Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, Ameziane and Edward Gauvin (translator)
|Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, Ameziane and Edward Gauvin (translator)|
|Category: Graphic Novels|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The slightly unassuming design to this book does not disguise the fact it's a perfect primer for the political unrest in Beijing in 1989, with all the hows and whos and whys the average reader could need.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 112||Date: June 2020|
|Publisher: Idea & Design Works|
I never really followed the events of Tiananmen Square with much attention when it was playing out – someone in the second half of their teens has other priorities, you know. I certainly didn't know of the weeks of protests and hunger strikes from the students before the massacre and the birth of the Tank Man image, I didn't know how the area had long been a venue for political protest, and I didn't know more than a spit about the people involved on either side. This book is practically flawless in giving a general browser's context for the whole season of protests back in 1989.
It's that context that leaves me to agree with the foreword, that this is not an autobiography, neither of its author nor his fictional twin. But it's by no means a worthy, wordy background to it all, for we see the extended activities of the students. We see them unable to attend the state funeral of someone they held dear (...the people could not enter the Great Hall of the People…), we see the rabble-rousing editorials in the state newspaper that was the most rabble-y thing about the whole affair, and we see the whole protest begin to wind down, just before the tanks come in.
The design of this graphic novel, a little staid and journalistic at first look, I thought, is ideal too – showing a fine balance between the personal and the political, between the objective and the subjective, between the reportage and the memoir. But it's the text that did it for me, hitting what seemed a perfect tone in conveying the whole thing. For a translation based on the memories of someone speaking their second language, it really works. I expected the horrors typical of books like this, as shown in this oh-too-recognisable extract from elsewhere:-
Character One –I shall tell you something obvious in the full knowledge you know it, because the author doesn't know how else to tell the reader it.
Character Two – I shall respond in suitable fashion to pretend this exposition did not happen, and that we are conversing like real characters would.
None of that is here, and indeed I think of few flaws in looking back at this. It teaches anybody, if they needed telling, how graphic novels can at times be the perfect format for portraying such deathly serious subjects with emotional sympathy yet factual detail. And it certainly shows what happened thirty years ago, in that famous concrete public area. The author's hopes of it being a suitable memorial have been superbly met, and the almost out-of-place-seeming optimism of the final scene gives it all a perfect ending.
For a further non-fiction graphic novel from that corner of the world, it's hard to get beyond Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle. Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna credits 1990 with being the beginning of a new renaissance: let's hope they are right.
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