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Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes TPB Review

6 min read
The biggest issue is that this book can’t decide if it wants to be a graphic novel or a written memoir.

Creative Staff:
Story: Lun Zhang
Story: Adrien Gombeaud
Art: Ameziane

What They Say:
Follow the story of China’s infamous June Fourth Incident — otherwise known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre — from the first-hand account of a young sociology teacher who witnessed it all.

Over 30 years ago, on April 15th, 1989, the occupation of Tiananmen Square began. As tens of thousands of students and concerned Chinese citizens took to the streets demanding political reforms, the fate of China’s communist system was unknown. When reports of soldiers marching into Beijing to suppress the protests reverberated across Western airwaves, the world didn’t know what to expect.

Lun Zhang was just a young sociology teacher then, in charge of management and safety service for the protests. Now, in this powerful graphic novel, Zhang pairs with French journalist and Asia specialist Adrien Gombeaud, and artist Ameziane, to share his unvarnished memory of this crucial moment in world history for the first time.

Providing comprehensive coverage of the 1989 protests that ended in bloodshed and drew global scrutiny, Zhang includes context for these explosive events, sympathetically depicting a world of discontented, idealistic, activist Chinese youth rarely portrayed in Western media. Many voices and viewpoints are on display, from Western journalists to Chinese administrators.

Describing how the hope of a generation was shattered when authorities opened fire on protestors and bystanders, Tiananmen 1989 shows the way in which contemporary China shaped itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
This piece of history is being narrated by Lun Zhang. Lun Zhang has been in exile from China for the last 30 years. The story starts with a small background of his childhood. His family had been exiled from their home and put into a small village near Panjin. His life was filled with many struggles as he attended school in the morning and worked on the rice farm in the afternoons. He tells a brief description of how he got his degree in China and the changing eras of China. I would like to see these descriptions expanded upon. This is a graphic novel and there are many opportunities to show the point you want to communicate to your audience. But there are far too few elements where this happens. One instance of where he effectively communicates his point is the pages where he is talking about pop music being introduced to China. People’s faces are shown with happiness, sadness, shock as they listening to this new art form being introduced to them for the first time. There should be more instances that depict how people are being affected by this new era. 

Some events that would lead to China being in constant flux are mentioned in the first couple of pages. The first event was when General Lin Biao’s plane crashed and left no survivors. He was leaving China to escape Mao Zedong and head into the USSR. The second major event would be on September 9, 1976, when Chairman Zao died after ruling over China for 25 years. His death would lead to the end of the Cultural Revolution, a period of economic hardship, and an enormous death toll. This book mentions the Cultural Revolution by name but doesn’t describe what took place during that period. This book should explain what the Cultural Revolution is and how the people of China were managing during this period. According to the Guardian, The Cultural Revolution was a “decade-long period of political and social chaos caused by Mao Zedong’s bid to use the Chinese masses to reassert his control over the Communist party.” The results were that the “Cultural Revolution crippled the economy, ruined millions of lives and thrust China into 10 years of turmoil, bloodshed, hunger, and stagnation.” It should be explained how the Cultural Revolution leads to Tiananmen Square protests. 

Hope is such a dangerous thing to hold on to. It can be quickly taken away from you. This book’s primary theme is the loss of hope and the aftereffects of losing it. The loss of hope is painted astoundingly bleak for all to see. But there are instances where hope rises from the ashes for new dreams. There are various instances where hope is on the rise. Such situations include the death of Chairman Mao, the introduction to pop music, foreign books, and the World Cup is broadcast. Hu Yaobang was a politician who wanted to see democracy rise in China. He had gathered the trust of the people. But this made him an enemy to the Communist Party. He meets an unfortunate tragedy but this was one instance of giving new hope. He had a huge role in attempting to gain democracy but the details of his role are diminished in this book. 

The biggest loss of hope was the massacre that happened in Tiananmen Square. Many people were killed during that incident but the book didn’t make it seem real. The reporter, Stephanie Andrews from BBC is reporting what happens. She provides a stand in to feel the raw devasting emotions. But there should be more pages showing what happens to the people to grasp a sense of the calamity and hopelessness. 

During the protest, Xu falls in love with a nameless individual in the seas of despair. Many moments are depicting them falling in love to be more emotionally invested in their story. They are aware of what is happening but they have a sweet naivety to their romance. Their romance comes to an end during the massacre when the male was shot down. Their romance provided the only window into seeing characters humanized and to feel the loss that came with the massacre. 

In Summary:
This book does a wonderful job of recording the devastation felt in Tiananmen Square. A point that is communicated well is how Lun and the rest of the people have hope for a better tomorrow but it is quickly taken away. The students attempt to do whatever they can to have freedom. They take a note from Gandhi’s playbook and decide to do a hunger strike. History changes when people learn what succeeds from others and incorporate it into their plan. I would like to see more moments like the romance that Xu had to have an interest in people’s lives. 

There was one page that was a marvelous sight to behold. It starts with 100,000 people marching to Tiananmen Square. When they get there, they have over a million people with them. It demonstrates that the people had been unified in one common goal. They want to rise having faced multiple occasions of shattered hopes. 

This book is too focused on Lun Zhang’s viewpoint. There is a limited view of the events that led to the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. I want to know more details about the major players such as Chairman Mao and Hu Yaobang. There should be a better description of what these people did in China and what they meant to the Chinese people. There are a couple of other students and teachers that are with Lun Zhang as he organizes the protests. But they are hardly given any emotion. If there was a bit more depth to them it would engage further interest in this horrific moment. 

The biggest issue is that this book can’t decide if it wants to be a graphic novel or a written memoir. There are several moments where words interfere with art. This dilutes the message that Lun Zhang and Adrien Gombeaud want to tell. It feels like Lun is giving a presentation or a TED Talk. But a graphic novel isn’t the best place for that sort of writing.   

This is a terrific starting point to get a glimpse of the tragedies of Tiananmen and China. This book serves as an inspiration to learn more about the injustices that have happened.  

Grade: C

Age Rating: Teen
Released By: IDW
Release Date: June 16, 2020
MSRP: $19.99

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