By Dadjie Saintus, Education Chair
Petite and soft spoken, with only a trace of her native accent, at first glance it is hard to imagine Chai Ling as the commander-in-chief of a revolutionary student movement that challenged the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party in 1989. I was struck by her elegant and unassuming demeanor while watching video interviews during book club meetings this past summer. As our Chapter pored over the personal details and public battles chronicled in Ling’s book, we were gripped by the tale of a woman whose story is as mesmerizing as it is unexpected.
A Heart for Freedom follows Chai Ling as a promising young student from rural China who goes on to attend the prestigious Beida University. There, she slowly becomes embroiled in the politics of a democratic reform movement that spreads to campuses nationwide and culminates in demonstrations by thousands of students and supporters at Tiananmen Square. However, what begins as a peaceful protest devolves into chaos and bloodshed when the Chinese government initiates a military crackdown that pits army tanks against the protestors. As hundreds are wounded and thousands flee, many of the student leaders, including Ling, are forced into perpetual exile.
Over the two ensuing decades, Ling rebuilds her life in the United States, using her experience, academic prowess and leadership acumen to attain illustrious Ivy League degrees and achieve financial success in the corporate sector. Additionally, she marries a loving husband and has two children. Despite these accomplishments, Ling remains haunted by the turbulent experiences of her past and struggles to find meaning in her present. Ultimately, her life is transformed in 2009 when she embraces Christianity and develops a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This renewal of faith allows Ling to make peace with herself and fuels a passion for the future: advocating on behalf of the vulnerable women and girls in China. By establishing the nonprofit organization All Girls Allowed, Chai Ling now leads a crusade to abolish China’s one-child policy and restore life and dignity to millions of women and girls.
Like Esther or Moses in the Bible, Chai Ling’s story reveals how God works through the most unexpected circumstances to empower individuals to fight for freedom and a better future. Through the Strong Women, Strong World initiative, we as Women of Vision have also undertaken a bold commitment to lift up thousands of individuals in poverty. Chai Ling’s story is an inspiration to me and our NYC Chapter as we continue to grow, making an impact in our city and bolstering the greater movement to improve the lives of women and families worldwide.