PODCAST | China’s War on the Past; History in the People’s Republic of Amnesia

‘History is the best textbook’ is one of the favourite phrases of China’s President Xi Jinping, yet only one version of history is acceptable in today’s China. Since 2012, the ruling Communist party has made radical efforts to tighten its control over history, even bringing lawsuits against those seen guilty of ‘historical nihilism’.

This battle to control historical memory can be clearly seen in attempts to curb even private commemorations of the uprising and bloody crackdown of 1989 and silence public comment on the topic. Over time, the events of June 4th 1989 have become more, not less sensitive. The streets around Tiananmen Square were not the only place that experienced a bloody suppression in 1989. By examining the example of an almost-forgotten crackdown in the city of Chengdu in 1989, we can see a near-perfect case study in the state’s ability to rewrite history. This talk examines the cost of remembering in a society where amnesia is – as author Yan Lianke put it – a ‘state-sponsored sport’, and we look at the efforts required to persist with this policy in the digital age.


Louisa Lim is a Senior Lecturer of Audio-Visual Journalism at the University of Melbourne, and an award-winning journalist who reported from China for a decade for the NPR and BBC.  Her book The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (Oxford University Press) was a finalist for the Orwell Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and was longlisted for the Lionel Gelber Award for the world’s best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs.  Previously, she was the Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Michigan.

Listen to the podcast: