Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre

One Signal: Atria. May 2019. 320p. tr. from Chinese by David & Jessie Cowhig & Ross Perlin. notes. ISBN 9781982126643. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781982126667. HIST
Beginning in April 1989, thousands protested for democratic reforms in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. On June 4, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army violently crushed this protest. A year later, musician and poet Liao (For a Song and a Hundred Songs) was arrested and spent four years in prison for composing a poem about the massacre. After being released from prison, Liao began the dangerous task of collecting the stories of those who participated in the protests, the result of which is this book. Much of the media coverage and subsequent writings focus on the college student protest leaders, many of whom fled China as soon as possible. However, this work concentrates on the working-class participants unable to leave. These touching and challenging stories shed light on an event that the Chinese government works hard to suppress. Their value is enhanced by the inclusion of an afterword about the final days of writer Liu Xiaobo’s life, and appendixes with biographical information on 202 people killed and 49 wounded in the massacre.
VERDICT This captivating work is essential for readers interested in China’s recent history.

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