Thursday, January 07, 2016

The People's Republic of Amnesia, by Louisa Lim

The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, by Louisa Lim

My first trip to Beijing was in the summer of 1988. China immediately captured my attention; I encountered a world unlike anything I'd seen, beautiful and oppressive at the same time. Almost exactly one year later, the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place and captured the attention of the world. Now, nearly thirty years later, Louisa Lim takes a look at the fading legacy of the rebellion.

For me, this was an unforgettable moment in time, in league with the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion or 9/11. The image of an ordinary man standing in front of a column of tanks is as powerful a picture as I've ever seen, and recognized virtually everywhere as the iconic moment of the event. In China, however, only 15% of university students in Beijing recognized it, due to the government systematically blocking and censoring any information related to the event. This sad fact is from where Lim draws her title: The People's Republic of Amnesia.

The author does a great job of interviewing many people about the incident, from mothers of survivors to soldiers that were there, from students at the time to students of today. These varied viewpoints give an in-depth look at both the event then and how it is remembered now—or not remembered as the case may be. In particular, the chapter on Chengdu and the oppressive events that took place there in the same timeframe was eye-opening. It would have been a truly captivating read if I could have shook the feeling that Lim continually patted herself on the back, congratulating herself on writing such a significant book. She may be correct in its momentousness, but the self-aggrandizing tone was irritating to no end. This is an important book, and gives a view into not only Tiananmen, but into the current Chinese government as well. The tone is annoying, but well worth forcing yourself to finish.

First Sentence:
Plumes of smoke from fires frame the Gate of Heavenly Peace, as soldiers pile the students' possessions to burn them.

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