Though it likely means she will not be allowed to return to China for years, Louisa Lim, a former NPR and BBC correspondent, told students Tuesday that exposing details about a shrouded massacre that occurred almost 30 years ago in the country made it worth it.

Lim was a correspondent for both media outlets and is a current Howard R. Marsh visiting professor of journalism. She lectured on her new book, “The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited,” Tuesday evening in the Michigan League. Her book focuses on a culture of silence that exists in China concerning the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Chinese government’s ensuing cover-up.

She also touched on a series of similar protests at the same time in another Chinese city to which the government responded more openly.

In 1989, students held political demonstrations in Tiananmen Square after the death of Hu Yaobang, the former general secretary of the Communist Party of China and a government reformist.

During their protests, the students asked for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and better opportunities for workers, including more control over industry practices. Groups had been protesting for seven weeks, inciting protests in more than 400 other cities. On June 4, the Chinese government intervened, instituting martial law and killing an unknown number of demonstrators.

In China, the massacre is referred to as the Tiananmen Square “incident” when spoken about. It is still not known how many people were killed on June 4, 1989.

Lim said that throughout the time she spent working on her book in China, she was terrified the Chinese government would detain her. She kept all of her notes on a laptop that had never been connected to the Internet, and locked the laptop in a safe at night. She was even unable call her editor to say she had decided to focus on the topic for her book until she left the country months later.

“I was terrified,” Lim said. “I was convinced that I would be detained or arrested the whole time I was asking things on campuses, wandering around with this picture of ‘tank man’ I had sweaty hands.”

Her lecture began by showing the infamous photo of a protester standing in front of a line of tanks. Though this photograph is recognized by most in the Western world, Lim said it is largely unknown in China. When she went to four of the top universities in Beijing and polled 100 students, just 15 percent could recognize the photograph as being taken during the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Lim said this results from the extreme media censorship the government practices.

“If you search Tiananmen on Google, you will immediately get pictures of ‘tank man’ and descriptions of what happened in 1989,” Lim said. “If you search on the Chinese equivalent you’ll get photos of Tiananmen Square and tourist information.”

Lim said the government went as far as to block the search of “2^6” because it equals 64 — shorthand for June 4 — the day of the massacre. The only time the 1989 event is taught in school is in college courses for history majors, and even then, Lim said that in a 500-page textbook, just four pages mentioned it.

During a question-and-answer portion of the event, a Chinese undergraduate student in the crowd said she did learn about the events in Tiananmen square in middle school, but in secrecy.

She said the class had to close the doors when discussing it, and it was not a government-mandated portion of the curriculum.

Even the Western media information surrounding Tiananmen Square is muted, Lim said. In 2009, when American and British media outlets came to Tiananmen Square for the 20th anniversary of the event, the Chinese government had people with umbrellas stand in front of the cameras so nothing could be filmed.

Lim showed the crowd videos from CNN and BBC of individuals blocking the camera with their umbrellas. This year, she said, journalists were told they could not go to Tiananmen Square on June 4.

During a question and answer section of the event, Lim said the Chinese people had a complex reaction to the news in general.

“The Chinese press is very limited in what it can publish,” Lim said. “I do not think that everyone believes what they read in the Chinese press. All you need to do is go on Weibo — the Chinese version of Twitter — and you will find an awful lot of cynics. At the same time, there are others who read the press at face value as well.”

Lim said that because of the government’s campaign to make people forget the massacre, many people in China believe that what occurred was for the best. She also noted that the demands of the 1989 protesters are still significant today, and said that may be one of the reasons why the Chinese government has maintained Internet regulation about the protests.

“I think one of the reasons that June 4 is still so relevant today is that China’s leaders know that the demands of the protesters are more pressing than ever,” Lim said.

A large portion of her lecture also discussed a separate set of events that occurred at the same time as Tiananmen Square, at a similar protest in Chengdu, China, but which the Chinese government was much more open about.

After they heard what happened at Tiananmen Square, people at the Chengdu protest began burning government-run entities such as grocery stores, buses and police cars.

One of the stores protesters targeted was in a hotel where many Americans were staying at the time.

Lim took accounts from all of them and found that even though they had not discussed what happened with one another, they all described the same brutal tactics used by the police on the protesters.

She described police techniques including tying rioter’s hands together at an angle that broke their arms, beating their heads with iron rods and throwing their bodies — which all witnesses said were clearly lifeless by this time — into a truck.

Because of the nature of the Chengdu protest, it was more difficult for the Chinese government to hide that the killings had taken place due to the great number of witnesses, Lim said. Instead of denying that the events happened and suppressing people from speaking out about them as they had done with Tiananmen Square, the government wrote a book on their version of the series of events.

It was difficult for Lim to find people interested in speaking about either event because of the government backlash. One woman, who was outspoken due to her search to find out what happened to her son who was killed during the Tiananmen Square massacre said even if she knew of another source, she would not relay him or her to Lim due to the severity of the consequences.

“Forgetting isn’t really something imposed on from above,” Lim said. “They have actively chosen to forget, but it’s so inconvenient to remember the events of June 4 in Chengdu or Beijing, or anywhere else … there is no benefit to the memory in China today, there is only a very great cost.”

Engineering junior Coco, the president of the Hong Kong Student Association, attended the event and said she came because she is hoping to hold a panel on the political development in China to create awareness of what’s happening in Hong Kong. Coco, an international student, asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisal from the Chinese government when she returned home.

“Many mainland Chinese students are aware of this, but I am just concerned about what they think about this,” she said. “I’m concerned about if they will fall under the trap that the Chinese government is trying to shape for the mainstream thought.”

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