What happens when one person stands up to a repressive regime? What if it becomes a movement that ends in failure while the world watches? A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling tells the story of a woman’s involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests and escape to the West.
Ling grew up in the Chinese countryside where she excelled in school. After high school, she moved to Beijing to attend college. She studied psychology, and like many students, saw her country in a new light. She married another student after graduation, and both went on to graduate school. They hoped to come to the United States for further study.
In the spring of 1989, the author wanted to help fellow students who were protesting against the government. After a police confrontation, she resolved to stand up to the authorities. Like many other students, she began to protest in Tiananmen Square. She became one of the leaders speaking out against the Chinese government.
The author details the activities that took place during the critical weeks in 1989. She talks of meeting with other student leaders and government officials who kept the movement alive. She leads the hunger strike during the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev to encourage the students in their resistance. The students’ primary goal is more democracy and openness for their country. Ling has no idea that violence will end the affair. After the army crackdown, she manages to escape despite her status as a most wanted person.
Ling goes into hiding for nearly a year, and with the help of others, leaves China for good. She comes to the United States and earns a degree from Princeton University. She feels she had gained her freedom, but her past catches up with her as potential employers fear hiring her could harm their own relationships with Chinese businesses. Eventually, Ling finds employment with a large firm. Having a position enables her to bring her family to the United States. She also continues to press for a democratic China.
Ling leaves the business world to start her own successful Internet company. She divorces her first husband, remarries, and begins a family. She is also involved with an organization that seeks to end the one-child policy in China. She feels that the policy has led to problems in Chinese society. She also becomes a Christian and sees a fledging Christian community in her native land.
While living the American Dream in freedom, Ling seeks the same future for China. She is haunted by those who lost their lives in Tiananmen Square. She vows to keep up the fight for democratic China and will not rest until that happens. However, she is grateful for the chance to tell her side of the story while enjoying the freedom of the United States.
I could not put this book down as I became drawn into the story of the author and the uprising in Tiananmen Square. I wanted a different ending to the story of the protest, but knowing history, realized that would not be happening!
Like the author, I hope for a brighter future for China and its citizens. For now, the wait continues to see what will happen in the communist country as it goes further into the 21st century.
Further Reading: Read an excerpt and grab the discussion guide at aheartforfreedom.com
About the Author
Judy Klammis a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.