By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Two years ago Se Hoon Kim ’16 was sitting in a Barnes and Noble when an employee dropped a book. Curious about the title, My Two Chinas, Kim began to read and felt an immediate connection with the author, Chinese pro-democracy activist Baiqiao Tang.
The book chronicles Tang’s efforts as a student leader organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hunan Province in 1989, his arrest and imprisonment during the nationwide crackdown against “counterrevolutionaries” that ensued in China after the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre, and his eventual escape to the United States in 1992.
Intrigued, Kim scoured the Internet for information about Tang, and eventually became friends with him on Facebook. After some online exchanges, Kim, now a freshman at the University of Rochester, invited Tang visit campus to talk about recent developments in China.
“I feel that one should have a general idea of what’s going on in the international community,” said Kim, who plans to major in international relations and is interested in a career in diplomacy or education. “Tang has been criticizing what’s been happening in the [Chinese] government with facts that are globally known because he believes the Chinese people should be taking control of their own country.”
In an impressive feat for a first-year undergraduate, Kim’s wish was granted when associate professor of economics Michael Rizzo agreed to fund Tang’s Rochester appearance through the Alexander Hamilton Institute of Rochester. The lecture, which has held on Thursday, Nov. 15, attracted a sizeable audience.
Tang, who is a regular contributor for Radio Free Asia and New Dynasty TV, discussed many issues he feels affect the freedom of the Chinese people, citing the size of the government, the “internet police” and the government’s control of the nation’s media, rampant corruption, a biased education system, and an oversized police force.
As the founder of the China Peace and Democracy Federation, an organization dedicated to keeping the Chinese people informed about their government, Tang also made the case for a Chinese democracy. While some question the functionality of democratic institutions in China due to its size; Tang pointed out that India still strives for democracy despite the country’s similarly massive size. He also emphasized that any democratic system put in place in China would not be an exact copy of America’s democratic system, but would instead reflect the interests and values of the Chinese people.
“The people want the Chinese government to change. But if the people’s power is too powerful, the government has a problem,” said Tang.
Tang acknowledged that some Chinese students would disagree with his critique of China and its governing Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but he gave justification for his stance by stating, “If anyone in this world is not free, I am not free. So I will fight for freedom.”
“I think this seminar was revolutionary because it opened doors for different opinions. Many students told me it was a success because it helped them to clarify some of the problems they knew existed and that it enabled them to think more deeply,” said Kim, who hopes his career path may lead him to teach international affairs, specifically East Asian studies.
Kim also noted that he welcomed the negative feedback he received as well. “It’s great because it gives me the opportunity to hold a better seminar next time,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning opportunity and I hope to host more events like this in the future.”
In the Photos: Top Right: Baiqioa Tang discusses China at the University of Rochester. Bottom right: Mixed Martial Artist Bruce Kivo, Activist Baiqioa Tang, and Rochester student Se Hoon Kim ’16. Photos courtesy of Caitlin Mack.