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:
- 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.”)
- 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!