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Tiananmen leaders find things have changed Back to mainstream

Fong Tak-ho

Thursday, June 03, 1999

Wang Dan was also the first student leader to apologise to victims of

the crackdown and their families.

A

DECADE has gone. Former Tiananmen student leader Chai Ling is in

charge of an Internet firm in the US, her worn jeans and Snoopy

T-shirt replaced by a designer-brand executive suit.

Changing China through doing business is more effective than through a

political movement, Ms Chai told CNN in an interview on the eve of the

anniversary of the June 4 crackdown.

The former Communist Party member has now finished a Harvard MBA

degree, and is planning to marry an American.

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Ten years ago, Ms Chai was considered one of the most brilliant

students before the eruption of the pro-democracy movement. Then in

1989, the psychology post-graduate suddenly became the leader of a

movement involving a million people, and was considered by Deng

Xiaoping to be a major threat to the 40-year-old socialist

establishment.

After the tragic June 4, 1989, crackdown, the hand-picked elite member

of the Communist Party became one of the most sought after fugitives

by the Beijing authorities for her role in asking for more democracy,

and had to undergo cosmetic surgery before she could flee her

motherland.

Ms Chai's story would be extremely unusual for many, but for those

young turks in Tiananmen a decade ago, this roller-coaster-like tale

is very typical.

Take Li Lu, a colleague of Ms Chai's in Tiananmen Square ten years

ago. Mr Li is now a managing partner for an investment firm in

Manhattan.

"Alongside my democratic campaigns, my business activities would help

me understand and practice the market and democratic mechanisms that

hopefully one day could be set up in China," Mr Li told the Hong Kong

Standard in an interview last week.

Among the official 21 "most wanted" list, only nine are still

currently in China, while the others are all leading the lives of

exiles.

Prominent dissident Wang Dan chooses to stay away from the exiled

groups, although he initiated the commemorative activities for the

June 4 incident.

The Harvard student now devotes most of his time to his studies,

spending some time lecturing around the world on human-rights

concerns.

He plans to be an independent intellectual despite people saying that

a look at the history of China would show that an intellectual can

never accomplish anything. Wang Dan was also the first student leader

to apologise to victims of the crackdown and their families, blaming

himself for the failure to order a retreat from Tiananmen Square after

the imposition of martial law on 19 May, 1989.

Some criticise the exiled students for betraying their commitment

towards pursuing democracy on the mainland, but others say they should

have the right to choose their own way of life.

Although there are those who opt for a change, there are also some who

insist on following the mission they cherished a decade ago.

Wang Youcai, who ranked number 15 on the list, was among the most

uncompromising activists.

The former physics student at Peking University co-founded with fellow

dissidents the China Democratic Party, the first self-claimed

opposition group, which is struggling to survive within the legal

framework of the mainland. However, he was thrown into prison for an

11-year term last year by the ruling government.

Most of those who stayed, however, have downplayed their political

role, concentrating on commercial activities.

People in these category are usually less famous and prefer a

low-profile style, even in the heyday of the 1989 campaign. They

include Ma Shaofang, then a Peking Film Academy student, who now works

in Guangzhou as a corporate image consultant.

Others who prefer to stay out of the spotlight include Qu Weimin, a

Beijing Economics College student in 1989 who now works in Henan, and

Wang Zhengyun, who is now doing business in northeastern China.

They are joined by Xiong Wei, ranked number 20 on the "most wanted"

list, who is a merchant in Beijing after serving a one-year prison

term, and Zhang Ming, who is currently a Shanghai-based businessman.

Despite the fact that they have different lifestyles after the

Tiananmen protest, one thing is for sure: they are all under lifelong

surveillance by the authorities, and they are definitely out of the

public sector.

The ruling Communist Party has in the past considered this a more

powerful means of control than imprisonment _ that dissidents are

deprived of opportunities in the state sector.

That measure has, however, gradually lost its teeth, especially

following the sweeping market reforms that have seen the private

economy grow in importance.

One thing is still pretty clear, however. They will definitely be put

into jail again if they get involved in any political activities.

For instance, Yang Tao, Wang Dan's classmate at the history department

of Peking University, was arrested on 19 May in Guangzhou for trying

to organise activities to commemorate the June 4 incident.

And, on a final note about the Tiananmen protest. Staging a mass

protest in Tiananmen Square may have been romantic, but most of the

romances that flourished then have failed to endure.

Most of the Tiananmen couples have failed to survive the 10 years that

have passed since.

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END


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