BOOK CLUB: A Heart For Freedom

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My heart holds a special place for the country of China and its peoples. So it was with great anticipation that I read through Chai Ling’s A Heart For Freedom in March for our book club.Maybe my expectations were set too high, but I felt a little disappointed in Chai’s book.

I certainly found her life fascinating…but I wish her editor had helped her shape her story into a more cohesive narrative.The first half of the book—up through the Tiananmen Square Incident—zips along quickly. And I continued to stay emotionally engaged through her period of hiding following June 4th. But once she escaped her beloved China, she kind of lost me.Ironically, I found her story of coming to faith in Christ and her subsequent calling to ministry a bit lacking.

I’m so happy for her that she trusted Christ—that she experienced Him as a rock and a stronghold, where she could finally lay her very heavy burdens down. But I still sensed a tone of defensiveness woven throughout her book.

In some ways I can’t blame her: I’d want to take the opportunity to try and set the record straight if I’d been accused of being responsible for the deaths of others, too. But something about the way she wrote seemed a bit myopic and self-promoting.

Alas, perhaps I’m being too harsh. I’d love to know what some of the rest of you thought about the book?

I did make a couple of observations about the nature of protest and revolution, from reading A Heart For Freedom back-to-back with MLK’s autobiography:

  1. In both cases, the powers that be utilized very specific, inflammatory language to label the protesters and thus discredit them. The Birmingham pastors called MLK and his people “outsiders” and “agitators,” while the Chinese government pronounced the student demonstrators “dong luan” (or “turmoil.”)
  2. I was struck by both movements’ commitment to non-violence. In both situations, the leaders recognized the inherent power infused to a cause when its people are subjected to undeserved suffering. I think they are right—because undeserved suffering on behalf of others is such compelling component of the gospel of Jesus.

I do want to close by honoring Chai’s latest calling to help fight against the evils that inevitably flow from China’s “one-child policy.” Specifically: the incredibly high incidence of women forced to abort their babies, and the effective gendercide that occurs against girls because of the Chinese cultural preference for boys. These are not easy issues to face.

But then, Chai Ling never did seem one to back down from a challenge.

What did you think about A Cry For Freedom? Am I being too hard on Chai? Who was inspired by her story?

Please join me for April’s Book Club selection, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I must admit I’m a bit hesitant to start the book. Although everyone who’s read it absolutely loves it and highly recommends it, I’m a bit worried I won’t be able to handle the intensity and violence. *Deep breath*…here we go!

3 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: A Heart For Freedom

  1. I did like A Heart for Freedom but I really appreciate your comments. I typically don't think critically about books I read, I mainly read for entertainment, so enjoyed reading your thoughts on it. One thought I have about the 2nd half of the book especially her conversion part is that I think it happened very recently, within the last 2-3 years. Maybe she really hasn't had enough time to process it all in a cohesive way. And I'm sure like all of us God is still sanctifying her. She has lived a lot of her life without Jesus.
    And I really liked Unbroken. Read it last year. It was very violent. Probably being a guy I loved all the war stories. I really liked how much research Hillenbrand did to understand the war and the time surrounding it.

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  2. I'm so sad you were disappointed, Steph! I agree there was a break in the page-turning narrative after she made it out of China to France. But I didn't quite get the self-promoting vibe you described. I felt like in the “part 2” she was limited in describing with her words an internal thing that happened to just her, whereas the “part 1” was describing external events happening to her, to China, all around her and those events are compelling on their own. I like Amy's idea that she might not have had time to process the recent events, although you're right, her editor could have helped make the transition less stark.
    I still think it's one of the best insights I've read into the culture of China that led up to the events of Tiananmen and that explain a lot of the culture that exists now.
    And I love her heart for ending the one child policy in China… and her heart for reaching out to women who were forced into aborting their babies and lovingly stepping into their lives with the message of the gospel.

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  3. Marc and Tricia, thanks so much for your comments!
    I'm really glad I read the book, even if it wasn't one of my favorites. More people I've talked to liked it than didn't–I think I'm in the minority with my take on it. And I never know how much I'm bringing my own junk into an analysis. 🙂
    I'm still avoiding “Unbroken.” It's sitting here on my desk! :p

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