Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling


 I remember when I was attending the Chicago Conservatory in 1989 (back then it was called the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University). Shanghai Conservatory was a sister school to ours and we had a lot of Chinese music students from there attending Roosevelt. One of the students wrote an article for our school newspaper, The Roosevelt Torch. In it she expounded eloquently on conditions in China, which she asserted were identical to how Americans lived. Same opportunity, safety, freedoms, etc.. I personally knew this student. She was a very nice, intelligent person whom I respected and admired. Her well-written article persuaded me that all was hunky-dory across the world in the most populated country in the world.

Call it irony or coincidence but right after her article was printed, the massacre at Tienanmen Square occurred. I have to say I felt anger toward this student for blatantly lying to us. Surely she knew that China did not have the freedom, human rights or equal opportunity that our country has. She lost complete credibility with me.

It's been many years since the tragic events at Tienanmen Square transpired and I doubt many people in the Western hemisphere think much about it anymore. That's why I think I think A Heart for Freedom by Chai Ling is an important book to read.

I was born at the beginning of China's Cultural Revolution. Like all Chinese children, I was taught to love my country, sacrifice my own needs, and be ready to give up my life for a greater good. We were not allowed to know God.

In 1989, I became a leader of a student hunger strike in Tienanmen Square, a peaceful movement for a better, freer, and more loving China. There I discovered the truth about the government I had been taught to love. In the early morning hours of June 4, I stood with my friends and watched in horror as the tanks rolled in. During the crackdown, thousands were wounded or killed.

I survived. (From the inside front cover) 

In this fascinating account, Ling chronicles her life as the child of Army Doctors, her desire to bring honor and pride to her family through high grades and going to  prestigious Peking University. She describes her shame at getting unexpectedly pregnant in college, undergoing an abortion, and working and striving still harder to prove to her parents that she was worthy of their respect.

As time went on she realized she could not follow in her parents footsteps as ardent believers in the State. She began to see serious flaws in the system. Ling gives a thorough, step by step account of the events that led up to the student protest, how she became one of China's most wanted political criminals and how she escaped and eventually moved to the United States.

One of the things that especially struck me was how hard she and the other students were working toward governmental reform in China yet because they, the students, were just as godless as the government they were protesting, there was no moral paradigm that they could hold on to. Ling vividly and honestly portrays her fellow students and herself as people seeking to work toward good but without an instruction manual.
 Consequently, though they could see the big picture (i.e. government should not be oppressive) they couldn't see their own individual portraits as selfish, sinful humans that made up a part of the larger landscape.

Frankly it was depressing to read about the attempts of these students fighting against an outward system while being blind to the tyrannical inward system of their own self absorbed souls.

After coming to America, Ling graduated from Princeton and became a successful business woman. She was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. She married and had three children. It is interesting to note here that at first she had difficulty in getting a job because many international businesses were afraid  hiring her would damage their relationship with China.

Even though Ling was now successful and free from government oppression she was still enslaved to her feelings of guilt and emptiness. What was if all for? China hadn't changed. She poignantly describes the suffering especially of women, most of whom have undergone at least one abortion due to China's enforced one child per family policy. By this time, Ling herself had had four abortions.

But something else happens that Ling was not expecting. The last chapters of the book bring Chai Ling to the end of a very long journey. She discovers the One who truly sets her free: Jesus Christ. Through fellow Chinese who had become Christians as well as other Christian friends, Chai Ling came to experience full freedom in Jesus Christ, the one who wipes away every tear and took our burden of guilt and shame upon himself when He died on the cross.  She finally understood what they, the Chinese students, were doing wrong at Tienanmen Square. In the last chapter she states:

....The Holy Spirit is working overtime in China. In 1983, when I started at Beida, people had to talk in whispers about secret gatherings in the countryside to worship God. Today, at that same university alone, more than two hundred Bible study groups meet on campus, and an official class on Jesus is offered to seven hundred students.

The Chinese government seems to recognize this spiritual hunger. They even erected a giant statue of Confucius in Tienanmen Square in January 2011. But their efforts to find something to hold the country together will inevitably be undermined by the massive amount of corruption, violence, and crime that results from the people's lack of transformative belief system. (pg. 326)

The final chapters of Ling's story describes work with All Girls Allowed, an organization that she founded. It is dedicated to “restoring life, value, and dignity to girls and mothers and revealing the injustice of China's one-child policy.” (From the inside back cover.)

I think this is an invaluable book because it brings to light that there are many injustices and violations of human rights going on in our world today. It also shows the hope we have in Jesus Christ which turns every trial to ultimate joy and meaning.  I can't help but compare the outcome of Chai Ling to Ji Li Jiang's in Red Scarf Girl.  (For that book review you can go here) We Americans are insulated to so much of what is happening in other countries.   If you would like more information on All Girls Allowed you can go to Chai Ling's website: www.allgirlsallowed.org.   

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.


  1. What an amazing book. China has always fascinated me from some reason. It almost seems like an ancient mystical land. One day I'll go visit and I know I'm bound to be disappointed (hope not).

    The one book I read which helped me understand the Chinese immensely is "On China" by Dr. Henry Kissinger (http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=1918). Albeit sometimes hard to read it puts Chinese politics and diplomacy in context of thousands of years of culture.


  2. @ Man of la Book: I also want to visit China. My best friend lives there now.
    I will have to read Kissinger's book. I love to read the history of countries and cultures.
    BTW I notice you hale from Orange NJ. I used to live in Little Falls for a few years. I love NJ and miss it.

  3. This book is a compelling biography recommended for everyone, most especially those who are interested in China’s history and those who are struggling with failure, hurt and shame. This book is an excellent resource for all seekers who search for true meaning and purpose while battling our private fears and regrets. We have included this in our collection at http://booksforevangelism.org, heaps of books can be found here which can be used as a tool for evangelism.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.