Haunted by the ghosts of Tiananmen Square, Dai Qing continues to fight for China’s freedom

This is the story of Dai Qing, a faithful CCP member who drew the party’s wrath in the late 1980s when she dared to question the Three Gorges Dam project, and who was jailed for 10 months following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It is also a story of what Tiananmen Square meant, and what a setback the resulting massacre was for a country thirsting for reform. A setback that to this day haunts the nation.

Looking back and looking forward. It is a preoccupation in China these days.

The push forward is seen in the rapid economic reform and expansion that has made the nation with its teeming population the envy of many and a magnet for new investment.

But the glance back is always there, too, as the ghosts of Tiananmen Square haunt the nation of 1.3 billion.

The memory of the deadly military crackdown nearly 15 years ago remains as vivid as it is nightmarish for Dai Qing, a Chinese environmentalist and journalist who was jailed for 10 months on the heels of the government siege on pro-democracy demonstrations.

Reading about the former guided missile engineer who became a journalist gave me that sense of renewed hope, that if there are more people like her, there really is hope for meaningful change. The article refers to her as the “conscience of the nation.”

Her visit to Beloit as the 2004 Weissberg Professor of International Studies coincided with the anniversary of the mid-April start of peaceful protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

These days, the diminutive woman with fiery opinions walks with the same resolve and energy that pushed her to stroll past government tanks to officially resign from the Communist Party days after the June 4, 1989, military crackdown.

Even though she has been virtually banned from publishing in China, she no longer has a job as a journalist and she has essentially been blacklisted in her own country, she says she still carries a potent weapon: the truth.

“I don’t think I can argue with my fellow writers or journalists. But the way I choose to live my life is the way I choose,” said 63-year-old Dai, responding to those who have questioned why she chooses to live in China when so many other dissidents have left the country.

“My mission is in China,” Dai said. “I will not say, OK, I will leave China and have a better life. This is where I am supposed to be — serving as the conscience [of the nation] in the spirit of the public intellectual.”

I don’t know where people like this draw their courage from, or what it is that transforms them from functionary to revolutionary. All I know is that there are many, many such people in China. It’s tragic, of course, that so many of them are behind bars, but inspiring to see how determined and irrepressible they remain, even after being released.

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