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Shen Tong
Shen Tong
Almost a Revolution
ISBN: 0060974303
Almost a Revolution
Shen Tong was a student leader of the pro-democracy demonstrations in China during the spring of 1989. "Almost a Revolution: The Story of a Chinese Student's Journey From Boyhood to Leadership in Tiananmen Square" recounts Shen Tong's involvement in political demonstrations in China during the 1980s. The book is written chronologically and details the events leading up to the Chinese military's attack and dispersal of the protesting students at Tiananmen Square on June 3, 1989. The book also chronicles how Mr. Tong escaped from China after the Tiananmen massacre. He is now a student at Brandeis University and lives in Waltham, Massachusetts. Marianne Yen of The Washington Post co-wrote the book.
Almost a Revolution
Program Air Date: December 16, 1990

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Shen Tong, author of "Almost a Revolution," in the epilogue of your book you write, "I believe the end of tyranny is near." How near?
SHEN TONG, AUTHOR, "ALMOST A REVOLUTION: THE STORY OF A CHINESE STUDENT'S JOURNEY FROM BOYHOOD TO LEADERSHIP IN TIANANMEN SQUARE": A lot of people think the movement in China is over. But by my definition, when we're talking about the pro-democracy movement in China, I see it in a more fundamental way. I mean, the foundation for the last Spring movement -- the people's dissatisfaction; the decentralizing political and economic trend by the local government; the central government reformers vs. conservatives; and also the factions within the army, radical intellectuals searching for the new possibility for China -- all those factors were the foundation for the last Spring movement, and they're only deepened and strengthened by the democracy itself. So, I think the potential is still there and even stronger. After last spring's movement, we have our underground movement as well as exile movement. So I think the movement will still keep going, although we have a surface setback, and we paid a big price last spring.
LAMB: Here's the cover of your book. Who is this?
TONG: The two students actually were standing on a bus during a demonstration, and one of them was my friend.
LAMB: What's his name?
TONG: I don't want to give you his name, but he is in Qinghua University, one of Beijing's biggest universities.
LAMB: So he's still in China?
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: When did you leave China?
TONG: Last June, like a week after the massacre.
LAMB: And where are you now?
TONG: I'm in Brandeis University in the Boston area.
LAMB: Studying what?
TONG: Studying biology and philosophy. Also my group, Democracy for China Fund, is also based in Boston.
LAMB: Group ...?
TONG: My exile pro-democracy movement organization. It's called Democracy for China, based in Boston.
LAMB: And what are you going to do when you graduate? And you are a senior?
TONG: I'm a senior, yes. I'm applying to graduate schools and starting to move my academic interests to political science and international relations.
LAMB: Can you go back to China?
TONG: Right now I don't think so, no.
LAMB: So do you plan to stay in the United States?
TONG: Yes. I consider myself as an exile. I can't go back right now, but I will go back whenever it's possible.
LAMB: Why did you decide to write a book?
TONG: Well, it's very complicated. When I escaped from China, I was traveling around all over the world to tell the people what's going on there, you know. That was the time I found out that it seems there are two Tiananmen Squares. One is the one I really experienced -- you know, the excitement, frustration, even in-fightings which never leave the heart of a social revolution. Another is the one kind of created by the Western media. Each piece of the second Tiananmen Square is so accurate, but as a whole is quite dramatic and isolated. It kind of sticks out from Chinese history. People remember, people know Tiananmen Square, God of Democracy, stood in front of tanks, but they don't know exactly where the movement came from, so they don't really know where it goes. It seems for them China didn't make it. They were close, and Eastern Europeans made it. So that's the time I feel the urgency to write a book as an insider, not only of the 1989 movement, but as a young person who grew up in China in such a distinguished decade. The so-called Open Door Policy at the end of the 1970s, how my generation grew up and how this new generation with this basically totally new ideology shaped the new atmosphere in the society and finally triggered the 1989 movement.
LAMB: During the book we get to know your mother and father and sister and grandmother. Your father died recently. When did he die, and what was it of?
TONG: He passed away a month after I escaped from China. He had a fatal disease, the blood sensor ...
LAMB: Leukemia?
TONG: Yes, leukemia. Part of the reason he died so fast -- the disease was found at the end of May, and he died two months later. He was too depressed in a lot of ways. The government put pressure on him, and he was a Communist Party member. All his life he was trying to follow so-called party lines. It was his whole-life ideology. The government asked him to be the spy of his own son, which also he trusts a lot. So it was this whole controversy in his life for a long time, especially during the 1989 movement. He was very depressed.
LAMB: Your mother, how is she?
TONG: She is okay. She is still in Beijing and working in a very big factory's hospital. She is a medical doctor.
LAMB: She is a medical doctor?
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: Your sister?
TONG: My sister is the same as my father and me. She graduated from Peking University. We're very proud of it, you know, in my family. She was working in a government consulting company, but after my escape, the government put pressures on her and took away her passport and her work and gave her a lot of hard times, and now she changed to a foreign company. She works for a foreign company in Beijing.
LAMB: And your grandmother?
TONG: My grandmother is fine. She is 76 years old and she brought me up and she is still healthy, but the only thing is she really hopes she can see me in the near future. I hope I can go back soon to see her.
LAMB: Now, this is a picture of your grandmother, the one at the top?
TONG: That's the picture of when I was 100 days, after I was born.
LAMB: You say early in the book that your grandmother at age three started to teach you important things. What kind of things did she teach you?
TONG: Yes, like Chinese traditional literature, those important works like "Three Kingdoms" and several important traditional literature works.
LAMB: One of the things we keep reading are references to world figures and some American figures that you seem to know about. One of them was Rosa Parks. How did you know about Rosa Parks when you were growing up?
TONG: Not exactly Rosa Parks, excuse me. We knew more about Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Dr. King and Franklin Roosevelt as well as the important figures during the Second World War. It's really due to the so-called Open Door Policy in China since the end of the 1970s. Deng Xiaoping after the fall of Mao Zedong's dynasty, they say that Deng Xiaoping's government opened the door of China to the world. Western materials and Western ideas and influential thinkers and politicians all kind of rushed into China, and my generation as a generation grew up in this totally new atmosphere. Not only Western stuff, but also Chinese intellectuals started to assert their own view. At that time there were "scar" literature, so-called neo-tide poetry, as well as pop music, which totally created a new kind of culture -- at least a pop culture. We started to think and grow up from this new atmosphere. It was a combination of the new Chinese liberal atmosphere combined with Western ideals and the Western materialism. We gradually had this new ideology -- I would say it's individualism -- totally different from the other generations in China previously. I believe individualism in a psychological and a cultural way is a foundation for pluralism eventually.
LAMB: Now, if you were still in China, could you still read these books?
TONG: Right now the controls are very tight, but there's no way to just wipe out all the Western stuff. The Western ideals and all of the new values have already combined with the native Chinese cultural development, so there's no way for the central government to wipe it out. So it's still possible, especially if you're not in cities like Beijing or Shanghai where control is very tight. If you're out of Beijing it's quite free still.
LAMB: Where did you learn your English?
TONG: In China and here. Every Chinese university student learns two years of common English education. That's a part of the Open Door Policy which had a good deal of influence on us, and we take a big advantage from that.
LAMB: You lived near Tiananmen Square.
TONG: Yes, it's like a mile west from Tiananmen Square. The street my family's house is on the side of is called Eternal Peace Avenue, Changan Avenue, and Tiananmen Square is kind of in the middle of Changan Avenue.
LAMB: Explain the kind of living conditions that you had when you were growing up.
TONG: Well, it was really different from American life. It's very crowded in Beijing. With a lot of families, three generations live in one room. There are very little materials. People line up in a long line to buy basic supplies. It's different. In comparison, the level of living is much poorer than American life. But most of the time people are happy because since this 10 years of Open Door Policy people really feel the sense of growing. Their life is getting better and better.
LAMB: How many rooms were there in your home?
TONG: It's two rooms -- very small rooms. My family built up another small room. When I grew up I had my own half-room, my own space.
LAMB: Did your parents own that?
TONG: No, it's all owned by the government.
LAMB: How do you get your lodging? In other words, were they assigned through the party?
TONG: Yes, through work unit, party, and if you are high-ranking officials you got a lot of rooms. If you are just normal clerks, workers, small businessmen, low-ranking officials, you got very crowded in your family.
LAMB: At what stage in your life did you know that you were going to be an activist?
TONG: The idea, the shaping period of everything was when I was very young. My family was a very liberal family. They brought me up in a very liberal atmosphere. I started to evolve in the social activities as kind of anti-government activity, the pro-democracy movement, when I was 17 years old in 1985.
LAMB: Why were your parents liberal?
TONG: Well, they were intellectuals. In China and almost every country there are always kind of intellectuals, at least in a theoretical, spiritual aspect. Also they were concerned with the social issues a lot. They were very idealistic when they were young. Another reason is that they graduated from Peking University, which is the political and academic leading place in China for decades -- ever since the 1919 May 4th movement. So that's the liberal atmosphere I have. But there is always controversy, not only in my family, but all my parenthood and even younger than their generation, what we call the "Cultural Revolution generation," like 10 years older than my generation. It a fine balance to keep concerned and unconcerned of the social issues -- to keep concerned mentally, intellectually, but keep away from the direct involvement because they suffered too much. Their generation sacrificed too much and didn't get anything out of it.
LAMB: But both of your parents were members of the Communist Party, weren't they?
TONG: My father was. Not my mother, because my mother kind of has this bad family background. One of her brothers is in Taiwan, so there is no way for her to join the party, although she really for her whole life, almost, committed to the Communist Party's line.
LAMB: Has your mother or your sister been hurt at all because you're over here? The communists obviously know that you're involved. They'll read your book. Are you worried about that at all?
TONG: Well, as I said, after I left China they gave my family a hard time. Actually, I would say, fortunately, my father passed away. If he were still alive, since he was working in the government, he would get a very hard time. My sister had to change her job from a Chinese company to a foreign company in Beijing, and they took away her passport. She couldn't travel abroad.
LAMB: She was at one time going to go study in Japan.
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: Changed her mind, or they changed it for her.
TONG: Yes, they changed it for her. Still, she is working in a Japanese company, and she couldn't go to Japan even if the company wants her to go to Japan because the Chinese government won't give her a passport.
LAMB: Two of your grandparents committed suicide. Why?
TONG: This is not only the part of the suppression, the disaster the Communist Party created for 40 years now, but also involves in the Chinese old tradition the matter of face -- to lose face or grace. They were viewed wrongly as so-called rich peasants although they were very poor. My grandparents were in the countryside near Shanghai. I think they had an argument with the new Communist Party leader in the village because they thought they were corrupting in their view as rich peasants, and during the cultural revolution the Red Guard wanted to draw them to go on some kind of demonstration, to criticize and show them to the villagers, their friends. So right before the night they were about to go on the street, they committed suicide.
LAMB: How many of the people like yourself who were involved in the Tiananmen Square activities are here in the United States now?
TONG: The students, more than 10 of them -- 20, around -- but also there are intellectuals much older than us, 60 or 70 years old, also exiled from China. Our exile community is very big. As for students in this country, there are 75,000 Chinese students from mainland China in the United States. People who are very active and take very visible roles in the exile movement, there are hundreds of them.
LAMB: Seventy-five thousand mainland Chinese students in this country. How many of them have come since Tiananmen Square?
TONG: There are about 7,000 of them, but most of them were not activists in the movement because most activists are in jail now in China.
LAMB: Can someone living in China who wants to come out now and go to school here, will the government allow them to leave?
TONG: Almost impossible. There are so many restrictions, like you have to pay an almost impossible fee for a Chinese family. It's like 10,000 Chinese dollars. Also you should have direct relatives overseas, which not a lot of Chinese do. So they put a lot of restrictions that make it impossible for a student to go abroad.
LAMB: It says on the cover of this, "Shen Tong with Marianne Yen." Did Marianne Yen actually do the writing on the book?
TONG: Yes, we wrote it together, and she did a lot of the job and she was a reporter for the Washington Post for five years. Right now she is in Columbia University in law school.
LAMB: Is she Chinese?
TONG: She is a Chinese-American.
LAMB: Born here?
TONG: She was born in Taiwan, an immigrant to the United States.
LAMB: When did you start working on the book?
TONG: In January, this past January.
LAMB: And what's the reason? What's the purpose, and what do you hope will happen with the selling of this book? Are you going to make money with it?
TONG: Well, definitely the money part, but at the time I really felt that I could write an autobiography as a 21-year-old student, because I really wanted the whole world not only just to remember Tiananmen Square as a dramatic scene, but also to understand our desire for freedom as the face of the Chinese future and where the movement came from.
LAMB: Are you going to try to get this book back into China?
TONG: Not the English version. I am trying to also do the Chinese version and smuggle it into China.
LAMB: Is it possible to smuggle things back into China?
TONG: Oh, yes, definitely. That's part of our exile movement. We broadcast back to China, which can reach 80 percent of the population every morning, and also we smuggle our overseas Chinese-language newspapers and magazines to express our exile movement views and news about Eastern Europe and all the world events going on and smuggle it into China from the south.
LAMB: From down around Hong Kong?
TONG: Yes, Hong Kong and Macao or Thailand.
LAMB: Now, you say you broadcast to 80 percent of the mainland China now?
TONG: Yes. We cover 60 percent of the land but reach 80 percent of the population.
LAMB: How?
TONG: We made tapes in Chicago at a radio station, our June 4th project -- the Voice of June 4th in Chicago. We made the tape there and broadcast from Taiwan and several other places around China into mainland China.
LAMB: Do you hear back from people after you do that?
TONG: Oh, yes. They write to us all the time. We get tons of mail every week.
LAMB: What do they say?
TONG: The value of the all uncensored news is one part. Definitely it's valuable. More importantly, people feel this strong hope from the fact that we still have a voice in China as the exile movement and that we are bringing hope to the Chinese. They really appreciate our work, and they encourage us to keep up the work.
LAMB: When you were living in China and in high school and in college, the school you went to was ...
TONG: Peking University.
LAMB: How did you get in there?
TONG: Well, we had a so-called college entrance examination. It's like the SAT in this country, but much harder. It's very hard, and you must pass that. It's almost the only standard for the student to get in school, especially a very good school, a leading university like Peking University. So, people spend at least half a year or a year -- some people do it over and over again several times, to take the test.
LAMB: Do you have a choice of where you go to school?
TONG: You can have a choice, but it depends on your grade on that so-called big test.
LAMB: Can you then choose what you want to study?
TONG: Yes, but when you choose your major it's not like liberal arts education in this country. When you choose your major in the very beginning before you enter the university, you should stick to it, basically. I was biology major. All of my classes were biology, chemistry and philosophy. You can't easily switch to philosophy, although I am very interested in it. Now here in Brandeis I can study both philosophy and biology.
LAMB: When you were in school, what kind of things -- I mean, Americans like to think that they spent millions and millions of dollars to the Voice of America and things like that, influencing people inside China to stand up and be for democracy. Did any of that get through?
TONG: Oh, definitely. The VOA, BBC and Hong Kong newspapers and magazines have a very big impact on Chinese people. The Chinese people view all those news sources as uncensored. It's a real free press. Meanwhile, generally they think the Chinese press -- and it is -- is all government-controlled or should go along with so-called party lines, although also among the journalists there were also reforms for years already. Still VOA and BBC and Hong Kong and Taiwan magazines and newspapers still bring real news and hopes along with our broadcasting station and newspapers to the Chinese people. I just hope VOA can keep up their good work and also make it more freer news. I know there are a lot of concerns about the Chinese government by the broadcasting station, and I hope they can really have a free position on this issue.
LAMB: Go back. What would you say was the beginning of Tiananmen Square? When did the activities that you first got involved in, in your opinion, lead to what eventually became the June 4th situation?
TONG: I think I'd say the 1989 movement was an explosion of the whole more than 10 years contemporary Chinese pro-democracy struggle -- everything from the 1978 Democracy Wall Movement. At that time I was very young. I was 10 years old. I didn't get involved. The Democracy Wall Movement is like two minutes' walk from my house. That's a milestone for the contemporary Chinese struggle for democracy, and it really set up the pace and gradually started to do this kind of self-education for the whole nation for what democracy really means, what pluralist means, what the problems with the system are. Almost every year after that there was this elite urban area movement. It gradually became bigger and bigger until 1989. It finally has become real nationwide. It involved all the classes, not only the elite, not only intellectuals or students, but also workers, journalists and peasants, even. You know, the whole nation started in 1989.
LAMB: I read in your book that -- and I may mispronounce this -- Fang Lizhi spoke to a class or at some kind of an event at your school?
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: And he was then a member of the Communist Party?
TONG: He was in the Communist Party, and he was vice-president of another major university in middle China. It's called the University of Science and Technology. He was a vice-president there. He became for years the symbolic leader of radical intellectuals, urging the Chinese government to open the door more and more and welcome more Western ideas and the Western form of democracy. So he became the hero and symbol for a lot of young Chinese students.
LAMB: Is he still in Cambridge?
TONG: Yes. He escaped to Cambridge.
LAMB: Is he coming here?
TONG: He is coming, I believe, to Princeton next year.
LAMB: Have you talked to him since he's been out?
TONG: Yes. We contacted him, and he is in the school and doing his research and meanwhile keeping informed of the exile movement. He will, in his own way, be involved in the humanist struggle for China.
LAMB: But again, go back when you were in school. Was he one of your heroes when he came to speak to you? Did you follow him after that?
TONG: Oh, definitely. He has a big impact, and not only him. There is a whole school of, I would say, radical liberal intellectuals who gradually grew up in this Open Door Policy -- older intellectuals. They all have a very big impact on our generation, on the students on campus.
LAMB: How much were you involved in the actual Tiananmen Square events as a leader, and what was your role?
TONG: You mean the 1989 movement?
LAMB: Yes.
TONG: I was in charge of a group called Olympic Institute along with several other campus student groups like Democracy Salon, headed by another student leader Wang Dan. We started the movement in Peking University and then in Beijing.
LAMB: You called it Olympic Institute?
TONG: Yes. That's the group I was head of before the movement started. After the movement started, I was in charge of a news center. We had a radio station and newspaper, as well as holding press conferences for Western journalists. Another student and I organized a dialogue delegation, one of the three student leading groups. Our task was to negotiate and maintain the ties with the government -- negotiate, hold dialogues, and represent the students.
LAMB: Another thing I remember is that Winston Lord, who was the ambassador to China for the United States, spoke to one of your classes?
TONG: Not my class. The group I mentioned before, the Democracy Salon, which is a group who worked closely with my Olympic Institute. They held open discussions every Wednesday. It's also called Wednesday Forum, and Winston Lord, as well as Fang Lizhi, was there and spoke to the students.
LAMB: And the government would allow that?
TONG: It's always very tricky in a country with a dictatorship like China. When the general atmosphere is kind of loose, you can do some things as far as you don't cross what seems to be an invisible line. If you don't cross that line you can do some things quite free. But if you cross that line, which frightens the government, they'll crack down, like what happened in June in 1989. But there was a very long lead period before the movement emerged, in which we held open discussions on campus, we contacted and discussed with social activists as well as intellectuals for a long time. Also we even precisely planned and prepared for the 1989 movement, although the outcome is kind of out of control.
LAMB: There's a lot in this book that we're not going to be able to talk about, but one thing that's a little bit off the subject here -- I read this almost on the last page of the main book -- "I had never hugged anyone in my family, and I didn't do it then." You write a lot about the lack of physical relationships between families -- no hugging, no hand-holding and things like that. Where does that all come from?
TONG: Well, definitely it is a custom in China. The ways the Chinese related to each other are quite different compared with Americans, so we really kind of hold back. It's more inside, as a nationality as a whole. But that's one thing also I think is changing in my generation. We discovered the freedom of the individual. We discovered even the sexual freedom in a number of other ways.
LAMB: Here is a picture of you and a girlfriend by the name of Andrea.
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: Is she still your girlfriend?
TONG: Yes. She is a Brazilian. She was my schoolmate in China, and now she is in Wellesley College.
LAMB: So she's right up there near Boston.
TONG: Oh, yes.
LAMB: This is a picture of the two of you holding hands. How did you learn the personal affection compared to all the other people in your country?
TONG: Well, it's quite common in my generation. It's kind of a big surprise for my parenthood. As one has said, we really discovered not only in the deep philosophical way the individualism -- the seeking, the hope inside ourselves; questioning our culture, questioning the government -- but meanwhile we explored a lot of new things which were very new for the older generation, including the sexual freedom.
LAMB: What do you think of our government?
TONG: I'm very disappointed and the Chinese exile movement is very disappointed at the George Bush administration on their policy on Sino-American relations. The Bush administration is trusting the wrong side of history in this issue by trusting the Beijing regime versus our exile movement -- our pro-democracy movement; in other words, the people's desire in China. When I came to this country people told me that after 1949 there was a phrase in this country that "we lost China," simply referring to the Communist Party coming down to Taiwan. But I think if the Bush administration keeps doing what he is doing on the Sino-American relations, one day there will be another phrase -- "we lost China again."
LAMB: What do you say to those in China who might say, "I'm glad that George Bush has kept the lines of communication open because if he didn't have a most-favored nations treaty and things like that, the door would be closed and we wouldn't have any dialogue?"
TONG: No, I agree with that. That's my point of view also. The fine lines, the fine balance is that first of all, we should keep the door open to China because the Open Door Policy brought up all this. The door must be open to China, although the hardliners in Beijing tried to shut it down completely. But meanwhile, by remaining in relationships with China -- trade relations, diplomatic, political, symbolic relations -- the American government and other governments can do more than cut down totally the relationships. So by granting the MFN status, you can do differently than what the George Bush administration has done by putting conditions -- I don't need to talk about all the techniques that Mr. Bush knows better than me. Your country has done so much to other countries on other issues -- like South Africa, like the Soviet Union, so many other examples. By remaining with relations, you can really promote in the long run the people's desire for the democracy for China. For example, the condition can be "release all the political prisoners," and there are thousands of them in jail. If they're released, it will be a big factor and have a strong impact on the current underground movement in China.
LAMB: You write a lot about seeing friends of yours or people that you were in the Square with killed right in front of your eyes.
TONG: Yes. During the massacre night, yes, I was on Changan Avenue, the Eternal Peace Avenue, a mile west from the Square, which was the most brutal killing field of the massacre night. A lot of people are talking about how many people died in the Square. Actually it's kind of misleading by the Chinese government because there were not a lot of people died right in the Square. The people who were outside the Square, especially the west part of the city, were trying to prevent the martial law soldiers from rushing in the Square and cracking down on the students in the Square. It was there that a lot of people were killed and gunned down by the martial law soldiers.
LAMB: What's this picture on top right here?
TONG: That was the negotiation with the government when another person of the Dialogue Delegation and I went to the government liaison officer and offered a closed-door meeting of the journalists who were surrounding us and asking what happened.
LAMB: What's this picture right here?
TONG: That was the May 4th demonstration. That was the anniversary of a very important movement in 1919, the May 4th movement. It's the 70th anniversary of it, when Wang Dan, another student leader, and I led a Peking University demonstration and went in the Square.
LAMB: When you think back of the friends you've made in all that, this is "The Giant." And I know we can get a picture here. Where is "The Giant," and who is he?
TONG: He is a Chinese-American. He was my roommate when I was in Peking University. Recently he graduated from Peking University and is now in Los Angeles.
LAMB: So he came back to the States?
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: How about this fellow right here?
TONG: He was my high school classmate, and he is in Shanghai still in the university, studying.
LAMB: Was he involved at all in the Tiananmen Square activities?
TONG: No, because he was in Shanghai, a city in the middle of China.
LAMB: Where was this picture taken?
TONG: It was in Beijing when I was preparing for the big test, the college entrance examination.
LAMB: Written in the back wall is "smile."
TONG: Yes. It was a very tense period for every student. It was like a horror for everybody, so I just tried to let myself relax.
LAMB: And what's this picture down here?
TONG: It's a happy period. It's after my best friend Dakun and I entered our university, and we took that picture in Beijing.
LAMB: If you had the government that you would want, what would it look like?
TONG: Well, the final format of the democratic political struggles -- there are a lot of formats which we can do certainly for China, exactly what China should look like. But for the pro-democracy movement in China at the stage we're in now, I think it's more important to figure out what kind of ways we're taking in order to get that final democracy. I think China should undergo several approaches. It's a combination of Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia's revolution for years, by which I mean internal reform and opposition, political force, as well as general people's awareness for what democracy really means -- people's recognition of human rights and people's political awareness.
LAMB: During the Tiananmen Square activities you spent a lot of time with reporters, and I remember that you had a dialogue almost daily with a couple of Hong Kong reporters.
TONG: Yes, as well as Canadian, French and American reporters. From the very beginning I was in charge of the news center for the whole movement in Peking University, so we held press conferences as well as the broadcasting station, the radio station, was right in my dorm room. Also, we were the newspaper headquarters, the only independent newspaper run by students during the movement.
LAMB: And you had a broadcast station that you broadcast to Tiananmen Square?
TONG: It's based in Peking University so you can basically reach the so-called university town in the one area in Beijing. A lot of universities are there.
LAMB: What impact, if any, did American television have on your movement? Did you see American television programs at all?
TONG: No, not really. We can't really see it. But for my case, the first news about the crackdown -- it's pre-crackdown -- on the afternoon of June 3rd, I watched it through CNN in a very fancy hotel in Beijing. I don't think a lot of people really watched the Western media reports on the movement during the movement. But they definitely knew that there are a lot of reporters, so they knew the movement, the struggle they were holding, was eye witnessed and watched by the whole world. That's the one very important difference the 1989 movement has compared with previous movements.
LAMB: In reading your book you see that you're always having disagreements among the students as to when to pull back and when to insist on dialogue. Do you think that if you had pulled out of the Square before the 3rd and 4th that you could have avoided the deaths and still made your point?
TONG: If you hold a theoretical discussion, I think we would. I mean, if we left the Square earlier probably we could have avoided the massacre itself. But I think a country like China with such a strong suppression, whenever they got into a mass movement like last spring, there's no way to control it, either by government or by so-called leaders of the movement because it's just like a broken dike. If somebody asked me what I could do differently if I could do it all over again, I think the only thing I could do differently is the timing, because I wanted to trigger the mass movement. As I mentioned before, I think China should undergo the three approaches for enough time, and then we should trigger the next mass movement like last spring. The difference will be we can make it instead of paying the big price during the massacre night.
LAMB: Who has got all the power in China right now?
TONG: Right now the central government is very powerful in Beijing. They're trying to control everything like they did for years after 1949. But meanwhile the decentralizing political and economical trend is very strong. Local governments, especially in the coastal area, are getting greater and greater power, kind of semi-independently. Meanwhile, the faction in the army is also very strong. Based upon people's dissatisfaction, the central government's power is shrinking. More importantly, after the first fire in Beijing, they totally lost their legitimacy among the Chinese people.
LAMB: Is Deng Xiaoping still in power? Li Peng? Do these people matter anymore?
TONG: Sure. They are very important now in China's politics and they are holding power practically by holding the army -- at least trying to hold the army -- and the whole country and the whole press as much as possible. It's very crucial that the hardliners like Deng Xiaoping or others, their death is very crucial for our progress, for our pro-democracy struggle. But on the other hand, a lot of people think only after they're dead can our movement keep going, which is not true because they see on one hand this very strong factor, and I agree with it, but meanwhile there are other factors -- the local government factor, the free economy's situation in China, factions of the army, all the things meanwhile added to an underground movement as well as a very strong exile movement. All those factors play an important role in China's current political picture. I think, in a way, a lot of people think that if you deal with China, the only way is to deal with the Beijing government. That would be correct if China were 20 years ago, but it's not correct now after this more-than-10-year's Open Door Policy.
LAMB: In 1997 Hong Kong reverts to the control of the Chinese. There are six million people sitting right on that southern border there, with a lot of private enterprise and a lot of successful business activity. Right across the border in Guangdong there is lot of activity also. Is that southern attitude going to move up through the country?
TONG: Oh, definitely. I think it's understandable that a lot of Hong Kong people are worried about 1997, and collectively when I see China's picture as a whole, all the problems related to China, I think it's the Beijing government that should be frightened by taking back Hong Kong, because there is a real free society. It will have a great impact as to what it has already provided for China for years, especially south China and intellectuals in the coastal area. It's not only Hong Kong. The problem, the issues of Taiwan and others -- Macao, Mongolia -- all those issues are related to mainland China politics. They all have their own important role in the future of China's political struggle.
LAMB: Do you hope to go back someday and live in China?
TONG: Definitely, yes. As soon as possible.
LAMB: You don't like it here?
TONG: No, I like it a great deal, and I really learned not only from the school in the academic world, but also learned as a political activist a great deal from this country about what democracy really means, what democracy looks like as, I will say, an institutionalized democracy society. You know, democracy is not only the ideal, the people's desire for a society which guarantees basic human rights, and is not only in the government structure of free press or the social balance, but democracy becomes a sense of citizenship, of people's individual involvement in the society. So, I enjoy my life here, and I'm grateful to this great nation.
LAMB: Here's what this book looks like, "Almost a Revolution." Shen Tong is our guest, and we're talking about his activities in relationship with Tiananmen Square. It's actually a lot about your life from the early days. Seiji Ozawa, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, you know that man.
TONG: Oh, yes. I know of him.
LAMB: I mean, you've listened to him play Beethoven. How did that happen?
TONG: Well, that's part of the so-called Open Door Policy at the end of the '70s when all this Western culture started. It was in China before the Cultural Revolution and it was totally shut down during the 10 years' disaster from 1966 to 1976. There was a two-year lead period before the real Open Door Policy started in 1978. You know the Western music, classic, pop music -- not only Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky, but also the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, even John Denver was there. Everybody knows their name as well as Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln's name.
LAMB: Who taught you about Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky?
TONG: Well, generally all those things were available in China, and I was studying violin with my violin teachers for a while, although I was not a good violin player. My neighbor forced me to stop. But meanwhile it taught me to appreciate the classical music and has become a very important part of my life now.
LAMB: Was your upbringing in your family, even though you say you lived in a room-and-a-half -- the family didn't have more than two rooms -- how would you describe the conditions of how you lived compared to what we have here?
TONG: Well, it's really different. There are not a lot of very tall buildings except in recent years they are building a lot of fancy hotels and tall buildings. We were living in just a house, a flat house with just one floor.
LAMB: Connected with other houses? Was it all connected?
TONG: Yes. We had a so-called yard, a Chinese yard, where several families live in the same yard and each share several rooms. It's a traditional Chinese yard. A lot of yards are very good-quality houses, but not my house.
LAMB: The original question was of your grandmother and your mother and father and the atmosphere they created. Is it much different than it was in a lot of other Chinese families? You said they were intellectuals. Would you have had a hard time learning some of the things you did if it wasn't for the fact that your parents were intellectuals?
TONG: Yes, correct. There is a difference. My family was basically an intellectual family.
LAMB: Your mother and father are in the middle here in this picture?
TONG: Yes, in the middle. That's my father and mother and my sister on the left.
LAMB: Again, how did they become intellectuals?
TONG: My mother was originally a nurse, and she kept studying and finally became a medical doctor. My father and my sister both graduated from Peking University, which is a leading university academically and politically in China.
LAMB: What do you want to eventually do with your life?
TONG: Well, now I consider myself as a political activist for promoting democracy for the future of China. I'm very committed to this cause. I believe now I will spend most of my life sticking to this cause.
LAMB: You think so?
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: And you said that you started to study biology?
TONG: Yes. When I was in China, for a while when I was an ivory tower-type student, I really believed science could save China. I enjoyed it a lot, studying biology and now philosophy. But I will study political science and international relations for my graduate study, hopefully starting next year. Now I'm deeply involved in the exile movement.
LAMB: How do you afford to live?
TONG: I'm on a scholarship provided by Brandeis University.
LAMB: And then what happens after that? If you're going to be a political activist for your family and friends back in China, how are you going to be able to pay the bills once you get out of school?
TONG: Now I'm deeply involved in the movement. I'm trying to keep -- almost impossible -- the campus life as well as the exile activist life. I'm traveling around all over the world trying to bring people awareness and bring up dialogues between the Chinese community reaching out to other movements like the civil rights movement, labor movement, Eastern European pro-democracy movement. I hope I can get a scholarship for my graduate study again. Meanwhile, by promoting the movement, we also raise money to keep up our exile movement.
LAMB: When you talk to Americans that don't know China and don't understand it, what do you tell them about the difference in life and the difference between the freedom that we have versus what you don't have back home?
TONG: Well, I give a lot of talks and speeches to Americans to tell them what was going on there. One example I use which I think is very direct to them because all this kind of gathering I can tell them is not possible in China. Even if it's possible, you will always have quite a few uninvited people among you listening to everything you say and taking mental notes. You know for sure even before you go there, by being present in the gathering, your name and even your family's names will be on the government list. That's a reality in China. It's not imagination, this kind of suppression, this control.

I mean, a lot of Americans take the freedom they have here for granted. The election just passed, and the voter rate is very low. They really don't know what freedom means. If you don't watch closely, you will lose it again. Also in this regard, I believe Dr. King's "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." You can't say you're free when people in China are still struggling for basic human rights. What they are struggling for is something you enjoy so much here and even take it for granted.
LAMB: What was the hardest thing about writing this book with Marianne Yen? What was hard about it?
TONG: It was not really hard in terms of our collaboration. The hard part was the movement belongs to millions of people, you know. It's hard for me to try to write in a kind of historian's view. It's an ongoing struggle. I'm still in the story. I can't really have an objective way to write it, although I tried very hard to write down and record all the things that happened minute by minute. But still it's very hard to show an umbrella picture as a historian. Meanwhile, by writing "Almost a Revolution," it really strengthened my commitment to the movement because by reviewing in such a systematic way my life and my generation's life, it really encouraged me to keep going on this road. I felt the strong strength inside myself because I felt the whole of my generation, the young generation, is still with me, keeping my dream alive.
LAMB: In the back on page 339, you list a whole bunch of people and where they are today. One of the people -- and we only have a couple of minutes -- that was prominent in the book was Chai Ling.
TONG: Yes.
LAMB: Where is she?
TONG: When I wrote the book she was in Paris, and right now she is in Princeton University.
LAMB: So she's here now?
TONG: Yes, she's here.
LAMB: How come so many people went to Paris?
TONG: Well, because the French government provides an umbrella for Chinese exiles. It was much easier than the United States.
LAMB: Easier than coming here because the Chinese government would let you go?
TONG: No. Most of us escaped to Hong Kong. In my case, it was different. I fled out of China into Japan first. But the rest of us escaped from Thailand, Macao or mainly Hong Kong, and they were waiting there for other governments to provide refuge. It turned out the French government, Canadian and Australia -- especially the French government -- was best.
LAMB: So the Americans weren't as open as they should have been, in your opinion?
TONG: I hope they can do better. There are still a lot of activists who escaped to Hong Kong and didn't settle down yet, although America did sponsor some refugees here.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Almost a Revolution," and its author and principal character in the book is Shen Tong, one of those actively involved in the democracy movement in China. Thank you for joining us.
TONG: Thank you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.