Chai Ling’s Heart for Freedom

Chai Ling has written a great book, A Heart for Freedom, (Tyndale) about her revolutionary life. I’m reading it now on Kindle.

http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Freedom-Remarkable-Dissident-Daughters/dp/1414362463

About a quarter of the way through her autobiographical account, she gets into those historically dramatic days that preceded the Tiananmen Square uprising of April-June, 1989. She gives an accounting of her role as a major communicator in that movement.

Chai Ling’s husband at that time was Feng Congde, a fellow-student at Peking University, and a forceful, very gifted leader within the protest movement.

In last two week of April, 1989, Feng had been intensely occupied with organizing a democratizing event at the Xinhua gate on Chang’an Avenue, the north end of Tiananmen Square. (This is so interesting to me, because I have visited Tiananmen and the adjoining Forbidden City.) On the night of a protest event,  police had dispersed the dissidents from the Xinhua gate, but the young students went on to strategize for what was to come in the next few days. (These events later stretched into weeks, and eventually culminated on June 4 when military troops shut down the Tiananmen uprising.)

In those early stages, however, Chai Ling writes that one night,  her husband Feng did not come home, so she went looking for him; Ling found her revolutionary mate in a room with his comrades as they planned a coordinated response to the repressive police action at Xinhua gate.

Upon finding Feng that night, she set up a desk outside the dormitory room that had become the organizational locus for students who were laying plans; the alert Ling began to function as a liaison between the core group and other students who wanted to get involved.

As the movement gathered energy and participants, 60,000 students from 48 colleges and universities in Beijing joined with a student strike. This was the inception of the larger massive protest that happened during May at Tiananmen Square. Feng Congde’s leadership was a seminal component in the student leaders’ dorm-room meetings that had preceded these events. What really focused the students’ intensifying zeal, however, was the  April 22 funeral of Party leader Hu Yaobang, whose inclination toward reform had endeared him to many young Chinese.

Hu’s memorial event, April 22, 1989,  was a mournful, highly-charged event. On the day of Hu Yaobang’s funeral, thousands of people gathered at the west side of Tiananmen, and upon the steps of the Great Hall of the People, in anticipation of the Party’s commemoration of him. But a long wait for the many thousands gathered there became a potential flash point for mob ire when the CCP leaders dispatched Hu’s hearse through a back route, ostensibly to minimize the deceased reformer’s legacy to the restless “People.”

The scene was about to turn violent. As Chai Ling writes, the core of Peking University (called Beida in the book) students quickly organized a strategy to prevent violence and imminent bloodshed. At that point, Ling jumped upon a wall and shouted out a desire to communicate with the leaders who were inside the Hall. This bold move on her part immediately propelled her into a critical negotiating role at that point in time. Someone handed her a megaphone, and her decisive act as stand-in-the-gap peacemaker between angry students and Party luminaries  became Tiananmen history.

Although Ling’s role in the Tiananmen uprising of 1989 was played mostly in Tiananmen Square itself–that is, the outside space–she must have later communicated with a highly placed official person who had been inside the Great Hall of the People on that day of Hu’s funeral. For she gives an account, in her book, of a certain moment in time–a quite momentous moment–when Premier Deng Xiaoping looked out a window and had a view, for the first time, of the massive gathering of young people out in the Square.

Chai Ling wrote:

Another old Party cadre who had fought with Deng alongside Mao Zedong in the early days of the revolution walked over to Deng and stood next to him, pounding the floor with his cane.

‘They call us dictators,’ he declared in a loud voice (to Deng) broken with age. ‘They call you the Emperor.’

That moment determined the fate of the student movement and all that followed. Deng would not tolerate anyone who called him a dictator.

Apparently, in the race of men, even reformist capitalist-road visionaries such as Deng Xiaoping have their intolerantly repressive aspects, as the world later witnessed on June 4, 1989.

Since that time, Chai Ling has come to follow a different leader–one whose whose revolutionary work pertains to the Spirit, rather than the dictatorships of this world. More about that later.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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