I finished college in the late 1980’s. It was the end of the apartheid era in South Africa, the time of Glasnost and the Berlin Wall crumbling in Germany, and the Tiananmen Square uprising in China.
My friend brought me home a piece of the Berlin Wall from a Spring Break trip, one of my friends was Soweto, having escaped her oppressive government back home, and while doing my senior year internship at Amnesty International’s regional office in Somerville, MA, I spent one afternoon being the “green room” host for Shen Tong.
Shen Tong was one of the student organizers of the Tiananmen Square protests. He had to be smuggled out of the country days after the tanks dispersed the protesters in June 1989. Later that fall I sat opposite him as he waited to speak at a student human rights conference in Boston. When he spoke he talked about being inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights struggle. When he offered to take questions, I remember him being asked if it was difficult to talk about his friends who had been killed. He said that it was, but because they had given lives, how could he not continue to speak out. Was it a bit of survivor’s guilt? Maybe, but none the less powerful or true for being so.
Tong wrote a book about his experiences of June 1989 called Almost a Revolution. He went on to become a businessman and founded his own software company. Almost unbelievably, he’s been allowed back into China, although he’s followed around in cartoonish but very real and dangerous fashion by Chinese security (think CIA).
I’ve been thinking about Shen Tong’s story as the call goes up to boycott the Beijing Olympics, well chronicled by James Ford at Monkey Mind (along with updates on the protests in Tibet and statements from the Dalai Lama). I’ve been thinking about how Shen Tong could go back to China after what happened in the early days of June 1989? Does he feel like he’s got back at them now? Like they don’t dare touch them now? Maybe not. Maybe China will only brutalize faceless monks and Tibetans. I’ve been thinking about the boycott of the Olympics in 1984 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Did it really achieve anything? In the age of steroids and cheating, have the Olympics lost any ability they’ve had to bring the world together in any way, so that any protest or boycott would lose power?
The very least we can do is get on China’s case. Here’s Amnesty International’s latest press release on the Tibet situation.
And here is Amnesty USA’s country page on China. Pick an action and write or email.