Escape from China

Jan 17, 2011
*Special to asia!

A university student from China leaves his homeland in search of freedom, only to find himself in yet "another dictatorship". This is the first of a series of posts that shares this young man's journey to a "Free Country".

Alvin (not his real name) is an Engineering postgraduate at the National University of Singapore. When he was an undergraduate student in China, he had dreams of joining the Communist Party. "It was my parents dream. They wanted me to join the Party. They were really proud and happy when they heard I was going to join the Party."

It was 2006, and like most young undergraduates in China, Alvin spent his time at home on the computer playing games, socialising on Facebook (which at that time, was yet to be banned), and watching videos on Youtube (which, like Facebook, has been banned today). Like most young Chinese, being filial is important to him. Making his parents happy.

"In university, we are free. We are learning and we have no obligations. We can think and do whatever we want. We feel empowered." It was during his time in university that Alvin first heard about the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident. "I dismissed it as a rumour. I thought it was another one of those things that the Western media was feeding to Chinese people to embolden dissidents. There was no way we wouldn't already know something as major as that." Curious and resourceful, Alvin, a scientist, was naturally drawn to investigate.


368 This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, shows the PLA's advancing tanks halting for an unknown man near Tiananmen Square. (Photo credit: Jeff Widener/AP)


"It was hard, you know, you try to search the web but everything is banned. But I managed to find a video, in some underground website. I couldn't believe it." The look on his face as he said those words made it perceptable that he continues to grapple with his disbelief. With his hands, body, and face, he went on to illustrate what he had witnessed, and punctuated his string of words with shakes of the head.

"I told my friends about it. It's hard to believe it. It's hard to change ten years of education with one video. For most people. But it changed me. I guess I'm different. I called my parents and told them I didn't want to join the party. They were upset. Even though we were just talking on the phone, I could sense their disappointment." A few days later a teacher in school contacted Alvin, to urge him to continue with his plans to join the Party. "I think my parents told someone who got in touch with that teacher." Because he felt it was his duty, he told his parents that he will continue to keep in mind, plans to join the party. "I need to escape."

From his home in China, Alvin scoured the web for places that had a semblence of freedom. He read an article online, about a politician who stood up to question and challenge his government. In another article he read about a journalist from that same country who did the same. He was inspired. A nation with freedom to speak! "I wanted to experience that. That freedom." A few years later, Alvin found himself in Singapore.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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