Exciting news: my historical thriller, Rabbit in the Moon, has been selected as one among best books on modern China’s myths, religions, politics, and culture. Check out the site. The novel is available in print, eBook and Audiobook.
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My historical thriller, Rabbit in the Moon, was published almost two decades after the Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 1989. I waited to write the story of the short-lived Student Democracy Movement, hoping that with the passage of time the Chinese government might be more open to the truth of what happened there.
That was not to be. The massacre was renamed the “June 4th incident”, my book was banned on the Mainland, and as I traveled to China over the years, it became clear that the government was more determined than ever to ban any discussion of the deadly crackdown- in schools, on the street, even from the Internet.
While Mainland citizens were subject to the ban for decades, Chinese living in Hong Kong and Macau were allowed to hold yearly candlelight vigils to commemorate the anniversary. That is until last year.
Today marks 32 years since Chinese soldiers killed hundreds if not thousands of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square.
Authorities in Macau and Hong Kong have banned the vigil for the second year in a row saying it would violate local criminal laws and citing corona virus issues.
Despite last year’s ban, tens of thousands of people defied the police, knocking down barricades that had been erected around Victoria Park where citizens had been gathering each June 4th for 30 years to mark the anniversary. This year, however, police closed off Victoria Park entirely. Thousands of officers have been placed on standby to stop any attempt to hold the event.
Several pro-democracy activists have been arrested including Chow Hang Tung who is the vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance which has been organizing the annual vigils. Arrested for promoting unauthorized assembly, she continued to call on residents to commemorate the anniversary in their own ways.
“Turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your phone, candles or electronic candles,” she posted on Facebook a day before her arrest.
This year’s anniversary is the first since a new controversial security law was approved for Hong Kong, aimed at ending the city’s pro-democracy movement and criminalizing dissent. At least 100 people have been arrested since the law was enacted in June.
Already brave students from Hong Kong University have been photographed washing a statue titled the Pillar of Shame.
What the government’s response will be remains to be seen.
Deep Waters, the third in the Sammy Greene series, was set in Greece. In researching the setting, Linda Reid (my co-author) and I learned about the Romaniote Jews who are among the oldest (dating back 2000 years) and least-known of all the Jewish communities of the diaspora. Then in my travels, I met someone- now a good friend- who is a descendent of this group.
According to oral tradition, following the destruction of the 2ndtemple in 70 AD, the Jews of Palestine were sent on a slave ship to Rome. Instead, a storm forced them to land in Greece where they developed unique ethnic and religious customs.
Neither Sephardim (from Spain) or Ashkenazim (from Eastern Europe), this group traces its roots back to the Roman Empire. They are considered “Hellenizied” or Greek Jews, Their distinct language was actually Judaeo-Greek, a Greek dialect which contained Hebrew along with some Aramaic and Turkish words known as Yevanic.
Historians believe that those Romaniotes who were able to remain intact for so many centuries did so because the people adopted the language and customs of the Greek civilization as their own while maintaining their distinct Jewish identity, i.e. acculturating, but not assimilating.
That was especially true of Ioannia (Janina), a small city in NW Greece. Many other Romaniotes in Greece were absorbed into the much larger Sephardic community, adopting its Ladino language.
The Jews of Janina made their living as merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen. Theirs was a patriarchal society of arranged marriages, large families and strict Jewish orthodoxy.
While strict in their faith, the Romaniote were not isolated from the larger community. For example, during the High Holidays Christian townspeople of Janina often used to attend celebrations of Jewish New Year. Sometimes local officials also came to watch and share the joy of their Jewish fellow citizens.
On March 25, 1944 1860 men, women and children were rounded up, loaded into trucks and deported to Auschwitz. Only 200 survived.
Pre- World Qard II, large Romaniote communities were located in Thessaloniki, Janinia, Arta, Preveza, Volos, Chalkis, Thebes, Corinth, Patras and the islands of Corfu, Zakynthos, Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, Cyprus among others. Eight-five percent of all Greek Jews perished and the historic Romaniote communities in Greece were largely destroyed during the Holocaust.
After the war, a majority of the survivors emigrated to Israel, the US, and Western Europe. Today there are still functioning Romaniote synagogues in Chalkis, a town on the Greek island of Eubie, Janina, Athens, NewYork and Israel.
Interesting, second and third generation Romaniote immigrants in New York city have good knowledge of Greek. In the beginning of the 21st century 90% asserted that they understand Greek while 40% could speak Greek comfortably. Over a third could read Greek fairly well.
The Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue in Manhattan has struggled to maintain its millennium-old traditions. Designated a historic landmark by the city of New York in 2004, it still operates in its original form.
Today between 4500 and 6000 Jews remain in Greece, only a small percentage are Romaniotes who live mainly in Thessaloniki, Chalkis, Janina and Athens.
This is me standing in Tiananmen Square in 1980- my first trip to China.
I was there again just before the massacre in 1989 on June 4th. Today is the 30th anniversary of that terrible day when Deng Xiaoping ordered his army to shoot students peacefully protesting the one Party-rule, demanding reforms including freedom of the press.
With inspiration from American democracy, the students had hastily created a 33-foot-tall sculpture made out of plaster and Styrofoam and dubbed the “Goddess of Democracy. It stood for less than a week from May 30th to June 4th before tanks rolled in and destroyed it.
Yet, outside of China, the “Goddess” is still remembered as a symbol of defiance. This year, in honor of the auspicious anniversary, a white statue of a woman has been relocated from Hong Kong University to Victoria Park, the site of the annual candlelight vigil commemorating Tiananmen. An almost identical sculpture has been installed in Taiwan’s capital (Taipei) inside Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Similar statues can be found in the United States and Canada.
Sadly, if you travel to Beijing now, walk around the enormous Tiananmen Square, and approach someone born after 1989, it is unlikely they have any knowledge of what happened three decades earlier. And that’s not just because people who do remember are afraid to speak about it. After that short-lived (7 weeks) Student Democracy Movement, the government imprisoned many of the survivors of the massacre, exiled others, and clamped down on public dissent. Efforts to learn about the event on the Internet have been successfully squelched to this day. More than 3200 words referencing the bloody incident have been censored according to a joint survey by the University of Toronto and the University of Hong Kong.
I feel sure “tank man” is one of the censored phrases since his photo is probably the most iconic memory of the massacre.
The current president, Xi Jinping, has continued and even intensified the country’s oppressive trajectory. Control over the media in China is said to be tighter than ever. According to a CBS news report, days ahead of today’s anniversary, the government apparently jailed some people who were known to have been associated with the 1989 protests, placed some on house arrest and forced others to leave Beijing.
If you’d like to learn more about the events surrounding the Student Democracy Movement, read or listen to my international thriller Rabbit in the Moon. The book won the Gold Medal for the Florida Book Award as well as several other literary awards. In honor of today’s anniversary, my husband Joel, who co-authored the novel, and I have listened to fans and updated the Authors Note and added a glossary, pronunciation guide, and a list of Chinese characters.
Good news! After almost a decade, Florida Book Award Good Medal Winner Rabbit in the Moon is finally released in paperback as an updated Second Edition.
Here’s the premise:
Is mankind ready for a scientific breakthrough that could double the average lifespan? Dr. Cheng’s obsession to find the secret puts the doctor, his granddaughter, and the future of the entire world in jeopardy.
The backdrop for Rabbit in the Moonis the seven weeks in 1989 between the rise of the Student Democracy Movement and the fall with the Tiananmen massacre in June. We chose this period for two reasons.
First, it was dramatic. Anyone who read the newspapers or watched CNN at the time can hardly forget the image of the young man holding up his arm to stop the tank from rolling over him.
The second reason for choosing this backdrop was because after our first trip to China in 1980, we returned to Los Angeles and became a host family for students from the mainland who were studying at UCLA. During the weeks leading up to Tiananmen in 1989, many of these students communicated with friends and family back in China using our fax machine. Remember, there were no iPhones or Internet at the time. Very few people in China had their own landlines then.
In talking with the students, they perceived the conflict as a generational struggle between the very old leaders, many of whom had marched with Mao and who were desperate to hang onto power, and the younger generation anxious for reforms.
We expanded on the generational theme by looking at how young versus old might view the acquisition of a longevity elixir, not only in China, but also in the United States and in Korea.
Writing a story with an historical backdrop requires accuracy. It was difficult, however, to know what was happening at the highest level of government at the time. The release of the Tiananmen Papersin 2001- secret documents smuggled out of China- reveal how the authorities reached their decision leading to the final confrontation. In 2008, another secret record dictated onto 30 one-hour audiotapes by the moderate Zhao Ziyang while under house arrest in 2000 (he died under house arrest in 2005), was published by Simon and Schuster. The title is Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyangand gives Zhao’s dramatic and disapproving account of the bitter power struggle behind the scenes as the students occupied Tiananmen Square, the deep rivalries between reformists and hardliners as well as the critical role Deng played in the decision to use force.
In the published memoir, Zhao describes the secret meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee on May 17 that led to the imposition of martial law. He contends that the crackdown was a miscalculation by the hardliners because the martial law declaration touched off even larger protests and an ultimate confrontation. “On the night of June 3… I heard gunfire,” he says in the memoir. “A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted.”
Both the Tiananmen Papers and Zeo Ziyang’s memoir formed the basis for assumptions we made in writing the novel. For example, there is a pivotal scene in the book in which three of the leaders meet with Deng Xiaoping, warning that the students threaten his leadership and convincing him to write an editorial for the People’s Daily (which he, in fact, did), accusing the students of creating “turmoil”. Deng’s editorial was really a signal that the hard-liners were in control because it alluded to the “ten years of turmoil” that was the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately, the students did not appreciate the significance of the message. They did not know that behind the scenes the moderate Zhao Ziyang had been ousted. They began a hunger strike, announcing that they would not leave Tiananmen Square until the editorial was recanted.
As a result, any opportunity for defusing the situation disappeared. And as we know, on June 4th, tragically, hundreds, perhaps thousands were killed.
Now, 30 years after that bloody suppression, the facts about events that led to the Tiananmen Square tragedy have yet to acknowledged by the Chinese Communist government.
After the Tiananmen massacre, the Chinese leaders made a decision that they would tolerate more economic freedom in order to maintain power. In 1992 Deng visited the southern new territories and blessed economic reform with the famous statement “to get rich is glorious” This change was not meant to promote democracy, but rather to maintain central control. And as it happens, for almost two decades there was astounding growth and modernization, though not without creating serious problems including increasing poverty in the countryside, forcing young people from farms to the cities seeking work, elimination of free health care, increased pollution, increasing crime, widespread corruption, etc.
The irony is that the opening up of the economy, brought a rise in technology – people bought cell phones and computers – and suddenly websites and blogs appeared with ideas going out on the World Wide Web
As China has begun to face its own domestic financial crisis with rising unemployment, manufacturing decline, and some fear regional ethnic strife, the leadership has received increasing criticism from within the country.
In November, 2018 protests on Peking University brought a warning to student activists that protests “bear consequences”. The clampdown at Peking University comes ahead of several politically sensitive 2019 anniversaries, including the May 4 student protests in 1919 and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which students from the university played prominent roles.
Sadly, President Xi Jinping has sanctioned a series of crackdown to all forms of dissent, including human rights, activists, labor groups and religious organizations
We hope that readers will find this new edition of Rabbit in the Moona compelling and still timely read.
In this edition, we took past readers’ advice, so you will find a list of the characters and a glossary of some of the Chinese and Korean terms to avoid confusion.
To get a flavor of the writing, here is podcast of prologue: https://youtu.be/ZAJZL0z4dS0