Finding Tiananmen: Day 1 Musings

Grace Wong
Dec 16, 2017 · 2 min read

6am — Today’s the day. I’m thinking about the first exile I’ll be meeting with this afternoon and chills are entering my back.

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DC after my interview with Yang Jianli

10am — Halfway to stop one in the US capital and I’m suffering a massive heat stroke. That and the cup of coffee I’ve been habituated to drinking every morning. Already in my last year of college, I’m thinking about how much I’ve challenged myself this year. “You’re brave,” my friends say. No, I’m scared. But fear isn’t going to stop me.

My parents don’t know what this project is about and the last thing they want me to do is be politically involved. Worse, about an event which they’ve lived through. They remember.

When I was a young teen (before I knew about 1989), I asked my mom why she left China, even though her life in America is still so distinctly “Chinese”. “It was what all the graduated students were doing back then. I didn’t think much about why I was moving to America. Everybody my age just agreed that life outside of our country would be better.” My logic at the time was very binary. If you live in America you adapt to the American lifestyle. If you live in China, you mold yourself into the Chinese way of life. It was only years later when I realized that one’s identity is not so simple.

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Mom and Mao at Tiananmen Square, 2014

4pm — My nerves are coming up again. The first exile I’m to meet on my trip is Yang Jianli. He has a pretty amazing track record. Fellow at Harvard, founder and president of Initiatives for China. Advisor to 5+ human rights organizations. He even told me that he wrote a book of poems from memory, after his incarceration.

Surprisingly, we hit it off pretty well. Yang was very well spoken in English, so he expressed his opinions with some pretty savvy vocabulary. He hit a lot of the points I wanted to hear about without my constant probing. Apparently, he was off to New York in less than two hours and opened up an hour of his time to talk to me. I wonder what I did to deserve his valuable time. “Please get me on your school’s Ted Talk” he pleaded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Grace Wong is an interdisciplinary artist and arts administrator. She is interested in the potential for photography, writing and media to address humanity and human rights.

You can find her on Instagram, Are.na or LinkedIn

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