Cover Story

The Tiananmen generation

"The Tiananmen generation" Continued...

Issue: "Tiananmen massacre," June 6, 2009

Zhou says church members prayed for him, and one man kept in touch. "It was the first time I felt some connectedness," he said, "that I was not alone."

It took eight more years, and many encounters with Chinese Christians, before Zhou and his wife converted to Christianity in 2003. He says the disillusionment that began at Tiananmen Square led him to realize, "The real hope is not on this earth or in Beijing. It's from Jesus, our Savior.

"Zhou says he's not alone: He knows many other Chinese who converted in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre: "In my view, this was a pivotal moment in Christianity among the Chinese."

Fu agrees. The former student leader also grew despondent after the massacre, even considering suicide. His hope in a system "was destroyed by tanks." He realized: "The system is not reliable to change itself. And I don't find hope in myself. Who can make the change?

"At his deepest point of despair, an American missionary teacher gave Fu a biography about a Chinese pastor. His conversion story moved Fu, particularly one statement he had never heard: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new ­creation." Fu wrote it down. "I said, 'That's it-only the Creator can make the new creation I am dreaming to be.'"

Once a Christian, Fu quickly became pastor of an underground church and soon landed in prison for his activities and his faith. After his release, he fled to the United States with his wife. Fu says he knows many Chinese who converted after Tiananmen Square. Many realized, "The system cannot save you from the corruption of the heart."

For many reasons, the growth rate of Christianity in China has exploded over the last 20 years. Experts cite rapid urbanization and a growing number of influential thinkers embracing Christ. OMF International (formerly China Inland Mission) estimates there are some 70 million Christians in China. The group says Protestant Christians in China numbered less than 1 million in 1949.

Despite rapid growth, restrictions remain for Chinese Christians. The government requires churches to register, but many don't, choosing instead to remain "underground." In May the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included China in its list of countries of particular concern, reporting: "Religious activities are tightly controlled and some religious adherents were detained, imprisoned, fined, beaten and harassed."

Zhou says the Chinese government can't slow the growth of Christianity and believes as the church grows it will play "a crucial part in establishing freedom.

"It's the connection between Christianity and freedom that drew Hong Yujian to Christian faith after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Hong, now a pastor in Vancouver, was studying chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1989, but he says the violence that he watched unfold in Beijing from afar made him question his hope in science and democracy.

To understand why democracy works in America, Hong says he studied the founding documents. He was struck by the phrase: "all men are created equal . . . they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." "There's nothing like this in Chinese thinking," says Hong. "But if you cut out the Creator, you cut out the root of democracy."

He says the massacre at Tiananmen helped him and others see their own sin and need for Christ: "I think God used it to pave the way and prepare the heart of the Chinese people."

Hong, Zhou, and Fu signed a statement in May with 80 other Chinese Christian leaders, calling on the government to acknowledge the massacre, and expressing their own repentance. Fu's group, ChinaAid, plans to sponsor a prayer service in Washington, D.C., on June 4 at the National Presbyterian Church to commemorate the 20th anniversary. More than two dozen Chinese human-rights and pro-democracy groups are planning a rally at the U.S. Capitol that morning. Other groups plan to rally near the Chinese embassy in the afternoon. Pro-democracy organizers in Hong Kong expect tens of thousands of people to descend on Victoria Park for an annual candlelight vigil on June 4, marking the only remembrance of the massacre in Chinese territory.

Former student leaders say the wounds remain raw after two decades, but Fu says God has used the evil for good: "We call ourselves the Tiananmen generation."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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