Fighting for women’s rights and against gendercide in China

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“A Heart for Freedom” essentially tells two stories. On one hand, it is author Chai Ling’s account of her role as commander-in-chief of the spring-summer 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests. On the other hand, the book relates Chai’s conversion to Christianity and her 2010 founding of All Girls Allowed – an organization dedicated to eliminating China’s one-child policy and restoring life, dignity, hope and justice to the nation’s oppressed girls, women and unborn children.

Chai Ling's "A Heart for Freedom"

Chai Ling’s “A Heart for Freedom”

The Tiananmen protests were incited by the April 15, 1989, death of Hu Yaobang, secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party. Hu had been the foremost champion of reform and democracy in China.  Students had gathered in Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu’s passing and to call for greater government transparency, independence of the press, freedom of speech and the restoration of worker control over industry. Chinese officials quickly labelled the student’s demonstration as dong luan – (chaos, turmoil, or upheaval) – and rallied to brutally suppress the movement. Casualty estimates vary, but some accounts indicate the ensuing June 4, 1989, massacre left 300 to 1,000 students dead.

“We were children fighting to grow to maturity within a system ruled by a generation demanding total submission,” Chai wrote in the 2011 book. “The march became the single largest protest against the government since the Communist Party had seized power in China.”

“That experience left a profound and lasting impression on me,” she wrote. “For the first time in my life, I had experienced the massive power of the people’s will for freedom. Despite all the intellectual analysis that came later, I knew in the core of my being that this was a force no individual, no organization, and no party could stop, control, suffocate or manipulate. With joy and delight, I knew I was part of and deeply connected to this force.”

After surviving Tiananmen, Chai became a fugitive and was placed on China’s most-wanted list. She eventually escaped to Hong Kong, then to Europe and America. She went on to receive a master of business administration degree from Harvard Business School, and a master of public administration degree in public affairs and international relations from Princeton University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Peking University. Chai, who has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, is president and chief operating officer of Jenzabar, a provider of higher education software, strategies and services that she founded.

Upon arriving in America, Chai became intensely involved with the movement to end China’s one-child policy and the forced and coerced abortion and infanticide of female children – a grim reality Chai labels as “the most profound social justice cause of the world today.” Begun in 1979, the policy was, in part, a reaction to China’s dwindling food supply and changing socio-economic priorities. Under the policy, parents favored boys over girls because they could carry on the family name.

A pivotal moment for Chai came in 2009 when she met Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a human rights crusader fighting to end forced abortions and sterilizations in China.  Littlejohn awakened Chai to the vast evils of Chinese policy, namely:

– 13 million abortions performed each year, an average of nearly 35,000 a day. (Chai herself had three coerced abortions and one elective abortion.)

– Every 2.5 seconds, a baby’s life is taken by abortion in China.

– More than 400 million lives snuffed out in the past 30 years – most of them infant girls.

– Rampant prenatal sex selection, infanticide and abandonment of infant girls: One of six baby girls are killed to make room for sons; six boys are born for every five girls.

– 500 Chinese women commit suicide each day.

– Currently, over 37 million single men in China are unable to find wives.

– Thousands of Chinese girls have been kidnapped and forced into sex slavery.

While the Tiananmen protests were of great historical significance, the aftermath, coupled with her revulsion of the country’s one-child policy, left Chai with a burning desire to free China’s people and a certainty that her mission was not yet complete. In her belief, the one-child policy amounted to “an hourly Tiananmen massacre, for the past thirty years, in broad daylight, right under the world’s nose.” One night, alone in her office, Chai prayed: “All my life I have wanted to save China. But I can’t do it.  If you can, Jesus, I will give my life to you.”

All Girls Allowed began with an announcement on Capitol Hill on June 1, 2010, in Washington.

Chai’s conversion to Christianity paralleled with changing religious demographics in China.

“Over the past twenty-two years, since the crackdown at Tiananmen, God has breathed life into the Chinese church, creating the largest social movement on earth,” Chai wrote. “An estimated 105 million – almost one in twelve Chinese – are now committed followers of Jesus Christ.”

On Oct. 29, 2015, BBC News in London reported that China planned to end its decades-long one child policy. Beginning this year, families are now allowed to have two children. All Girls Allowed responded with a celebratory statement, while boldly calling on the government to take it a step further and welcome all children. As at Tiananmen, Chai wrote that she found herself once again on the front lines of protest.

“A Heart for Freedom,” from Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois, is a riveting account of one woman’s journey of faith, her willingness to courageously combat the grave evil of China’s gendercide, and her determined fight against an oppressive regime. As China moves towards an embrace of Christianity and greater socio-economic hegemony in the 21st century, we would do well to reflect deeply on Chai’s compelling and instructive story.

Lori Brannigan Kelly is a freelance writer in South Boston. She can be reached at [email protected].