Chinese students at the University of Utah have sent letters and raised money to show their support for fellow students in China demonstrating for freedom and democracy.
"We're taking a close look at what's going on back home," said Ning Zhu, president of the U.'s Chinese Student and Scholar Friendship Association.Members of the group have raised almost $800 to help students in China establish and publish a student newspaper independent of government control - something the students hope the communist Beijing government will allow as a gesture of democracy.
"There might be some changes if the government allows the paper, but it won't happen overnight," said Grace Ge, an association member.
Both Ge and Zhu said they would be participating in the massive demonstrations if they were at home in China but said their efforts here are a "symbolic action" to show their support.
"Here you have Jim Wright and in Japan they have Takeshita," Ge said. "The students (in China) feel that corruption in government is so bad that the students felt they had to do something about it."
"Students have always been the political movement leaders," said Zhu. On May 4, 1919, students in China first went to the streets to protest similar positions to the government, he said. Additional protests Thursday in China commemorated the 70th anniversary of the event.
"We're waiting to see what will happen on May 4 to see what we will do next," he said.
The U. association also sent letters to the Chinese People's Congress, the State Council and to the students and general public who participated in the recent demonstrations, expressing appreciation for their schoolmates' courage and the government's efforts to remain calm during the protests.
The letters also encouraged the government to hold sincere talks with student-selected representatives. Communist officials recently met with student members of government-controlled student associations, but protesting students say that is "like the government talking with the government" and are demanding their representatives be heard.
The U. students also wrote the communist party-owned newspaper People's Daily and the official Xinhua News Agency, expressing the students' dissatisfaction with their reporting of student protests in China and urging the media to be objective and ethical.
"The government-controlled media didn't have reports on the student protests (at first)," she said.
Zhu and Ge said they don't believe the Chinese protests will have immediate drastic effects on the government but will send an important message from the public.
"At least it will give a push to the government to realize that the Chinese people are not silent anymore," said Ge.
Zhu said that while all members of the Utah association voted to send the letters of support to China, many are still apprehensive about making statements against the government because many will one day return to their country.
"This is a very sensitive subject. Whoever participates takes some sort of risk," he said.
"A lot of us are going back, and we don't want them to think we've learned too many democratic ideas," Ge added.
The members of the organization say they hope their efforts will also bring an increased awareness of the situation to local residents. "At least it may let those who are interested and concerned know about what's happening there," she said.