THE fax machine is quickly becoming an instrument of revolution. Several networks of Chinese students on American campuses are monitoring Western news accounts of the situation in Beijing and then faxing them to China.
``We can fax back pictures and that is probably more convincing than just oral reports,'' says Dali Ding, one of a core group of 20 students at California Institute of Technology who have launched the information service. The idea is to allow Chinese in various cities to know what is really happening in the capital - as opposed to what the official Chinese news accounts say is going on.
``We realize that it's really the most important thing to tell people in other cities what's going on in Beijing,'' he says. The network has spent thousands of dollars faxing news reports blindly to businesses in China with the hope that some of the news will trickle out.
Another pro-democracy group of Chinese students - the Chinese Alliance for Democracy - has 10 fax machines in several US cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Boston, as well as Tokyo, Hong Kong, and in South America. The group transmits information into China and receives information from there.
``We can get a lot of information to people,'' says Samson Ling, manager of the alliance's head office. Dozens of US newspapers and TV stations are calling him to find out what's happening in China, he says.
Another network of 20 professors and Chinese graduate students at several US universities is recording the progress of the protest movement for posterity.
``It's quite clear that if the conservatives win in China, the memory of this will be different,'' says Benjamin Lee, director of the Center for Psychosocial Studies in Chicago.
While students from mainland China began the informational links before the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the events have galvanized new support from Chinese-American communities across the country. Fund drives in various Chinatowns have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In New York, more than $200,000 have been raised for the democracy movement in China, estimates Justin Yu, a reporter with the World Journal, the largest Chinese-language newspaper in the US and Canada. Before the massacre, links between the Chinese students and Chinese-Americans were tenuous. Now, ``everyone of us is very sympathetic to the cause of China.''
On Friday, Chinese-Americans with support from Chinese students held mass demonstrations in New York City, including a memorial service in Chinatown and a candlelight vigil in front of the headquarters of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations.
The Chinese-American community in Minneapolis and St. Paul has initiated a nationwide letter-writing campaign to Chinese and US authorities to show support for the student protesters and has raised money for students there to buy a fax machine. ``These [actions] are very spontantaneous,'' says Weiming Lu, chairman of the ad-hoc group in the Twin Cities. ``Chinese are usually very conservative.''
``There are many people donating and contributing to that cause,'' adds S. Andrew Chen, a psychology professor at Slippery Rock State College in Slippery Rock, Pa. Fund drives have been held in recent days in Philadelphia, Detroit, and here in Pittsburgh, he says.
There are signs that the Chinese authorities are cracking down against the flow of information. Many groups here report that it is very difficult now to call into China. Mr. Yu says one of his fax contacts in China recently transmitted a message saying this would probably be the last fax. The contact had heard that another group had had its fax machine confiscated. ``I think gradually we will have to rely more and more on broadcast,'' he says.