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A Heart for Freedom

China’s Vice-President, and President-to-be, Xi Jinping has just finished a three day visit to Ireland. The letters page of the Irish Times has debated the merits of closer ties with a country whose human rights record is somewhat dubious.

I have just finished reading “A Heart for Freedom” the autobiography of Chai Ling, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. She ended up on China's most wanted list—not for criminal activity but for wanting dialogue and democracy.

Her story of growing up in China with her military doctor parents gives a fascinating insight into life there—and the twin pressures of conformity and shame that leave no-one wanting to buck the trends, to stand out and stand up, otherwise you bring shame on your family.

The story follows her to university and her involvement with some of the other key figures of the movement. The turmoil of the days of the protest is well captured, along with the infighting among the different student groups, the political intrigue, the panic at the end of the protests as the government resorted to military force, and her escape to the West.

Her quest for democracy and for a voice for the unheard finds itself interwoven with another tragic thread—that of abortion. Forced or pressured to have three abortions when she became pregnant before marriage and without a birth-permit, it was heartbreaking to see the ease with which she could have an abortion, and how much it is part of life in China.

It is in the States that her personal rebuilding starts, a rebuilding that incorporates coming from Buddhist inclinations to faith in Jesus Christ, dealing with misrepresentation by the media, a new marriage and with the guilt of her abortions. In the introduction she says that for many years she had tried to write this story of freedom, but it was only when she came to faith in Jesus that she found the missing piece of the jigsaw and everything fell into place, for her personally and in terms of telling her story.

This account is personal and passionate. She doesn't shy away from the difficult and troubling issues she faced. Yet one of the joys is that in her search for freedom she has found an ultimate and lasting freedom.

Her fight for freedom continues—although now she is a voice for others. Her organization, ‘All Girls Allowed’, exists “to restore life, value, and dignity to girls and mothers, and to reveal the injustice of China's One-Child Policy.” It’s part of her bigger dream to ‘bring God’s love to China’, to see others find the freedom she has found.

It’s a book that’s well worth the read. And to link back to the recent visit to Ireland, Xi Jinping’s father, a former member of the Chinese government, although retired, fell from favour when he condemned the use of violence to crush the Tiananmen Square protests. Perhaps his son will bring about reforms when he assumes the Presidency.