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Beijing Tightens Control Ahead Of Tiananmen Square Anniversary


It was 27 years ago tomorrow that the Chinese military marched into Tiananmen Square and opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators.


CHANG: Hundreds, possibly thousands of people were killed, a slaughter that remains hushed up by Chinese authorities to this day. To learn more about the legacy of Tiananmen, we spoke to Louisa Lim. She's the author of "People's Republic Of Amnesia" about the 1989 protests. Good morning, Louisa. Thanks for joining us.

LOUISA LIM: Good morning, Ailsa.

CHANG: So the government cracks down when people want to bring attention to what happened in Tiananmen Square. But every year, people speak up anyway. What's been going on this year?

LIM: The repression seems to be increasing as time goes on. It's not just the act of publicly commemorating the events the June 4 that can get you in trouble. At least four people in Beijing were detained after holding a prayer session behind closed doors in a private apartment. And we're also seeing accounts of dissidents or activists who are being put under house arrest.

CHANG: But can you explain what makes Tiananmen so deeply uncomfortable for Communist Party leaders?

LIM: Well, I think it's really the issue of legitimacy. China's leaders today trace their lineage to the winners of the power struggle that divided the party in 1989. Those who came out on top were the conservative hardliners. And today's leaders really feel that by questioning any decisions made in 1989, it could by extension question their own legitimacy.

CHANG: And what do these protesters want? What do they want from the government?

LIM: Well, if you look at the Tiananmen mothers, their demands are very specific. They want truth, they want accountability and they want compensation for their relatives who died. And each of these are very difficult for the government to offer because in order to do so, they would have to admit that they have been covering up what happened for the past 27 years and also telling a completely different version of events.

If you look in Chinese textbooks, the account that you find is that the protests were counterrevolutionary riots. The students had weapons and posed a threat. And it's very different from what most observers saw, which was a very peaceful protest that started with students and then spread to become a mass movement.

CHANG: And what about Chinese students today? Is there a sense that the version they're being fed isn't the true version? Do they know that, you think?

LIM: I think it's very hard for them to imagine that their textbooks are containing accounts that are untrue. When I was writing my book, I did an experiment where I went to Beijing campuses, four universities who'd been really influential in 1989. And I showed the picture of tank man, the young man standing in front of a line of tanks. To a hundred students, only 15 could identify it.

CHANG: What can we expect this Saturday you think on the anniversary?

LIM: I would expect very little indeed from within China itself. Last year, there was a single silent protest. One man wearing black clothes walked into Tiananmen Square, sat down and was taken away. And that was the only protest that we saw inside the mainland on the anniversary last year.

CHANG: Well, thank you so much, Louisa.

LIM: It's a pleasure.

CHANG: That was Louisa Lim, former NPR correspondent and author of "People's Republic Of Amnesia." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.