The People’s Republic of China is a Communist nation in East Asia and is currently the world’s most populous country. Although rooted with nationalism in its citizens, a majority of the population is well aware of the corruption and schemes going on in their government. The individuals that are the most aware of these scandals are China’s own students. But because of multiple movements that were shut down in the past, students in China are struggling with finding ways to respond to the government. With no evident answer, some regress to ignoring the past and following what their government dictates. In her book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, Louisa Lim addresses the major issue of events of Tiananmen Square and the various victims involved. Through the perspectives of those who had had a first hand experience of Tiananmen Square, Lim portrays the horrendous battlefield in order to wake up the citizens of China and enlighten the world.
Universally, the duty of a soldier is to protect the innocent and guide them to safety. But who is there when a soldier is lost in thought, all alone and unable to decide right from wrong? Chen Guang, a soldier of China’s People’s Liberation Army, was one of the many soldiers ordered to contain and eliminate any act of resistance to the Communist Party in Tiananmen Square during May and June 1989. The order to be deployed in Beijing was declared on May 20 and the goal was to, “defend the capital from serious upheaval.” Soldiers were actually excited that they were going to their nation’s capital rather than wary. With martial law in effect, ordered by Premier Li Peng, the soldiers advanced into the square through trucks and tanks. Their raid was then halted by the numerous students who surrounded the vehicles with their own bodies and attempted to tempt soldiers with food and drinks. The soldiers eventually gave in to the offerings and the officials of the People’s Liberation Army had no choice but to order a recall. Upon return, soldiers had the policies of the Communist Party drilled in their head in order to erase the influence of the students. On June 3rd, the order to take back Tiananmen Square was reignited. The strategy this time was to disguise the soldiers as citizens in buses. The students show an evident change in their protests from the first deployment, going from peaceful sit-ins to aggressively flushing out the ninja soldiers in the second deployment. Hiding from the protesters inside the Great Hall of the People, the soldiers were finally given orders to push down the resistance under any means necessary. On June 4th, shots were fired. Some soldiers, like Chen Guang, were mentally unable to kill their own. The battle ended the same day the order was called, but the estimated death count that day ranged from the hundreds to the thousands. Afterwards, Deng Xiaoping, the leader of China at that time, went to Tiananmen Square to honor his soldiers for quelling the “counter revolutionary turmoil.”
In a way, knowledge could be considered humanity’s strongest weapon. This makes students, who hunger for knowledge, the strongest soldiers in the world. The students at Tiananmen Square were soldiers defending their beliefs and freedom. The protests began April 15, 1989, after the death of Hu Yaobang, a general of the Communist Party who sought to reform China politically and economically. Students in Beijing believed that it was their duty to continue voicing Yaobang’s legacy. The main idea of their protests involved freedom and democracy in China. The iconic image for students protesting China was Tank Man, who was an average citizen coming back from the grocery store and demanded that the incoming tanks, “Turn around! Stop killing my people.” Although with a strong desire for democracy, students were unable to show democratic policies in their protests. Groups were disorganized and became divided by those who strongly believed in direct reform to a democratic system and those who did not. Internal conflicts were interrupted by the invasion of soldiers on June 3rd. After the massacre on June 4th, the decision was made to get student leaders, the brains of the protests, out of Beijing. Those who were captured were mainly sent to the Beijing Qincheng Prison, notorious for holding political rebels. Prisoners were disciplined by reciting the 58 Provisions of the Rules of Conduct for Criminals Undergoing Reform, which was to erase any individual thoughts from their minds. Those who managed to escape mainly to Hong Kong, which was a British colony at the time. They managed to escape through Operation Yellowbird, an underground railroad run by by pro democratic individuals. The Triad ran the escape routes and demanded ridiculous amounts of money from the escapees. Despite being able to escape the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party, student leaders could not do much for their protests. As a result, a majority returned to Beijing and adapted to the environment in order to protect themselves.
The decisions made by a country’s government are always made with the country’s population in mind. Xu Qinxian was leader of the 38th Group Army and a part of the few who rejected to send his force into liberating the students at Tiananmen Square. He declared that he “would rather be beheaded than seen as a criminal by history,” and rejected his troops to be sent to Beijing. As a result, Qinxian was sentenced to serve four years in the Beijing Qincheng Prison and even though he was released, he is still imprisoned to this day under state surveillance. Besides individuals that were a part of the People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Party found themselves cutting off their own officials. Zhao Ziyang, an official of the Communist, was to reform the political policies of China enough so that it would still be called a communist government. Supporting him, Deng Xiaoping believed that “without political reform, there cannot be economic reform.” But with the small student movements in the early eighties and the major Tiananmen Square incident, leaders of the Communist Party came into conclusion that their political reformers were the ones responsible for these protests. Openly showing sympathy towards the students and also a major figure of China’s reform, Ziyang was the target of many of China’s official. He was then stripped of his official title and put under house arrest.
The call for reform was not only found in Tiananmen Square during 1989. Chengdu, a capital city in the Sichuan Province of China, also had growing tensions in their Tianfu Square. Like the students in Beijing, the students in Chengdu also began their protests in response to Hu Yaobang’s death. Unlike the students in Beijing, the plea from Chengdu did not involve democratic reform, but removing the corruption of their officials and purifying their government by adopting new policies. The protests in Chengdu were tiny compared to the Tiananmen Square protest. The students of Chengdu decided to abandon their sit ins after Beijing’s protests ended, believing that if the students of Beijing gave up in their protests, they had no chance in supporting their own. But with news of how the Communist Party ended the protests, the population of Chengdu became infuriated with the deaths of their own and created a huge protest. Unlike the procedure in Tiananmen, forces were quick to silence the protestors and resorted to brutality. Within the first few deaths, the protesters scattered with the attempt to retreat, but the situation was described as, “murdered them one by one while the ones remaining pleaded for their lives.” The incident at Chengdu ended the same way and produced the same results as the Tiananmen Square incident, a quiet and scared China.
Today, Louisa Lim devotes herself into the study of Tiananmen Square in order solve the mysteries that are yet solved and convince others to prioritize its history to bring about a change in China for the better. Her purpose is supported by the lives of witnesses of the Tiananmen Square incident and the current student population in China. Through the lives of witnesses such as former People’s Liberation Army soldier Chen Guang, who, “regretted his decision from the very moment he boarded the train for his new barracks in Zhangjiakou,” and escapes of student leaders Wu’er Kaixi and Feel Liu, Lim creates the true melancholic and disturbing visual of Tiananmen Square during the protests for the readers to truly understand why it should be an important day in history.
Louisa Lim graduated from Leeds University in England with a degree in Modern Chinese studies and now attends the University of Michigan to continue her research in China. She believes that the problem is that the people of China are too afraid of their government and that, “... to stay in power, to be in power, is to be corrupt.” As a Chinese woman born in Beijing, Lim is seemingly drawn to this problem on a personal level and is disappointed that the history of her own people is filled with tragedy and deception. In order to speak her opinion, Lim involves individuals with first hand experience, who then give their insight on how Tiananmen Square changed China for the worst. The witnesses address the emotion and beliefs, past and present, of what happened in 1989. The pieces that Lim has collected proved that her hypothesis was correct, that there are people that still care about the past and that there is still a hope for change. What Lim can do now is to continue what she is currently doing and add pages and chapters to The People’s Republic of Amnesia.
Both Professor Benjamin Read and Paul Levine provide an extended analysis on the topic of Tiananmen Square and support to Louisa Lim’s belief in her book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia. Read provides his opinion by focusing on the people of China. Addressing Lim’s description of the “Great Forgetting,” Read explains that it is common for China to, “deny that any atrocity happened at all,” and that China now is too involved with its economic advancements to care about what happened in the past. Read concludes with Lim’s harsh judgement of the ordinary citizen in China and criticism to those who work in its government. Levine connects with Lim by having conducted the, “same experiment with a group of Chinese exchange students at Copenhagen University and got the same results.” He had produced the same ignorance that Lim’s students had showed and expresses how distraught he feels about the situation. It seems that the guilt from Tiananmen Square has made its ways into the minds of those who had not even experienced it.
The massacre at Tiananmen Square should have been a turning point for China. But sadly, the Communist Party in China only grows stronger and more corrupt to this day. Humanity should not ignore the deaths of the students who died trying to speak their belief on improving the lives of their people. Although the soldiers were strictly disciplined to counter the protesters and suppressed the movement with weapons, the fact that the innocent were, “not allowed to save the wounded,” should classify the Tiananmen Square massacre as a war crime and should be reviewed by all nations in the world. The amount of witnesses of Tiananmen Square that are still alive find their influence fading away as the number of the new generation grow with ignorance. It is too sad to believe that what the world knows of what happened that day is too little.
In the 1980s, the United States’ relationship with China were nothing close to stable. It was obvious to the world that a majority of the officials in the Reagan Administration were pro-Taiwan. After the Tiananmen Square incident, the United States declared sanction on China, which included, “suspending high-level exchanges between the two countries and stopping the sale of all military equipment and weapons to China.” The United States still insisted on not having any direct conflict with China and instead decided to further support Taiwan in its resistance against China by selling F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan.
In order to raise the importance of the Tiananmen Square incident, Louisa Lim gives her opinion on why the World should involve themselves with Tiananmen Square and supports her belief with the stories of individuals that were directly involved with the massacre. The wish of Lim is for the deaths and voices the students in 1989 to not be forgotten and that their beliefs be made into a reality.
1. Louisa Lim, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, 23
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9. Benjamin L. Read, associate professor in politics at University of California, ;http:// www.wsj.com/articles/ book-review-thepeoples-republic-ofamnesia-by-louisa
10. Paul Levine, Professor of American Literature at Copenhagen University, ‘http://www.unc. edu/depts/diplomat/ item/2015/0912/ rv/book09_book_ LEVINE.html’
11. Louisa Lim 113
12. http://www.china. org.cn/english/chinaus/26890.htm