The Tiananmen survivor who turned to Christ

Chai Ling

This week marks a quarter century since China's infamous Tiananmen Massacre. Here is the story of that awful day and one of the student leaders who survived. Now an exile, and a Christian, Chai Ling campaigns for women's rights.

A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China’s Daughters by Chai Ling (Tyndale House)

- Review by David Aikman

Many of us who had spent years reporting on China watched with a feeling of slow-motion tragedy the unfolding of events in the Chinese capital in the spring of 1989, when student-led democracy protests started in Beijing and then across the country. Ultimately, it ended two months later in brutal suppression of the protest by the Chinese Army.

In her remarkably frank—and indeed vulnerable—account of the student leadership discussions, Chai Ling, elected the movement’s 'commander in chief,' makes it clear what a thorough job China’s Communist propaganda gusher had done in brainwashing China’s young people.

Many, perhaps most, of them believed the slogan that 'the army loves the people,' and simply couldn’t imagine that the military might turn against them.

Chai Ling’s story illustrates this phenomenon powerfully. 

The narrative of events leading up to the massacre is detailed and complicated, reflecting the chaos of the largely unplanned movement.

In the predawn hours of June 4, as the People’s Liberation Army swarmed into Tiananmen Square, Chai Ling and her husband retreated with them to the temporary safety of Peking University, only to be advised to leave Beijing immediately because she and her husband, along with several others, topped the party’s most-wanted list.

What follows are the little-known details of their escape from Beijing by train and the tense months of hiding from the authorities in private homes in China’s far south. 

Once in the safety of Hong Kong, however, then later in Paris and the United States, the stress of a new life in the West moved her in a different direction.

Chai Ling’s idealism for China took a decisive new turn when she became a Christian shortly after the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.  Since then, she has not abandoned her campaign for justice for the victims of the crackdown, but acquired another passion: drawing attention to China’s compulsory one-child policy, which leads, every month, to thousands of gender-selective forced abortions and, in consequence, one of the highest female suicide rates of any country in the world.

Her new organisation, All Girls Allowed, seeks to campaign against China’s policy and alleviate the child-kidnapping and sexual trafficking that China’s gender imbalance has created.

Read full review: Freedom in Exile (The Weekly Standard)


25 years on from Tiananmen Square massacre (Vatican Radio)

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun joins crowds in Hong Kong for Tiananmen Anniversary (The New York Times)

Tiananmen Square Leader and Other Experts Describe Growth of Christianity in China (Brookings Institution)

'Forgotten' Tiananmen's shadow on modern China (Eureka Street)

Christianity growing in China 25 years after Tiananmen massacre (The Washington Post)

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