When he walked into the Center for International Studies at Utah Valley Community College last month, Chen Hai looked like any other ordinary foreign student in need of help.
Hai did need help, but Malan Jackson, director of the center, soon found out that Hai is anything but ordinary. In fact, Jackson says Hai is one of the most remarkable people he has ever met. Jackson said many students make sacrifices to attend UVCC, but none like those made by Hai."This man is amazing. The things he has gone through and the sacrifices he has made are truly remarkable," Jackson said.
Hai's journey to UVCC began a little more than a year ago in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. Hai, 26, who has a master's degree in Chinese language and literature from Henan University, led more than 2,000 students from Henan Province into Tiananmen Square to demonstrate for democracy. He was called back to Henan two days before the June 4, 1989, massacre that left more than 30 of his group dead, dozens injured and more than 800 scattered through China.
Soon after the massacre Chinese leaders began investigating Hai. They ransacked his apartment and confiscated several pieces of evidence linking him to the pro-democracy movement. Hai feared for his life and knew he had to get out of China.
An international organization (the name of which Hai said he cannot reveal) arranged for him and a friend to be smuggled out of the country. They traveled first by truck and then by train for four days in a sealed shipping container - with nothing to eat but bread and water.
"He did not know where he was. He was very worried and very stressed. He had to trust these people even though he didn't know them. He was afraid they were government officials and were taking him away," Jackson said.
After spending several days in an apartment in Zhuhai, Hai left for Hong Kong on a coastal freighter hidden under a pile of vegetables. Shortly after leaving dock, the ship was stopped and searched by Chinese border patrol officers. The officers prodded the vegetables with long poles, narrowly missing Hai several times.
Hai spent nine months in Hong Kong until the government there asked him to leave. The government feared assisting Hai could hurt relations with China. The U.S. Consulate stepped in and bought Hai an airline ticket to Seattle. He arrived in the United States on May 31. Shortly after his arrival he was taken by officials of the international organization to Los Angeles.
Hai came to Utah last month hoping to get a job he read about in a Chinese newspaper. The job fell through and he ended up at UVCC looking for help. He is living with Jackson and learning English from six returned missionaries to Tiawan. He plans to enroll at UVCC next semester.
As a refugee, Hai qualifies for government assistance, but he said he wants to earn his own way. He works 20 hours a week at a computer firm and travels around Orem on a bicycle.
"He has been grateful for the help he has received, but he does not want welfare," Jackson said.
When talking about the Tiananmen Square massacre, Hai gets emotional. It is difficult for him to talk about the suffering and sacrifices made by the hundreds of students who fought for freedom. Hundreds died, but Hai said their efforts were not in vain.
"Even though many of the people have lost faith, they will rise up again and fight against oppression," Hai said through an interpreter.
Hai hopes to become better educated in the United States, become proficient in English and then return to help his people fight for freedom. He keeps in contact with the 21 other student leaders who are now living in the United States. He said as soon as the Chinese people are better prepared and have a better understanding about democracy, they will again fight for democracy. Until that time comes, however, he said the Chinese people will remain patient, endure a great amount of suffering and tolerate depression.
"As an example we can look at what happened in Tiananmen Square. The people have taken it in stride. They tolerate it and can patiently wait," Hai said.