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Fax Against Fictions

2 minute read

When word of the massacre in Tiananmen Square first reached the University of Michigan, the 250 Chinese students studying there jumped into action: they purchased a fax machine. Daily summaries of Western news accounts and photographs were faxed to universities, government offices, hospitals and businesses in major cities in China to provide an alternative to the government’s distorted press reports. The Chinese students traded fax numbers back home along the computer network that links them around the U.S. The fax brigades at Michigan were duplicated on many other campuses. “We want everyone to see that there’s blood in the streets,” says Sheng-Yu Huang, a chemistry student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Some 40,000 Chinese are studying in the U.S., one of the largest group of foreigners on American campuses. They represent a crucial element in China’s hopes for economic modernization, but they have also had firsthand experience with Western political freedoms. All around the U.S. last week, they were in the forefront of protests against the repression in their homeland.

In New York City about 30 people have engaged in a symbolic hunger strike across the street from the United Nations. They were demanding U.N. condemnation of the crackdown in Beijing and the dispatch of medical workers and human-rights observers to China. Though many of the students in the U.S. are children of Communist Party members, and some are members themselves, the army’s brutality has soured them on the party’s monopolistic rule. “The only way to save the country is to go to a multiparty system,” says John Shao, a student at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. He renounced his party membership after witnessing scenes of the Tiananmen Square bloodbath.

For many, the most anguishing decision is whether to return to China when their studies are completed. Now that Chinese authorities are tracking down the leaders of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, students who took part in protests in the West may also be seen as infected with the disease of democracy. One young adviser to the Tiananmen Square demonstrators was Liu Xiaobo, a lecturer at Beijing Normal University; he had returned to China last winter from a fellowship at Columbia University.

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