isn't just made up. From the Opium Wars to the unequal treaty of 1919 to the Rape of Nanjing to the foreign extraterritorial settlements that lasted until the Communist Revolution, there is much for Chinese to be angry about. Despite the famines, the terror campaigns, and the other egregious errors since 1949, the Communist Party can at least rightfully claim that China has regained its independence and is now an economic power that doesn't have to bow down to the demands of Japan, America, or anyone else.

The nationalist message still hasn't prevented an almost uncountable number of other anti-government protests, however, as newly prosperous Chinese citizens demand better protections against out-of-control local party officials who seize property without adequate compensation, the terrors of pollution, and the lack of the rule of law. There is every chance that at some point these will build into another incident to rival 1989.

Lim also provides additional details about the extent of the demonstrations in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, that results in (probably) dozens of deaths and students and others took to the streets after hearing what happened in Beijing. I think this is probably just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the events elsewhere in China. When I visited Chengdu in 1992, the city block that burned down had already been replaced, in true modern Chinese fashion, by a shopping center.

While focusing on Chinese amnesia, Lim only partially points out the amnesia the rest of the world has practiced about what happened. In their quest to take advantage of the Chinese market, international businesses have even less reason to care about June 4 than do the vast majority of Chinese citizens. There are also a lot of details of Lim's account that show the shortcomings of Western journalists who covered the event and in some cases left out accounts of the violence perpetrated by some extremist students against the police and Army. While this was minuscule in comparison with the violent acts committed by police and soldiers (some of which are well documented in this book), the lack of complete truth in some Western reporting has only provided support for Chinese paranoia.

The other major fault with this book is that it portrays the violence as almost inevitable. The students were disorganized and splintered. Although there were "leaders", no one was really in control and could enforce a decision to leave Tiananmen Square before the evening of June 3/morning of June 4. Deng Xiaoping emerges as the biggest villain here. He was the one who ordered the troops in and was prepared to spill blood. But the book shows that many others, including the students, share the responsibility for what happened.

Finally, I must say that despite its failures, this book is a fast, compelling read. Lim writes clearly and occasionally vividly. For someone looking for a few new grains of information, it is a worthwhile read.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written! 8 June 2014
By D. Krajnovich - Published on
Verified Purchase
By chance, I was in China as a tourist in 1989 when the Tiananmen massacre occurred (my trip had been scheduled months earlier). Upon returning home, I studied the history and aftermath; attended vigils and protests; heard lectures from escaped dissidents; etc. I did not expect to learn much new in Louisa Lim's book. But since the book got a good mention in The Economist, and it was the 25th anniversary, I decided to buy a copy.

Was I wrong! This is a superb book. I am not a fast reader, but I finished it in one day. I learned new things in every chapter. I was moved to tears by the chapter on the Tiananmen Mothers. There is no greater courage, no greater grief. The chapter on Bao Tong is also remarkable. On a purely technical level, Ms. Lim is an outstanding writer -- in the same class as Iris Chang. She uses a themed chapter format, most chapters concentrating on one or two people whom she personally interviewed. Her book has the added merit of being succinct. I suspect it took her twice the time to write a book half as long as most books on such weighty topics.

If you, like me, think you know all about Tiananmen, this book may surprise you.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! 5 May 2014
By M. Sarles - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Goes right to the source and interviews people who were there. What's amazing is it appears the author went to China to interview for the book. Which means the government really doesn't care about what these people have to say. And *that* is some hard evidence they've been so successful in eliminating the memory of Tiananmen from the collective conscious, that they don't really care who brings it up anymore. The Chinese government has all but succeeded in wiping it from everyone's minds... at least in China.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The People's Republic of Amnesia - NEVER FORGET 25 July 2014
By KOMET - Published on
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to see the author Louisa Lim speak about this book at a reading session. As she was discussing the work she put into preparing the book, in terms of interviewing witnesses in China of the Tiananmen Square Massacre whose accounts had hitherto been unknown or unspoken, I drew on my own memories of the pro-democracy movement in China during the spring of 1989. At the time, I had the impression from TV and radio news reports that the heart and soul of that movement was in Beijing. I gave no thought that, in the light of the economic reforms that were then beginning to take shape in China, this movement was also reverberating throughout China itself. Nor did I consider that there were elements in that nation’s leadership which were apprehensive about the direction and scope the movement seemed to be taking. For though China’s top man Deng Xiaoping was set on modernizing China’s economy, he had no interest in promoting political reform as well. Taken in tandem with the pro-democracy movement and the internal squabbles within China’s leadership circle, once the hardcore faction of the nation’s leadership (under Deng) carried the day and resolved to suppress the movement, the events of June 4th, 1989 became inevitable.

Reading this book has given me quite an education about the impact that the Tiananmen Square Massacre continues to have in various facets of Chinese society and the ongoing efforts of Beijing to make China put firmly behind it --- or better, FORGET --- that there had been a pro-democracy movement and that scores of Chinese had been ruthlessly murdered by the nation’s army. I’m also grateful to Louisa Lim for her determination to get as complete a story about the events of 1989 as possible. For instance, I had no idea that at the same time as Tiananmen Square, there was also a brutal crackdown of protests in Chengdu, in Southwestern China. Indeed, Miss Lim goes on to point out that “[w]hat happened in 1989 was a nationwide movement, and to allow this to be forgotten is to minimize its scale. The protests in Chengdu were not merely student marches, but part of a genuinely popular movement with support from the across the spectrum. The pitched battles and temporary loss of control of the streets in Chengdu show the depth of the nationwide crisis facing the central government.”

Furthermore, “[w]hat happened in Chengdu has not only been forgotten; it has never been fully told. The people in Chengdu were not cowed by the killings in Beijing, but rather incensed by them. However, lacking an independent media to amplify their voices, their short-lived scream of fury became a cry into thin air, drowned out by the ensuing violence meted out by both the state and the protesters themselves. Although Chengdu was the site of some of the most shocking brutality, the witnesses had no one to tell. There was no charismatic protest leader, no Wu’er Kaixi, and while some of those involved did eventually flee into exile, nobody had ever heard of them. The Western witnesses were so traumatized by what they had seen that most were initially purely focused on trying to get out of China as quickly as possible. Safely back in their homelands, many of them gave interviews to the media and contacted rights groups…, but there was so little interest in events outside Beijing that they eventually gave up trying to raise awareness.”

“THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF AMNESIA” is a book that should be read by anyone who wants to have about as complete an understanding as is now possible of how the events of June 4th, 1989 shape and influence how China sees itself and wants its own people to look upon themselves – guided by Beijing