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Tiananmen activist fights China from within

dai June 3, 1997
Web posted at: 3:10 p.m. EDT (1910 GMT)

From Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- Eight years ago Wednesday, the Chinese government launched a bloody crackdown against students demonstrating for democracy in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Many of the most prominent activists who led the 1989 protests are now living in exile. But self-described journalist, author and editor Dai Qing has chosen to stay in China despite the restrictions on her freedom.

Not one of China's best known critics, Dai criticizes her homeland on a regular basis. What sets her apart from so many others is the fact she does her finger pointing from within China.


"If the price for this were losing my head, maybe I'd think twice," she says. "Maybe I'd have left, better just to keep my head and say my piece some other day, but these sacrifices now are ones that I can make."

Once considered China's best known woman journalist, Dai lost her job as a local magazine reporter after June 4, 1989, because she resigned in protest from the Communist party. That she'd tried to get the students to end their hunger strike and negotiate with the government made no difference. Dai was still forced to spend the next 10 months in prison.

"It's like you grew up drinking the milk of the Communist party and yet you turn around and criticize them, that's just the kind of person they hate most," she says.

In the eight years since, a select group of Chinese activists who left China have become synonymous with the 1989 student democracy demonstrations. Dai has a few choice words for those dissidents she believes have used their subsequent fame to make money.


"I scorn them," she says. "'Enraged' can't even describe it. It's China's tragedy that at a historical moment like this we get a group of people like them, and that they're international stars, and taken as representatives of China. People think that they are China's most knowledgeable, moral, progressive people, China's hope. That makes me sad."

But rather than allowing herself to be overwhelmed by anger and frustration, Dai has focused her creative energy on her work. One of her books attacks the government's decision to build the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. The book, written in Beijing but published outside China, is one of many examples of the gray area in which she chooses to live and work.

"I move forward, getting the Chinese government to step back one millimeter at a time," she says. "If you try to make them step back a centimeter or a whole meter, they don't dare to do that."

Dai says China's lack of free speech is the last iceberg. Spring has come to China and that block of ice is starting to melt, she says, but it's still a very large block. Dai is one of those intent on chipping away at it -- in person.

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