News / Asia

Q&A with Louisa Lim: Hidden Stories from Tiananmen

FILE: Medical workers at Beijing's Fuxingmen Hospital look at bodies of protesters killed by soldiers around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
FILE: Medical workers at Beijing's Fuxingmen Hospital look at bodies of protesters killed by soldiers around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
In the 25 years since government troops opened fire on student-led demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China’s government has systematically suppressed any discussion or mention of the event. News reports on that day were instantly beamed around the world, with many images becoming well-known to millions living outside of the mainland. Because of the clampdown of information inside China, stories from people directly involved remain quiet secrets.
 
Journalist Louisa Lim spent ten years in China reporting for the BBC and for the U.S.-based National Public Radio. Speaking with VOA’s Jim Stevenson, Lim told about the extraordinary precautions needed to gather interviews to tell some of these stories in her new book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia.
 
Q&A with Louisa Lim: Hidden Stories from Tiananmen
Q&A with Louisa Lim: Hidden Stories from Tiananmeni
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

LIM: People who were involved in the event are growing old and their story is not being told. I thought about for so long and I thought, “If I don’t write this book who will write this book?” So I really hope this book will really reopen the discussion about how history is treated, and how the people in China have gone along with the government, and how this whole sense of national identity being created is riding along a history which is false.
 
STEVENSON: Tell me about some of these interviews that you conducted and about some of the logistics involved in speaking with these people. It’s a very sensitive topic.
 
LIM: It is a very sensitive topic and some of the people I interviewed were under various forms of surveillance because of their past. So for example, this one woman called Zhang
Xianling was 76 years old, but she is the co-founder of the group called Tiananmen Mothers. Her 19-year-old son died in 1989. He died from one bullet to the head when he tried to take a picture of the martial law troops. And she set up this group with some of the other relatives of the dead trying to get truth, compensation, accountability from the Chinese government. The first time I went to visit her, when she opened the door, the first thing she said was, “I had a telephone call from the police this morning and they knew you were coming.” So there was very much a sense of being followed and being watched.
 
That was also the case with another one of my interviews, Bao Tong, who was one of the highest government officials jailed after the protests. He spent seven years in jail. He had been really the right hand man of Zhao Ziyang, the communist leader who was deposed during the protests. Bao Tong lived in Beijing still and in his own home, but he is being watched all the time. We would meet in the McDonald’s down the street from his flat.
 
STEVENSON: It’s truly amazing that some of these people, now in their 70s, are still closely followed by the government. There’s still a sense of distrust of what they may be up to.
 
LIM: Yes, you have the world’s second largest economy with almost four trillion dollars in reserve and yet they’re worried about the activities of a very small group of people. It was the women who founded the Tiananmen Mothers who said it best when she said to me, something along the line of, “Isn’t it amazing that the state can be worried about a little old lady like me? It shows how powerful we are, this group of old people because we represent righteousness and the government knows that, and that’s why they’re scared of us.”
 
STEVENSON: Did you ever get a sense in your interviews that some point in time the government may open up a little bit about this issue or are they just content to let it fade into the fog of history?
 
LIM: The world hoped before Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang took power that this might happen. But in fact very early on, Xi Jinping signaled that not only was 1989 not up for discussion but actually anything that happened even during the reign of Chairman Mao, none of that was up for discussion. When I started this book and I just wanted to find out how much young people knew about 1989, actually I went to some of China’s top universities and I held up a picture of “tank man,” the man standing in front of tanks. I asked a hundred students if they could tell me when and where this picture was taken. I was really surprised that only 15 out of a hundred could place the picture as being taken in China and that really made me think that the Chinese government has been very successful in deleting this memory and in making sure that young people are not interested in politics. They just don’t seek out that kind of information because they know that it could be dangerous.
 
STEVENSON: There are millions of Chinese who lived through that time, and remember that time. Is there a sense at all that they have passed it down to their children or at least tell them the events that had happened?
 
LIM: That was the thing that also surprised me, the extent to which they have not passed on to their children. I tell the story in my book of an artist name Sheng Qi. He was not there when the crackdown happened but he was so disgusted by the behavior at the protest, he chopped off his own little finger with a kitchen cleaver. For years later he made artworks using his mutilated hand, works that talked about the behavior of the state, opening fire on its own people, and its attitude towards history. But nowadays he has a young son and he still hasn’t told his son how he’s lost his finger. The reason he told me was that his son is still a kid and he wants to protect him and it’s a knowledge that carries a price with it.
 
STEVENSON: There were other protests, many protests around the country and you tell that story in a chapter called Chengdu. You found that the student protest wasn’t so much about democracy but about corruption within the Communist Party. And interestingly that seems to be one of the top complaints of the Chinese today.
 
LIM: Yes, indeed. I think that really remains one of the reasons why the events of 1989 are so relevant of the leadership today. If you look at all the demands the students had - more freedom, more democracy, tackling corruption, tackling abusive power, constitutionalism - these are all topics that have really not been resolved. And these demands are more pressing than ever today. So I think that’s really at the crux of the fears that the government has over Tiananmen that if people find out what happened, and these are the demands that they have today, they’ll be asking, “Well, what has the government been doing all these years?"

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid