Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rights Readers Authors on Tiananmen

Mandate Of Heaven: In China, A New Generation Of Entrepreneurs, Dissidents, Bohemians And TechnocraNow that we've caught up with our authors writing on Tibet, here are three familiar names weighing in on the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen:

Ma Jian (The Noodle Maker) writes a moving account of how Tiananmen has touched him and his friends-- from one whose arm was crushed by a tank to another frightened young army conscript. He even sneaks in a reference to W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz,
Xidan Book Store, a five-minute walk down Changan Avenue from the Zhongnanhai government compound, is the largest bookshop in Asia. A few days after meeting Chen Guang, I went there to buy a Chinese translation of WG Sebald's Austerlitz. Like the protagonist, I too am always struggling to find out how many memories a human life needs. This five-floor bookshop sells 100,000 books a day. A huge poster of smiling President Obama is displayed close to the main entrance. Inside you can buy translations of the latest scientific or economic tomes, and books charting China's 5,000-year history, but you will not find a word about the Tiananmen massacre, or any accurate accounts of the other tragedies that the Communists have inflicted on China since 1949. These missing chapters of the nation's history weaken the power of every other Chinese text in the shop.
Ma Jian also appears in a Guardian "where are they now" rundown of Tiananmen activists. Those who read Mandate Of Heaven(see below) will a encounter familiar names.

Ha Jin (Ocean of Words, The Crazed) offers a reflection in the NYT about how Tiananmen forced him to write in a foreign tongue,
To some Chinese, my choice of English is a kind of betrayal. But loyalty is a two-way street. I feel I have been betrayed by China, which has suppressed its people and made artistic freedom unavailable. I have tried to write honestly about China and preserve its real history. As a result, most of my work cannot be published in China.
Three other Chinese writers, Yu Hua, Yi Yunli and Lijia Zhang (certainly all are on the short list for future Rights Reads) are worth checking out as well.

At the Council for Foreign Relations, Orville Schell (Mandate Of Heaven) contributes to a collection of retrospectives, pointing to the recent release of Zhao Ziyang's memoirs to conclude that no amount of economic success can bury the past. The other views are worth a look too (Michael Anti: the internet is the new Tiananmen square...) For Schell's eyewitness account of the events of spring 1989, see this PBS Frontline interview (and watch the full Tank Man documentary online).
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