Student Leader Recalls Turmoil

Former protester, now studying in US, says China faces `long process' to realize democracy. TIANENMAN SQUARE MEMORIES

HE organized a demonstration, and watched in disbelief as the government crushed the hopes of the protesters with bullets and tanks. A week later he boarded a plane to America. Today, 21-year-old Shen Tong is a junior,studying biology at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

No stranger to headlines, he is frequently sought by TV news networks and other media as the resident expert on the student movement in China.

Shen Tong talks about his experiences comfortably in English. His demeanor is charming; and his smile disarming. His family still lives in Shanghai, where his mother is a physician. His father, who worked for the government, passed on a month ago.

His political theories are based on the works of such philosophers as Jean Jacques Rousseau and Karl Popper. He quotes frequently from poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran, and says nonviolence is essential to a legitimate movement.

He was the leader of the Autonomous Student Federation (an independent organization, as opposed opposed to an earlier student movement which insiders believe was supported by the Chinese government) at Beijing University. He was one of the key leaders in Tiananmen Square.

[Companion stories may be found on Pages 12 and 13.]

An interview with Mr. Shen:

Where was the student movement headed before the Army came into Tiananmen Square June 3?

I had tried to persuade the students to leave the square before the martial law [was enforced]. But it's just like two sides that are fighting: If you give up one step, I should give up one step. It is based on a nonviolent principles.

But at that time the government went ahead, and we couldn't give up. If we give up one step, we give up all.

What was your vision for the democracy movement?

We have three steps. The first is a surface movement - like the demonstration, protesting, and the hunger strike. Its [purpose] is to bone up the people. In China, it's quite difficult to bone up the people. The people are very afraid to do something from their heart, naturally. ... They are scared.

The second step is go back to campus - to strengthen, to build up our democratic castle; to strengthen our broadcasting station, our newspaper, and - most important - our autonomous student federation. ... Another important [aspect] is to give enough time to the other cities, to the other universities, in other areas, for their thoughts, for their movement to develop naturally.

[This is] the basic character of pluralism. You can't choose one slogan and everybody supports it. You can't choose one center and everybody supports the center.

And the third step will be a nationwide movement.

I think it will be a long process for the Chinese [to finally realize] democracy. So the most important [thing] now, I mean before the massacre, is self-education, for the whole nation, of what democracy really means.

During the movement we [students] practiced democracy. How to cooperate. How to compromise.

What did you think when the tanks came into Tiananmen?

I couldn't believe it. I just stood on the street and bullets just flew near my body, around my feet. But I was very upset and I went to the middle of the road and spoke to a soldier, and asked him, ``Do you know where you are? This is Chang An Avenue. This means `Eternal Peace Avenue.' Even in the [1949] liberation they didn't fight in downtown Beijing.''

What did the soldier say?

He had no reaction. But I kept talking and talking and finally the soldier I was talking to didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to react. And he just looked back to maybe his officer - I didn't see clearly. But at that time the officer shot the girl beside me. At the same time two students dragged me to the side of the road. ... They held my arms. They knew me [as a student leader]. They didn't want me to talk to the soldiers, because it's really dangerous.

Had you already planned to leave Beijing before the massacre?

Yes. It was my plan. I wanted to study here. It's not easy to get a full scholarship from a good school. And the reason I applied here is that I have been involved with this kind of movement four years already. The last time was in 1988, there was a movement in Beijing. I was a main member of the committee of action. ... I got a lot of pressure from the government, through the public security bureau. ... So I was worried, because I really love [biology], I worried about whether I could continue my study freely or not.

How did you get out of China?

In China, it's a long process to get your passport. If it goes smoothly, it generally takes two or three months. ... I can't believe how everyone helped me. I got my passport in one week. And I got my visa ... in three or four days.

The most important part I can't tell you in detail. But a lot of Chinese officials ... helped me, so I got out the legal way.

What do you think about America?

I don't think it's a country; it's just a small world. You cannot find any typical American family or any typical American. It's just generally typical style.

When I go [to the supermarket], I see a lot of goods. For example, cooking oil. There are maybe several dozens. But in China you cannot get one. So sometimes it's very confusing for me to choose one.

But it gets me thinking about the fact that while there are so many goods, so many materials for the people here, there aren't [so many] for other countries. ... And I just wonder, under this resource system, if it's possible for the countries like China, like India, like Brazil - the big developing countries - if it's possible for them to develop and reach the same level as here.

Because while the market system is quite difficult to change, I think the resource market is even more difficult to change. And if it can change, how? How it can change? It's a big question, but it's a very basic question. It's a very important question.

What about the American people?

They're very caring. ... But I'm not very clear on the American media. The American media care easily but they soon forget. ... Chinese people have a long memory.

What hasn't been in the media?

I hope that the American media [will] put more attention to the American government and their activities toward China. ... toward the people ... and the leaders in China still in jail.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.