Tiananmen Dissident Turned Software Entrepreneur Urges End to Forced Abortions in China

PHOTO LING CHAI
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Ling Chai, the former Chinese dissident leader during the Tiananmen massacre, has found a new calling.

Chai, who became a successful businesswoman after fleeing to the U.S., joined members of Congress on Tuesday to urge the Chinese president to end China's One-Child Policy, a population control measure implemented by the government in the late '70s.

In a room on Capitol Hill, the entrepreneur and activist stood alongside Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and human rights advocates, marking the first day of President Hu Jintao's visit to the U.S.

Chai and Smith called on Obama and other state officials to advocate against the population measure. Amid social pressures to have a male heir, the repercussions of the policy include fines for failure to comply and, in some areas of China, human trafficking and forced abortions.

Smith said the psychological effects of the policy are evident in China's suicide rate for women, which is three times higher than that of men. The World Health Organization reported over 500 female suicides per day in China in 2008, the only country in the world in which more women take their lives than men.

In her speech, Chai said Obama as a parent of two girls, may have had to choose just one daughter, or had neither, if he lived in certain areas of China, the world's most populous country with 1.3 billion people.

"The brutal and violent enforcement of the one-child policy is the largest crime against humanity," Chai told a crowded room of about 100 people. "It is the inhumane secret slaughter against mothers and babies; it is a Tiananmen massacre taking place every hour."

Chai is closely familiar with the Tiananmen protests, in which thousands of civilians in Beijing marched against the government's authoritarianism. Chai was dubbed the "commander in chief" by the other students and subsequently held the number two spot on China's most wanted list.

Once the army intervened in the protests, media and the world watched as chaos ensued. Estimates from the death toll range from 241 from the Chinese government to 2,600 from the Red Cross, with 7,000 wounded.

Chai went into hiding after the protests in Hong Kong and fled for the United States in 1990. Chai, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, eventually received a master's from Princeton University in 1993 and an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1998.

She eventually started software company, Jenzabar Inc., headquartered in Boston, with 280 employees across the country. An accomplished businesswoman, she was also married with three daughters.

But exiled in the U.S., Chai was discouraged and still wrestling with her past.

A BBC News story in June 1999 criticized Ling and other Tiananmen leaders for moving onto "successful careers in the West and not participating in the struggle in exile."

In November 2009, however, Ling's activism was reignited when she learned about the effects of China's One-Child Policy. Chai said she was helping serve as an interpreter at a congressional hearing about the policy, when she heard graphic testimony of a Chinese woman dragged to an abortion clinic by local officials.

Tearful Testimony Leads to Life Changes

Chai said she described doctors who gave lethal injections through the skulls of fetuses. The woman, wearing a black veil to hide her identity, said her dead baby was surgically removed.

"I listened to her cry and it was such a powerful eye-opening experience," Chai said.

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