Tiananmen Nightmare Lingers
The quest for a `way out' has preoccupied Chinese youths since the Army's repression last June. REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK
FOR days after the Beijing massacre, Li Jun wandered the capital haunted by images that he could not escape. Hearing gunshots on the night of June 3, Mr. Li had grabbed a camera and rushed from the campus of his journalism school to witness the military onslaught.
Later, he learned that a classmate had been shot to death by troops near Muxudi Bridge in west Beijing, compounding the shock of a blood bath that few students had expected.
``Those days were too terrible,'' Li says in a hushed voice. ``Several people I know went temporarily crazy.''
One of Li's friends, a journalist from the official New China News Agency who had joined protests for basic freedoms, was so frightened she was unable to speak for two months.
Li (a pseudonym) was badly shaken.
``I would bicycle through the streets and remember what happened,'' Li says. ``I kept thinking: `I have to get out.'''
The quest for chu lu (a way out), has preoccupied Li and other Chinese youths since troops and tanks swept into Tiananmen Square, shattering hopes for democratic change. Struggling to escape manual labor, military training, and Marxist indoctrination, students and young intellectuals long for freedom to pursue their professional ambitions.
The most popular chu lu for thousands of city youths is to leave China, at virtually any cost. But as the Communist Party tightens controls on foreign travel, few can realize the dream of emigrating. The rest, like Li, say they feel trapped and resentful over the waste of their talent.
After the crackdown, Li abandoned plans to join a Chinese newspaper, unwilling to waste time ``copying documents.'' Eager to use his English instead, he took a job in the foreign affairs office of a government department upon graduating in July.
But in August, Chinese authorities ordered nearly half a million college graduates working at Communist Party and government organizations to the ``grass roots'' - factories, farms, schools, and local bureaucracies - for one or two years of ``tempering'' and Marxist indoctrination.
The order, along with mandatory military training and restricted courses of study, is one of several aimed at punishing student activism. Under it, youths who fail to prove ``politically reliable'' must remain at the ``grass roots.''
Dozens of Li's fellow graduates are now toiling alongside workers smelting steel and repairing furnaces at Beijing's Capital Iron and Steel Company, the official China Daily reported this month.
``Young intellectuals, especially young students, should integrate with the workers and peasants.... This is the effective way to establish a correct sense of social responsibility,'' said a recent editorial in the party mouthpiece People's Daily.
To escape manual labor, Li abruptly quit his government job. Today, he languishes at a small Beijing factory, earning just enough to live on as his English and writing skills deteriorate.
Li says his greatest desire now is to go abroad ``for freedom, for openness, and for money.''
Li is not alone.
``Everyone wants to leave China. They have lost hope,'' says a Beijing University student.
More than 80,000 Chinese youths have left to study abroad since 1978, while only 32,000 have returned, according to official statistics. Yet student visas - the main ticket to the West - are becoming harder to obtain. Chinese authorities are restricting the number of youths allowed to study in America and Western Europe in an attempt to curtail the influx of Western democratic ideals.
Consequently, some youths are taking more drastic routes.
``There is a popular saying,'' says the Beijing University student. ```If you love your wife, divorce her and let her marry a foreigner so she can move overseas.'''
The student, who is single, admits that she wants to marry a foreigner. Disappointed by the scarcity of eligible exchange students since the crackdown, she is preparing to be a tour guide in hopes of meeting her match.
Others, like Li, seek work abroad, with some willing to take horrendous jobs. Many youths in Shanghai have gone to Japan, where some work as coffin bearers - a job usually performed by Japan's downtrodden class of burakumin (untouchables).
``You can work hard in China for 10 years and not make as much money as working hard in Japan for one year,'' the student says.
But even young private entrepreneurs, who are rich by Chinese standards, seek a retreat from the heightened political discrimination and prying of tax collectors they have faced since June.
``Of course I would like to go abroad, and best of all change citizenship,'' says Sun Jian, the manager of a new Beijing nightclub.
Like millions of young mavericks who have found chu lu in China's dynamic private sector over the past decade, Mr. Sun opposes recent attempts by the Communist Party to limit his income and supervise his business more closely.
``We gave the students soft drinks in the hot weather. We helped them. We thought they would win,'' Sun says. He asks that his real name be withheld.