Protests in Ferguson, Los Angeles, New York, Abuja, Mexico City, Chicago, Pittsburgh,Tampa, Hong Kong, London, New Orleans, Guerrero...around the world in communities large and small, people of every age, race, sex, creed, use their voices and resources to call for justice, equality, freedom, action...
In reading the news of China's president announcing that artists, filmmakers, and TV staff will be sent to live and work in rural villages so that they will “form a correct view of art and create more masterpieces,” I want to share the story of a friend I once had.
I had the privilege of studying at Shanghai Teachers University in 1985 while I attended Rutgers University. One of the Chinese friends I met there was an English student, top of her class and she had read every English book in the university library...not because she was a great reader, though she was brilliant, but because so few books were made available for fear of and out of disdain for western influence. My friend's English name was "Judy."
Judy, her father and brother were also Christians who worshiped privately and at great risk, given that faith in any religion (Buddhist, Confucianism, Christian) was considered illegal.
The last I heard from her (shortly after I returned home) she had been asked to join the Communist Youth. Such an invitation was to be considered an honor and could bring great opportunity; but to join she would have to renounce her faith in anything other than communism.
She and I were still teenagers, not yet 20. The strength of her conviction, her refusal, and the cost she would pay inspired me and devastated me at the same time. I sunk into a depression for quite some time after I returned to the US. I was unable to reconcile the tremendous difference in our circumstances, opportunities, and the seeming randomness that I should have so much freedom - just because of where I was born.
Judy was "sent to the countryside to teach." Had she denied her faith and joined the communist youth she likely could have gone to graduate school, possibly even abroad. These were the things she dreamed of doing.
I never heard from her again.
I attempted to contact her through the school in Shanghai. They told me that they no longer had records for students from that time.
As imperfect as our nation may be, I can never take lightly the freedoms we do have.
The protests remind me of this. With peaceful and driven protest comes a surge of hope.
We must use our voices and resources to call out injustice.
We must still have dreams of freedom, equality, justice and returned daughters and sons.
We must claim joy with every opportunity we're given.
It is our privilege.
It is our obligation.
Lin Bai Qi