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The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

Louisa Lim (Foreign Correspondent, Foreign Correspondent, National Public Radio)

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Oxford University Press
15 June 2015
History; Asian history; Postwar 20th century history, from c 1945 to c 2000; Revolutions, uprisings, rebellions; Demonstrations & protest movements
Finalist for the 2015 Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in JournalismLonglisted for the Lionel Gelber Award for the Best Non-Fiction book in the world on Foreign AffairsAn Economist Book of the Year, 2014A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice One of the best analyses of the impact of Tiananmen throughout China in the years since 1989. --The New York Times Book ReviewOn 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.
By:   Louisa Lim (Foreign Correspondent Foreign Correspondent National Public Radio)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 208mm,  Width: 141mm,  Spine: 20mm
Weight:   324g
ISBN:   9780190227913
ISBN 10:   0190227915
Pages:   264
Publication Date:   15 June 2015
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  A / AS level ,  Further / Higher Education
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Louisa Lim has spent a decade covering China for NPR and formerly for the BBC.

Reviews for The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

One of the best analyses of the impact of Tiananmen throughout China in the years since 1989. --The New York Times Book Review Lim presents a sequence of sensitive, skillfully drawn portraits of individuals whose lives were changed by 1989...These portraits show us how the party tightly constrains those who defy it, but they also depict determined resistance and even suggest an optimism among those most directly affected by the events of 1989...[This book] enhances our sense of the human costs of suppressing the past. --Wall Street Journal [Lim] offers a series of meticulously (and often daringly) reported portraits of participants, the events of that night and what has followed. --The Economist Lim tells her stories briskly and clearly. She moves nimbly between the individuals' narratives and broader reflections, interspersing both with short, poignant vignettes. --New York Review of Books Lim's outstanding book skilfully interweaves a wide range of interviews in China with an account of the protests in Beijing and ends with the fullest report to date of the crackdown in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. --Financial Times STUNNING and important...The People's Republic of Amnesia provides a powerful antidote to historical deception and a voice to those isolated by the truth. --Los Angeles Review of Books Louisa Lim peers deep into the conflicted soul of today's China. Twenty-five years after the bloody suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, the government continues to deploy its technologies of forgetting -- censorship of the media, falsification of history, and the amnesiac drug of shallow nationalism -- to silence those who dare to remember and deter those who want to inquire. But the truth itself does not change; it only finds new ways to come out. Lim gives eloquent voice to the silenced witnesses, and uncovers the hidden nightmares that trouble China's surface calm. --Andrew J. Nathan, coeditor, The Tiananmen Papers For a country that has long so valued its history and so often turned to it as a guide for the future, the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to erase actual history and replace it with distorted narratives warped by nationalism, has created a dangerous vacuum at the center of modern-day China. With her carefully researched and beautifully reported The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, Louisa Lim helps not only restore several important missing pieces of Chinese posterity that were part of the demonstrations in 1989, but also reminds us that a country which loses the ability to remember its own past honestly risks becoming rootless and misguided. --Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society In The People's Republic of Amnesia veteran China correspondent Louisa Lim skillfully weaves the voices that 'clamor against the crime of silence' to recover for our collective memory the most pivotal moment in modern China's history. --Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking Astonishingly Beijing has managed to obliterate the collective memory of Tiananmen Square, but a quarter-century later Louisa Lim deftly excavates long-buried memories of the 1989 massacre. With a journalist's eye to history, she tracks down key witnesses, everyone from a military photographer at the square to a top official sentenced to seven years in solitary confinement to a mother whose teenaged son was shot to death that night. This book is essential reading for understanding the impact of mass amnesia on China's quest to become the world's next economic superpower. --Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues and A Comrade Lost and Found A deeply moving book-thoughtful, careful, and courageous. The portraits and stories it contains capture the multi-layered reality of China, as well as reveal the sobering moral compromises the country has made to become an emerging world power, even one hailed as presenting a compelling alternative to Western democracies. Yet grim as these stories and portraits sometimes are, they also provide glimpse of hope, through the tenacity, clarity of conscience, and unflinching zeal of the dissidents, whether in China or in exile, who against all odds yearn for a better tomorrow. --Shen Tong, former student activist and author of Almost a Revolution Lim's intimate history of the events of 1989 deepens our understanding of what happened, and touches our hearts with its humanity. Where other writers succumb to describing history in impersonal terms, Lim brings the history to our doorsteps, reminding us that we aren't so different from those who lived and shaped history and tragedy. The People's Republic of Amnesia is a wholly original work of history that will alter how China in 1989 is understood, and felt. --Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet NPR's veteran China correspondent Lim shows how the 1989 massacre of student human rights protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square continues to shape the country today... A forceful reminder that only by dealing with its own past truthfully will China shape a decent future for coming generations. --Kirkus Reviews


  • Short-listed for Orwell Prize 2015
  • Shortlisted for Orwell Prize 2015.

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