The summer of 1988 I boarded an airplane with other college students from all over the United States in route to China on a program called OTC (Overseas Training Camp). We spent a week in San Francisco learning about the culture of China and some language study and then a week in Hong Kong to slowly acclimate us to the change of culture we would experience. We spent the rest of the summer in China. When we left China we briefly spent time in Macau before heading back to the States.
While in China we were matched up with students from the University of Beijing. The students, or our "Counterparts," taught us not only Chinese, but also their history, culture, and so much more. We really got to know these students as they took us to so many places in their country from the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the emperor's summer palace, Tiananmen Square, museums, toured the Bejing University campus, and many more places. We road bikes with them in the busy streets, we jammed into tight places with them on the bus, we chatted with them over gyoza ("pot stickers"), and some of us even saw the inside of their dorm room. Through all these social settings we felt as if we were really getting to know them and making some sort of long term attachment.
Late in April of 1989, while I was back at college, I started receiving letters from my "counterpart," informing me of how certain students I knew from our trip last summer had went to mourn Hu Yaobang (Death: 15 April 1989. The leader of the People's Republic of China who purported economic and political reforms.) And then continued to sit in protest in Tiananmen Square.
After finishing the school year (early June? can't remember), I was back sitting with some old friends getting back from college and we talked about the social unrest in China. While sitting among the crowd I mentioned I was receiving letters from the inside of what was going on in the square and read the latest letter out loud. A Chinese student among the group (a friend of a friend-someone I did not know) asked if he could borrow the letter and put it on the local Chinese radio station for those who lived locally. Wanting to help in their efforts, I agreed and just handed the letter over to him.
I never received that letter back, nor did I ever hear from my "counterpart" again. I feared I did something to reveal her identity and her family's position in China. I may never know.
This past month I dug up my journal and my photo book of that summer. I can't believe I was conscience and able to write a journal 21 years ago - that I am really old enough to have a memory from that long ago. What is worse was that it was AFTER high school. Scary. (A bit more cautious, I am not posting photos of them on this site like I intended.)
I have not heard from any of those Beijing University students since that time. I think of them (now in their late 30's early 40's) and their families and wonder how they are doing. Do they still stand up for reform? With the current affairs in Iran we witness on the news people who are rebelling against injustice, demanding a fair election, and appealing for a government without corruption. I wonder what I would stand up for in risk of family, life, and imprisonment.
What would you fight for? Would you protest on the streets, sit in the town square to demand reform, or write a letter to a politician for change? What would you stand up for to look out for your children's and your own future?
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