Ex-Student Leader Looks Ahead

A former student leader of Beijing's June 4, 1989 pro-democracy movement talks about her vision for China's future.

2009-06-03
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Wang-Chaohua-305.jpg Wang Chaohua, in an undated photo. Courtesy of Wang Chaohua
Photo: RFA
Wang Chaohua was listed on the Chinese government's list of the 21 "most wanted" student leaders following the armed crackdown on the pro-democracy movement on the night of June 3-4, 1989. The daughter of a former prominent professor of Chinese literature at Beijing University, she spent six months in hiding before arriving in the United States in 1990.

At the time of the protests, Wang was an MA student at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and currently holds a PhD from the University of California-Los Angeles. She was a member of the standing committee of the Beijing Autonomous Association of College Students in the spring of 1989 during the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

In the following extracts from a recent listener call-in show on RFA's Mandarin service, Wang shares her thoughts about the future of China:

"We must keep up our efforts to ensure that the lives of Chinese people continue to develop in a direction of more justice. Sometimes when I look at the problems we have in our society I do have the feeling that things haven't got any better. But at the same time I think we have to continue to keep up the fight. Despair and pessimism aren't going to help us to improve things."

"There's an important reason why [former supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping chose [Chinese president] Hu Jintao to be a successor, and that's because Hu Jintao had already carried out a successful suppression in Lhasa just before the student movement. He knew that Hu Jintao wouldn't crumble under pressure if something happened. That's why he chose Hu Jintao out of all those high-ranking officials. This was a decision made after June 4, 1989."

A minority 'continue to protest'

"People like [dissident intellectual] Liu Xiaobo, who continue their support in the face of persecution and oppression and never give up, really are in a minority. It's because of people like him that we can see that Chinese people aren't actually that self-sacrificing. Of course they have an ability to rise up in protest, but another aspect is that certain Chinese intellectuals have been silenced by economic interests, since economic development took off, because they have been offered good benefits by the authorities."

We can't be called heroic."

"They take note of what the government says, and they say things in support of social stability and that we shouldn't do anything to cause trouble ... But there are many other people who are protesting silently, and we don't get to hear about it because of the controls on the flow of information in China. People should try to make more innovative use of the Internet to get news and to give mutual encouragement and to continue the struggle together."

'We were not heroes'

"The crackdown certainly represented a backward step for the pro-democracy movement in China. Just now a listener used the word 'heroism' to describe the students. We can't be called heroic. The real heroes were the ordinary citizens of Beijing and the young students who died under tanks. Initially everyone thought that they were going to use water cannon and rubber bullets. When they realized that they were really using guns, the citizens of Beijing responded angrily. They weren't fazed by this at all. They just kept coming. And they were cursing [the leadership], calling for Li Peng to resign, and so on."

"That sort of spirit, that sort of pro-democratic feeling, was rare throughout the whole of the 20th century in China. And this time, they weren't fighting off an invader as they were in the War of Resistance Against Japan. This time it was their own rights as citizens and their personal dignity they were fighting for. That spirit was a very precious thing, and I believe that it still lies in the hearts of a great many people."

Critical thinking needed

"As China's economy continues to develop in the next few years, we are going to see more and more demands for democracy as economic divisions and social conflicts grow more widespread."

"We should be teaching today's young people to form their own opinions on everything and to be suspicious of everything they hear, and to stand by their own point of view. Of course, these two things must work together. If you are suspicious of everything, then you won't care about anything, and all that will remain for you to care about will be your own personal interests. But if you can only hold one point of view, whether it be pro-democracy or patriotism, or if you can't be suspicious of anything, then you're going to be in the dark and unable to see a lot of reality clearly."

Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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