Interview at Tiananmen Square with Chai Ling

I think these may be my last words. My name is Chai Ling. I am twenty-three years old. My home is in Shandong Province. I entered Beijing University in 1983 and majored in psychology. I began my graduate studies at Beijing Normal University in 1987. By coincidence, my birthday is April 15, the day Hu Yaobang died.

The situation has become so dangerous. The students asked me what we were going to do next. I wanted to tell them that we were expecting bloodshed, that it would take a massacre, which would spill blood like a river through Tiananmen Square, to awaken the people. But how could I tell them this? How could I tell them that their lives would have to be sacrificed in order to win?

If we withdraw from the square, the government will kill us anyway and purge those who supported us. If we let them win, thousands would perish, and seventy years of achievement would be wasted. Who knows how long it would be before the movement could rise again? The government has so many means of repression — execution, isolation. They can wear you down and that's exactly what they did to Wei Jingsheng.

I love those kids out there so much. But I feel so helpless. How can I change the world? I am only one person. I never wanted any power. But my conscience will not permit me to surrender my power to traitors and schemers. I want to scream at Chinese people everywhere that we are so miserable! We should not kill each other anymore! Our chances are too slim as it is.

I was extremely sad because, once again, I saw all kinds of people trying to betray us and put an end to this movement. At the start of the hunger strike there were about a thousand students participating, ruining their health. It infuriates me to think that there are people who want to ruin what these 1,000 — and later several thousand — students are risking their lives for.

Within the intellectual circle, however, two supportive friends suggested that we call things off and take on another duty, like writing a book to be entitled Let the Whole World Know. They also said that if this book were circulated, the world would be told exactly what was going on. Then we could be satisfied at the sight of our execution.

I had a conversation with a plainclothes cop on April 25. I asked him what the sentence was for counter-revolutionary activities. He said that it used to be three to five years, but now it is seventeen. I'd be forty after seventeen years in prison. I'm really not willing to do that.

Yesterday I told my husband that I was no longer willing to stay in China. I realize that many students won't understand why I'm withdrawing from this movement and I will probably be criticized for this. But I hope that while I can no longer continue with this work there will be others who can. Democracy isn't the result of just one person's efforts. During the hunger strike I had said that we were not fighting so that we could die but so that we could live. I was fighting for life, because democracy cannot be accomplished by a single generation. Now I'm even more convinced of this. If I don't die, I vow to teach my child, from the day he is born, to grow up to be an honest, kind, fair, and independent Chinese.

We were striving for rights, and I felt like telling everyone, including undercover police and soldiers, that the rights that the students were risking their lives for were also for them. I would be ashamed to enjoy the benefits of these rights we are struggling for if I had never participated in this movement.

I have felt depressed many times. Some of the students have such a poor understanding of democracy. On the day that I suggested the hunger strike, I knew in the back of my mind that it would be futile. There are certain people and certain events in history that are destined to fail. In spite of all this, I have always tried to come across as a strong role model for the students and let them know that some day we will win.

I believe that democracy is a natural desire. It should guarantee human rights and independence, and foster self-respect — all of which people are entitled to.

Unfortunately, the basic human instinct for independence has been greatly inhibited and degraded among the Chinese. Some out-of-town students even came to us, asking for food, lodging, and instructions for what to do next. I thought, they have hands, eyes, their own minds; they can take care of themselves. They are supporting a very good cause but, honestly, many of these students are irresponsible; they are accustomed to living in a feudal society in which they do not have to make decisions for themselves.

The square is our last stand. If we lose it, China will retreat into another dark age, the people will once again turn against one other, with no real feelings or communication between them. If a nation's own people don't stay and help it to grow and develop, who will? But I will not be there to protect the square because I'm different from the others: my name is on the blacklist. I don't want to die.

Before this movement, I dreamt about going abroad — to study psychology — but friends warned me not to think of America as a paradise. They said that there are a lot of overseas Chinese there and that their competitive instincts were overwhelming. I want to say to all those Chinese outside of China, those who already have freedom and democracy, and who have never had their lives endangered, to stand up and unite, to put an end to the fighting among us. There are so many kids here risking their own lives for what you have. Do what you can, break down the barriers and don't be selfish anymore. Think about our race. One billion people can't just fade away.

— Chai Ling (b. 1966)

© 2009 Asia for Educators, Columbia University | http://afe.easia.columbia.edu