On June 4, 1989, I fled through the streets of Beijing as government officials crushed the student movement we had so passionately held in Tiananmen Square. It was soon reported that our earnest attempt to have peaceful dialogue with our nation’s leaders had been a total failure, though some still say otherwise. For 10 months, I hid underground in China, running for my life from those who should have protected us.
Soon after the massacre, students who were able to escape the brutality watched with the rest of the world as the Berlin Wall crumbled to the ground. We knew that this was the first shockwave to follow our own pursuit of freedom. Even though our hopes and dreams had been squashed by tanks and troops, the movement did not die in Tiananmen. It is impossible to destroy completely a youth movement that is motivated by love and a desire for freedom.
The year 2011 was defined by social movements whose engine and constant furnace were youth from around the world. From Tunisia and Egypt to New York City and Los Angeles, youth took to the Internet and the streets to call for change.
What is it about the power of youth that is so transformational? What makes students stand for justice amidst seemingly impossible circumstances? We had experienced enough disappointment from our government to rise up and ask for something new. As commander-in-chief of the 1989 student demonstrations, I was young and curious, and wanted dialogue from my nation’s leaders. This did not seem like an impossible request. We could ask for change because we had not experienced enough disappointment in life to be jaded, cynical, and weak in the face of injustice. When leading or joining a youth movement, lack of experience can be a wonderful thing.
Youth love freedom. For as long as the world continues to turn on its axis, young people will defend freedom. The passion and zeal in the burning heart of a youthful leader is different from those who are older and more “learned.” Our movement would stop at nothing short of death, which unfortunately came too soon for scores of students in 1989.
Opportunities for students to harness today’s new technology, social media, and general energy are unlike anything the world has seen. Students today, through the Internet and social media, even in spite of the Great Firewall, have a better idea of what freedom looks like and what their oppressed or constrained societies are missing. The time is coming when students will refuse to put up with injustice anymore, and we will be able to witness a new kind of revolution.
CHAI LING was a key student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement and was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. She founded the humanitarian organization All Girls Allowed and is the founding president and chief operating officer of Jenzabar, Inc., a leading higher education software and services provider.