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China's Overseas Opposition Groups Are Deeply Divided

MANY Chinese students abroad will mark tomorrow's anniversary of the Beijing massacre with little more than quiet, individual remembrance. Chinese activists in several countries plan concerts, seminars, and wreath-laying ceremonies to eulogize the hundreds of citizens killed when troops and tanks crushed student-led protests for democracy before dawn that black Saturday.

But few pro-democracy groups anticipate the big turnouts of last year, let alone the fiery rallies of two years ago.

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``Last year a lot of people participated in the anniversary, we don't expect that now,'' says Lu Yang, secretary of the Federation for Democratic China, an exiled opposition group.

Less than two years after its birth, the first overseas movement to oppose China's communist dictatorship is plagued by factionalism, funding problems, and declining participation, say Chinese dissidents, organizers, and students.

The troubles suggest the great challenge inexperienced Chinese activists face in their ongoing struggle to transform the raw emotions unleashed by June 4 into mature political organizations.

The Communist Party's systematic repression is intimidating mainland Chinese and making it difficult and dangerous for the organizations to aid underground activists inside the country.

``Our channels to the Chinese people have been cut, so we can have little direct impact on China,'' says Luo Ping, a Chinese student leader at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Meanwhile, foreign pressure on Beijing to improve human rights has decreased since Western governments and Japan began easing sanctions last year, Chinese dissidents say.

Major events like the Gulf war have shifted international attention away from China. This facilitates Beijing's effort to promote jian wang zheng, literally ``the forgetfulness disease,'' to diffuse resentment over June 4, says Chinese philosopher Su Shaozhi, now a professor in residence at Marquette University.

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Partly as a result, contributions for the Chinese opposition groups are drying up, forcing some temporarily to stop operations and others drastically to scale down their activities.

In addition, many activists say the fledgling pro-democracy organizations have disappointed followers by failing to map out a concrete strategy for bringing the grand vision of democracy for China down to earth.

``They talk about democracy and freedom but don't make any step-by-step proposals,'' says Liu Yuan, president of the China Information Center in Boston. ``They act like a bunch of philosophers talking about China, not like an organization.''

Unfamiliar with the workings of a democratic society, some activists ironically have had difficulty running their groups in an open-minded, democratic manner, Mr. Liu and other organizers say. Instead, by holding to personal viewpoints, they weaken the overseas dissident community by fostering sharp divisions.

``Everyone is upset about the factionalism,'' says Boston University historian Merle Goldman, who is researching China's democracy movement. She noted, however, that factionalism is also common in other nation's newly formed opposition groups.

Finally, many graduating student leaders and exiled dissidents are feeling their energies sapped by pressing personal needs, such as finding jobs, arranging for visas, and resolving the problems of family left in China. Such difficulties have forced a major shift in how the opposition groups view their political role. In the aftermath of June 4, many hoped to directly orchestrate China's transition to democracy. Today, activists say that the campaign for democracy must be led by people within China.

``It is difficult for the overseas pro-democracy movement to engage in any political activities that directly influence China,'' Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi told a press conference in Seattle last month.

``But at least we can tell the international community the real situation in China,'' says Mr. Fang, an astrophysicist. ``My colleagues in prison can't do anything.''

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