Sunday, 2 December 2012

Inside China

Well, I'm still here, and I need to apologize for my absence. I didn't realize my last post was October 23, yikes! It kept becoming one of those things I needed to get around to, and what with poor health, work, and bereavement in our household, it kept falling to the bottom of the list. Well, here I am, on yet another night shift, and still somewhat alert so I give you a long-awaited (by some) post.

While I devour fiction with a voracious appetite, nonfiction reading goes a bit slower for me. Most often I read books related to spiritual growth, Christianity, or Bible study books, but about a year ago an autobiography caught my eye. It's called Heart for Freedom, and it's written by Chai Ling, one of the student leaders at the center of the Tiannamen Square movement in 1980s China. While I had heard about the Tiannamen Square massacre (the picture of the tank bearing down on a lone protester is well known), its roots, causes, and aftermath were unknown to me. As I read the back of the book, it gave a quick summary of how Ling escaped China in spite of being on a "most wanted" list of dissidents, and how she came to America, and now seeks ways to free China's women from the one-child policy.

The book was a gift last Christmas, but I didn't get around to reading it until a couple of months ago. What I liked about the narrative was that it felt as if Ling was sitting with me telling her story. It didn't quite have a conversational feel, but it wasn't stuffy and formal as some autobiographies can be. Perhaps too, I was influenced by recently reading Lisa See's books about ancient and early 20th century China, which had piqued my interest in Chinese culture. Ling's description of growing up as the daughter of officers in the People's Army, struggling to please her father, and doubts about the Communist party are an interesting insight into how her childhood set the stage for her political and spiritual awakening.

As she left home for a place in the prestigious Peking University (where even her major was dictated, until she fought to transfer to the new psychology department), the reader gets a taste of how mind opening the new experiences were to the sheltered girl. In particular, I found it interesting that though China had very "puritanical" views on sexuality, there was no sex education or foundation for the young people thrown together in university to make informed sexual choices. Birth control was only available to married couples, and giving birth was only allowed with a birth permit, also only available to married couples. Ling experienced her first forced abortion after her first year at University.

The movement of China's students as the Cultural Revolution ended and more freedoms were introduced is mimicked in Ling's personal life. As her horizons broadened, the students she socialized with petitioned for greater accountability of the Communist government, asking only to be heard. All of this ended up leading to the protests that held the world's attention before ending in bloodshed. Ling's crushed hopes, and survivor's guilt are so palpable as you read this section that you feel true empathy for her. Her transition to living as an overseas Chinese, trying to continue being a leader in the Chinese freedom movement, and how this impacted her prospects in the U.S. is well chronicled.

The spiritual awakening of Ling, and how she's lead to form a non profit called All Girls Allowed is an interesting twist on how she felt she could impact China's future. From the broad political reforms she once championed, Ling now turned to a fundamental truth: a culture that does not value the lives of girls equally to boys, and would force a genocide of the unborn cannot be free before this is fully faced.

The only time I found this book dragged was when Ling goes into too much detail describing the workings of her internet business that she launched; it was too technical for me. The rest of the book is a fascinating glimpse into the journey toward freedom Ling took, and how she seeks to free others as well