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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"A Heart for Freedom" (Chai Ling)

TITLE: A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
AUTHOR: Chai Ling
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2011, (370 pages).

Mention Tiananmen Square and what comes to mind for most people? Yes. Despite the famous history and the memorable monuments there, Tiananmen Square will always be remembered infamously for the student protest movement in 1989. On June 4th of 1989, the world reeled in shock as they watched the mighty Chinese Red army tanks steamroll the entire student movement, crushing the bodies as well as hopes of many of protesters. In one day, the movement for greater democracy was dismantled. It is one thing for us to watch the pictures on TV and to listen to news reporters giving their observations. It is yet another to hear from someone who was at the heart of the movement, the heat of the crisis, and the head of the student organization leading the protests.  With high ideals and hopes for a better country, Ling and her associates are Chinese patriots who loved the people of China. They stood for Chinese ideals and share the vision of a greater and better China for all. This book gives us a bigger picture and a deeper understanding of the contexts leading to the uprising, the massacres, and the aftermaths of the whole movement. While it is a personal autobiography of Ling, it is also a lens in which outsiders can see the workings and complexities of a growing economic force.

Readers will get to learn about the background of Ling, who calls herself a "daughter of China." Born in a peasant village, Ling was the pride of the family, being the first to study in the prestigious Beida University in Beijing. She shares personal background of her family, her encounters with class discipline, and how she determines herself to become an extraordinary person in order to avoid humiliation. Driven by a strong push to succeed, Ling's interest to make a difference gradually moved from self-accomplishment in academics to other interests, including a dating experience that resulted in her pregnancy. Under the one-child policy, unmarried couples are not supposed to have children, which naturally meant that abortion is already a choice made by the state. A victim of rape, she shares about the dark side of a rape situation that reflects hidden pain in society.  Disappointment in her relationships soon gets replaced by distraction of a growing discontent with the existing state of affairs with politics. As hopes for democratic reforms rise, so did the scrutiny from the institutional powers.  Ling's vision of a beautiful China soon dissipated as she faced bullying, injustice, and slander not just on her but on her family as well.

The build up to the Tiananmen Square confrontations makes this book a thrilling read. At the same time, lessons can be learned about how to avoid similar situations in the future. Even if one disagrees with the perspective of Ling, it helps to understand the thinking behind the student movement, the psychology behind why people can turn from innocent protesters to angry victims. Seeing how some of the army personnel struggles with empathy and support for the students, while maintaining their duties and loyalty to the Red Army gives readers a real sense that the conflicts go beyond mere physical acts. It is very emotional and heart-felt. It is sad to see how three small incidents can so easily unravel three generations of patriotic service to the country. Ling's description of what young couples had to go through, such as birth permits, marriage certificates, and age restrictions gives us a glimpse of why students are so bold to stand up for freedom. I appreciate the political background behind the uprising, triggered by the death of Hu Yao Bang, a respected reform leader. With hunger strikes and various actions that defy the government, the stage was set for the momentous June 4th, 1989. Ling quickly rose to become defacto leader of the peaceful protest movement. If only it ended peacefully. From the movement's most visible leader to China's most wanted, Ling escaped to Hong Kong and subsequently fled first to France, later to America after the government clampdown. Her amazing fighting spirit continues.

The freedom that Ling fought for with many others that she could not experience in her home country, she realized it in America. More than that, she felt she had the freedom to speak up for all manner of injustice. She can speak up for the voiceless. She can tell her story. She can share her dream freely. She became the person every Westerner wanted to meet when it comes to learning about Tiananmen. Ling was a celebrity. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, she continues her academic pursuits in Harvard and Princeton. Yet, there are some situations in which she was not totally free to do: how to deal with the media and politics. Ling's failure in her marriage was soon overcome by what she calls "true love." Toward the end of the book, she shares more details of her conversion to Christianity, her marriage to Bob, and how she founded the "All Girls Allowed" organization to speak up for girls who are victimized by China's one child policy.

This book is gripping and educational in many ways. One learns the background leading up to the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre. One realizes that leadership can be a very lonely and extremely sacrificial calling. It takes boldness to pursue one's dreams. Above all, this book is Ling's personal story of how her fight for freedom and her flight to freedom eventually led her to the true freedom in Christ. Read this book and be moved, chapter after chapter. You do not need to agree with Ling's conclusions. You just need to respect her fighting spirit and step of faith.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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