Chinese dissident Chai Ling, one of the student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, now living in the U.S., will give the commencement address at Charleston Southern University's graduation ceremony today. The Post and Courier took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Q: You were among the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests in the spring of 1989. What was it during your early years that prompted you to assume such a significant role in the uprising?
A: I did not go into Tiananmen Square to be a leader. I started by bringing water and food to support the protesters. Then one thing led to another. I became a commander in chief for the student movement. Looking back, it was a combination of factors. When I was 10, China had a major earthquake. My parents were both in the Army, and basically within an hour they left and I was left in charge. I had to be a leader in my family. In school, throughout that time, I was always a student leader. So once I started helping out and determined this was something we needed to do as citizens for China, it became very natural for me to provide leadership, strategy and vision in a chaotic new emerging situation, so I felt really at home. And, my father told me never be a quitter. Once you make a commitment, you have to stick to it, and so all these factors made me who I was.
Q: As we all know, the protests ended badly, with bloodshed, persecution and exile. You were among those who left China. What happened? How did you escape? And have you ever been back? What has happened to your family and friends?
A: We were raised up to be excellent students. We knew how to study and make great grades. We didn't know how to make an actual living let alone know how to escape. Those were things we read in a novel or maybe watching a movie. Also we had to deal with what to do. It was a miracle in itself. You know there were 3 million policemen and Army people, a massive manhunt throughout China throughout the 10 months. Looking back, I knew God protected us. He found strangers to put in our place and gave them the courage and passion to save us at the risk to themselves. For that I am very grateful. I was protected and saved by a group of people who believe in Buddhism and Dualism. For my last journey I was put in a cargo box inside a boat -- a 6 x 6 cargo box -- so it was a journey of four nights and five days being in total darkness not knowing where we were going, how far we had made it and if we would make it. But God was good, and we were saved at the end. I have not been able to go back to China since the day I left China. I lost two members of my family, my mother and my grandmother. Many of my friends suffered tremendously. Some lost their lives, some lost family members.
Q: Have you been able to communicate with people in the pro-democracy movement in China? Have you played a role, albeit from a distance, in recent democratization efforts?
A: Now that I am alive in Christ, I realize our 1989 movement was crowned as a democracy movement, and that is correct partially. It is really bigger than that -- it was a spiritual awakening movement for China. I went to the best schools in this country, Princeton and Harvard, and there was really very little teaching about the precondition for democracy. A nation cannot form a strong democracy unless it has a Christian foundation. That's what I'm working on through our All Girls Allowed rescue network, to help end the gendercide through the baby shower and reunite trafficked children with their families, supporting orphans and also trying to defend mothers against the forced abortions. That's my current focus. We really try to help China know more about Christ, and democracy will follow if that happens.
Q: In the U.S. you married and became active in the company Jenzabar Inc., an education software company. Under your leadership, Jenzabar established a foundation which sponsors All Girls Allowed, an organization critical of China's 30-year-old one-child policy. What motivated you to start All Girls Allowed, and what is the group's primary goal?
A: I had an eye opening experience in November 2009 when I attended Congress' Human Rights Committee testimony. A lady named Wujian told about being dragged out of hiding and forced into an abortion clinic where she was dumped with hundreds of other women to go through the same procedure. She was injected with poison into the baby's skull through her belly. And the baby did not come out the first day, the second day, and on the third day they opened her body up and chopped the baby into pieces. When she finished her story the entire hearing room was quiet except for the tears and cries. And it was in that moment it reminded me of the last hour at Tiananmen Square when the tanks and troops were moving in and how close we felt to the same feelings Wujian was feeling. And then it just came to me in the last 20 years when I was trying to overcome my own trauma after the massacre, to build my own life back, that China has been doing a Tiananmen massacre every single hour -- but this time the victims are innocent babies and the mothers. In the past 30 years, with China's one-child policy, more than 400 million lives have been taken, innocent babies. Each day in China more than 3500 forced and coerced abortions occur and 500 women commit suicide. More than 1 million babies are abandoned into society each year. For every six boys born in China, that sixth baby girl is not allowed to live. So the sixth boy will never be able to find a bride, so that becomes a massive problem for sex trafficking. And really a huge risk for global war. ... So China's one-child policy is not just a Chinese problem, it is a global issue. ... When I came to Christ, a group of brothers in Texas came to say, "Ling, you are called, this is your ministry." So last June, China's National Day for Children, All Girls Allowed was born.
Q: In 2009, you became a Christian. Tell me about your faith journey.
A: We were not allowed to know God in China. So I discovered God in 1984 through a graduate student in Beida (Beijing University) who was on a journey biking through China. He came to a village where the villagers were secretly worshiping God and they were passing around a Bible. I was just so drawn to that spirit, to the Lamb of God, Jesus; I was attracted to it. It was also the spirit, that light, that led us to Tiananmen Square. Also Dr. Hunter in 2008 (Jairy Hunter, president of Charleston Southern University) shared with me the peace he had when the school was going through trauma and tribulation, and I was just really intrigued about who Jesus is and the kind of peace he brought. After the Buddhist people saved me, I thought I was Buddhist. Things started transpiring, one after another, and on December 4, 2009, I was led to Christ.
Q: As a student, you were active in trying to change the world. What do you tell students today when you address them on college campuses? And what is your message for young Chinese who, like you, are fighting for social and political justice?
A: Recently the minister in Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding said, "If man becomes who God intended him to be, he will set the world on fire." I think this would apply to women, too, so that would be the message for this year's graduating class. Tomorrow their journey starts on the solid foundation they have received from CSU and they are beginning that step to becoming the men and women God intended for them to be. So I look forward to the day they will set the world on fire. I will share with them my personal journey of how God transformed me to be one person to help to change the world. One thing is it is admirable for a person to try to change the world on his own strength, but even more powerful and joyous if the person is doing it through God's way. So I want to share with them, if they have the desire to change the world, change it through the way God intended.