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

A US businesswoman has something to tell Chinese president.

BySusanna Kim
January 18, 2011, 4:13 PM

Jan. 19, 2011 — -- 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.

Chai said she experienced a "spiritual transformation" from that moment in grappling with the horrors of those women. She said she became a Christian in December 2009 and that helped her understand hope amid evil.

She launched a nonprofit advocating against the One-Child Policy, All Girls Allowed, in June 2010. The organization has five full time staff in the U.S. and about a dozen staff in China, in addition to dozens of volunteers.

Brian Lee, executive director of All Girls Allowed, said the organization also has an anti-trafficking campaign in China. He said the organization has made strides in that campaign and created greater awareness of "gendercide," infanticide that is slanted towards girls.

"We have seen over 300 baby girls born in places where gender ratio is as high as two boys for every one girl being born," said Lee. "So we're starting to see culture shifting."

The All Girls Allowed office is next to Jenzabar's headquarters in Boston, which helps the mother of three manage both. As she works on the key strategic questions of All Girls Allowed, she said her husband has been mostly running Jenzabar.

"God has been good," said Chai, whose daughters are age five, seven and 10. "He has been helping us balance."

Chai said she hopes to convey hope through the mission of All Girls Allowed.

During the press conference, Chai presented a petition of 1,500 signatures urging Obama to draw attention to forced abortion and gendercide with the Chinese president. An official state dinner will take place tonight as part of Hu's four day visit.

"We need cooperation between China and the U.S.," said Chai. "A lot of people feel like China is so big and evil and there's nothing we can do. But our experience is we can make a difference."

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