The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

Louisa Lim, NPR Correspondent

June 12, 2014

Santa Monica



On June 4, 1989, People's Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing untold hundreds of people. A quarter-century later, this defining event has been successfully expunged from collective memory.

At this Milken Institute Forum, NPR correspondent Louisa Lim discusses her book "The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited," which charts how the events of June 4th changed China -- and how China changed the events of June 4th by rewriting history.

Lim's book reveals new details, including:

  • The inside story of the young soldiers sent to clear Tiananmen Square.
  • How the events turned one of China's highest-ranking government officials into one of its most prominent dissidents.
  • The tale of a woman whose son was shot by martial law troops, inspiring her to found the Tiananmen Mothers.
  • How one of the country's most senior politicians lost a family member to an army bullet.

    In addition, the book examines how June 4th shaped China's national identity, fostering a generation of young nationalists who know little and care less about 1989. Lim also 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.


    Louisa Lim has reported from China for the past decade, most recently as NPR's Beijing correspondent, and previously for the BBC. She has reported from atop the Tibetan glaciers and from the depths of a Shaanxi coalmine. Lim made a very rare reporting trip to North Korea, covered illegal abortions in Guangxi province and worked on the major multimedia series "New Believers: A Religious Revolution in China." Lim was a member of the NPR teams that won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, a Peabody and two Edward R. Murrow awards for their coverage of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and the Beijing Olympics. She has been honored by the Human Rights Press Awards and has won prizes for her multimedia work. Lim graduated from Leeds University in the UK with a degree in modern Chinese studies. She began her journalism career in Hong Kong and later became the BBC's Beijing correspondent. Lim was most recently a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.