What Happened to the Dissidents of Tiananmen Square?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 3 2014 4:57 PM

What Happened to the Dissidents of Tiananmen Square?

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Tiananmen Square.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Tomorrow marks 25 years to the date since the massacre, in Beijing, of protestors critical of the Chinese government. The Washington Post today follows up on the whereabouts of central figures in the incident; most striking are the paths taken by the students who led protests in Tiananmen Square. Some, like Wang Dan, a professor in Taiwan, have become scholars and activists. Some went into finance; Li Lu earned three degrees from Columbia University and is now a Pasadena-based investor influenced by Warren Buffett. Two others are active Christians; Zhang Boli is a pastor in Virginia, and Chai Ling founded a Boston-based evangelical aid organization for women and girls. (The identity and fate of the protestor who faced down a row of tanks in one of the 20th century’s most iconic images remains unknown.)

The former students are scattered across the world—and at first glance, to a contemporary American, have little in common. Their occupations (finance, academics, religion) even sit, to some extent, on different sides of our present cultural and political divides. But in the context of the late-1980s Chinese government—an enemy of free speech, free enterprise, organized religion, women’s rights, and self-determination in general—you can see the thread between them. Having made it out, the Tiananmen veterans went on to lives that weren't available to them at home. Hundreds and perhaps thousands of their contemporaries didn't get that chance.

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The New York Times, meanwhile, has the story of Peking University’s official student union leader—who opposed the protests and cooperated with authorities. He has become “a banker for the ruling class and a billionaire.”

Correction, June 3: This post originally incorrectly identified the Tiananmen activist who earned three degrees from Columbia University; it was Li Lu, not Wang Dan.

Ben Mathis-Lilley edits the Slatest. Follow @Slatest on Twitter.

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