Amid rising tensions between Hong King and China, and especially given that this year was the first in thirty years that Hong Kong was not allowed to hold vigils commemorating the violence in Tiananmen Square, Tiananmen 1989 seems especially prescient; it seems to speak both to the memory of the violence itself and to mourn the recent losses in the ongoing struggle for Democracy that Hong Kong has engaged in for decades. Not only does this text feel especially of a moment, but it’s also both an excellent primer for younger readers who may not have learned about Tiananmen Square in school and a nuanced account of the political, social, and cultural upheavals preceding that attack.
Tiananmen 1989 is something like what Audre Lorde would call a biomythography of the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989: It isn’t an exact biographical account of either the student movement or of Lun Zhang’s life, but rather a detailed consideration of competing and compounding forces; cultural expansion exposed the intellectual and student communities to new ideas, fomenting a student-led movement for democracy. An important historical thread that Zhang suggests is not well known (and, I will admit, of which I was unaware) is that the students didn’t see themselves as standing opposite their government, but rather saw themselves as a movement intended to better the society that deserved legitimate recognition by the state. More surprising, to this reader at least, was the gentle way that the people of Beijing met both the students and their movement and, later, the army. This is a text that is rich and human, warm in places and terribly sad in others.
The line work is extremely delicate, and the text moves expertly between sparse, still frames and detailed images of complex crowd scenes. Zhang places his “fictional twin” narrator on a stage, surrounded by props — documents here, candles there — underscoring that the aim is speak to the stage of history and to stage a vigil all at once. The events that unfold are complex (as is history), but told in a compelling way. (I found that even though I sometimes had to flip back to the glossary of characters at the beginning to fully understand the weight of some of the figures that I was never lost in the narrative — don’t let that opening glossary scare you away!) Tiananmen: 1989 tells the story of a tragic moment in a way that surely honors the movement and its dead. It is a beautiful book and very worth taking a look.
Creative Team: Lun Zhang, Adrian Gombeaud, Ameziane
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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