Editor’s note: Grace transforms. In recent decades, millions of Chinese people have met Jesus and had their lives turned inside out. Their hopes, dreams, families, leisure, and (in some cases) occupations have changed because of Christ. This is the second of a five-part interview series with “Tim,” a Chinese ministry leader. In this series, Tim shares his story of faith.Our hope is that these interviews challenge and encourage Western believers to examine their own faith and remind them to pray for their brothers and sisters in China.
You were a student in Beijing in the late 1980s. Would you be comfortable telling me how the Tiananmen Square incident impacted you?
In 1989 I was an undergrad in Beijing. A student from another school mentioned we needed to protest the corruption in the government: the children of top leaders were making a lot of money by bribery and other things. The students organized, and they went to protest. I attended several of those protests. I did not attend the June 4th event at Tiananmen Square.
I saw that people were organized and motivated, but I also saw that even the student leaders were not unified because of stress, their own ambition, and their lack of teamwork. [I am a big guy] so I was assigned to be a bodyguard for the student leaders at night. Their base was in the center of the group, and we were assigned to watch who could go inside and who could not. Several times I saw them fighting with one another. When there were disagreements, leaders were removed and new ones came in. I could see they were immature. But I also saw the impact. Throughout the whole country, in many major cities, people came together to protest. It was a big thing.
Did you feel sympathetic to their aims?
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What they wanted, in many ways, was reasonable. I was willing to be part of it.
You weren’t there the night of the June 4th incident, but you remember the next morning.
The next morning pictures were put on the wall of the gate, and I saw that students were killed. I also saw photos showing that military trucks were burned. People were talking.
The people who went that night came back and told us stories, everybody was scared. We didn’t know what to do. We tried to listen to Voice of America. It had all kinds of news, but much of it was not true. There was a sense of confusion and anger. We were angry about the incident, angry that people would shoot at and hurt the students. We felt the injustice; we felt hopeless and, in some ways, scared.
But I didn’t attend any of those events. I was not a student leader, and I didn’t see what we could do. The small group I was together with talked about what we could do. I realized people slowly, one by one, disappeared. They tried their best to run away.
Run away to where?
They went back to their hometowns.
After three days we realized all the students were trying their best to run away. So we, as a group from the same area, tried to find the best way [to leave Beijing]. There was a train near us to a nearby province. We got on that train, and the captain of the train saw us. He actually had great sympathy for us students – we were given a meal for free, and there was no charge for the train tickets. We went to that province with my classmate, then took a train across the country. We spent a night in another city, then finally took a train to our home province. The whole time, we didn’t pay any money. We just said that we were students, and they didn’t charge us.At that time, when students said they were a part of the protests, the trains across China did not charge them money.
When we arrived at the next-to-last stop, it was early in the morning, and we had to wait for the afternoon train. It was summer at that time; it was hot and humid. There were mosquitoes. My friends and I lay on the floor outside of the window, and slept outside the train station. I slept deeply, I was tired after a couple of days on the train. A thief took my bag away, and I lost everything.
When we arrived in our province, there was no one there. I waited two days in the province capital, and my father finally found a driver, so I went back home with him.
Your parents thought they had seen you on TV?
When I finally arrived home my parents said they had a video recorder and had been watching CCTV Channel 1. Every day, they showed the student protests and the military. There is a video with a student standing in the center of the street and facing the tank. The student is waving his flag, and he then climbs on the tank. From the back, even from the side, he looked exactly the same as me! Then my father realized that guy was a little bit shorter than me. They finally felt relieved, and said, “This is not my son.”
But I heard that someone took that student away slowly, others said he disappeared or died. I don’t know.
What was your emotional state at that time? I’ve heard many people describe that event as a disillusioning experience. Did it impact you? And if so, how?
I was scared, definitely. Also confused and angry. Every day my parents talked to me and said, “You need to be careful. Be quiet.”
In the middle of July I received a letter from the school saying I needed to report back to school within ten days. Those who were late or did not report would receive consequences. Before I left, my parents talked to me and encouraged me to obedient and do whatever was needed.
It took me a couple days to go back to Beijing. The students met and we had a month or so to study politics. Every day we did this, and we wrote down our thoughts: how we could obey the new policies, how the decisions were right, and how we needed to follow them. The students that were at the June 4 incident had to sign the report. At night, I still remember that we students silently and secretly met together or listened to the Voice of America. People who went that night told the story. We continued to talk about it for a couple of months.
And after that?
After a couple of months things slowed down. When the army moved out, people went back to normal. But I could still sense that the Beijing residents, the local people, were pressuring themselves to hide their anger and mistrust. That night some local people died, too. After [leaving] work, they had accidentally been alongside Tiananmen Square and were shot. Many people lost their lives, not only the students. It is a very sad story.
Did it change anything for you, or not?
I think it actually changed us. I and the other students had a very, very deep disappointment with the government and with socialism because of that incident. In some ways we gave up that belief. We needed to study, but nobody cared. Even the teacher who taught us showed us he was basically just following the rules.
Everybody was doing the right things on the outside but inside you thought, what’s the point?
People were scared to share their deep thoughts. They were afraid to be accused.
Many of the student leaders of Tiananmen later became Christians. Do you think the incident paved the way for you to accept Christ later?
Definitely. That was a changing point in many ways. Before, I might have still had a certain level of idealism, of hope for socialism or for the government. But that incident totally wiped out what I hoped for. I became a person who did not believe in anything. I didn’t trust anyone, I didn’t trust anything.