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The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited [Kindle Edition]

Louisa Lim
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book 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.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

About the Author


Louisa Lim is an award-winning journalist who has reported from China for a decade, most recently for National Public Radio. Previously she was the BBC's Beijing Correspondent. She lives with her husband and two children in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4108 KB
  • Print Length: 281 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0199347700
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (May 5, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JMCZL56
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,002 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
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.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! May 5, 2014
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.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written! June 7, 2014
Format:Hardcover|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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A most important addition to our understanding of the pro-democracy movement in China in 1989.
Published 17 days ago by NEIL O BONNELL
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and human summary of a phenomenon that threatens not only...
It is often said that ignorance is bliss. But what are the consequences when ignorance, encouraged, imposed and enforced by an overly paranoid state apparatus, mixes with the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by J. Michael Cole
4.0 out of 5 stars Demonstrating the importance of old fashioned journalism
I was a schoolboy taking exams in Hong Kong in June 1989, which meant I couldn't join the marches. Every year on 4 June I'm reminded of how much I wanted to even thought I didn't... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Steven Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars ... a book I hadn’t known I was waiting to read.
Louisa Lim is an experienced China-watcher and has been an NPR and BBC reporter in China for at least a decade. Read more
Published 3 months ago by BowedBookshelf
5.0 out of 5 stars A "must read" not just about a major world event but also about the...
Ms. Lim deserves every credit for this brave book, painstakingly researched and well articulated focused on facts. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Atul V
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent!
Published 4 months ago by A Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and researched. A sober and troubling description ...
Well written and researched. A sober and troubling description of a major player on the world stage.
Published 4 months ago by Patrick Berry
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Reporting, Second Rate Narrative
This admirable book seeks to set the record straight regarding the massive demonstrations against the Communist government in China, which took place 25 years ago. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Brian Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars terrific, haunting read
superb narrative of political turning point in modern Chinese history by NPR's long-time Beijing correspondent (and my colleague). Filled with intriguing and insightful characters.
Published 4 months ago by frank LANGFITT
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
Excellent! She has done good research and makes the entire incident come alive!
Published 4 months ago by M. Fleming
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More About the Author

Louisa Lim is an award-winning journalist who has reported from China for the past decade, most recently for National Public Radio. Previously she was the BBC's Beijing Correspondent.

She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband and two children.


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