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

ASEAN Ministers Set to Push for South China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs