“On the night of June 3, 1989, my husband went to Tiananmen Square.
Many people went there, but I decided to go to the China People’s
University because it was closer. Students at the university had also
gathered together on campus. They had put a microphone in the street,
and for two to three miles you could hear their speeches. All kinds of
people were talking, one after another.
“I took my daughter with me on my bicycle and listened. They spoke
about something we had never heard before. Passion. Passion to love the
country — love China. Each speaker was talking about current
government corruption, saying people need to have freedom for democracy,
a free press and free speech. It was a new and refreshing concept. But
it was late at night, so I took my daughter home.
“Suddenly, I heard a lot of people shouting outside. I opened the
window and heard them yelling, ‘They are killing us!’ I was worried, and
I thought, ‘Am I going to lose my husband? Is my daughter going to lose
her dad?’ I waited with a terrified heart to see my husband. Finally,
Zhiming rode his bicycle home. His face was white with terror, and he
was shouting like a crazy man: ‘They are killing us! They are killing
Meet Lili Liu Yuan and her husband Zhiming Yuan. Zhiming was a
scholar and student leader at the Tiananmen Square protest that took
place from April to June in 1989, and which ended in the famed bloody
massacre by the People’s Liberation Army. The Communist Chinese
government identified 21 leaders of the protest and put their names on a
“most wanted” list. Zhiming is one of the top 5 on that list.
I had the privilege of speaking with the Yuans this week. They told
me about Zhiming’s escape from China, his conversion to Christianity and
the miracles God has worked in their lives.
Zhiming and Lili Liu Yuan on their 10th wedding anniversary.
Zhiming Yuan was born in 1955 and is a candidate for a doctorate in
philosophy from the China Renming “People’s” University. One of the few
Tiananmen Square student leaders to escape from China to the United
States, Yuan is the editor of “Overseas Campus” magazine — a missionary
publication to China — and a script writer for the acclaimed television
series, “He Shang: the Yellow River Sorrow.”
Yuan is one of only two of the former Communist Party members from
the demonstration who converted to Christianity, attended seminary in
the United States, was ordained and became a missionary. In 1992, he
was a post-graduate student in pan-cultural studies at the Reformed
Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss., and he has authored many
Still living in the United States with his wife and daughter, Yuan
talked to me about the price of freedom and the miracle of redemption.
Millions of students and activists gathered in Tiananmen Square in
1989, literally packing the area, which is centrally located amid
government buildings, including the People’s Congress. Many of them
slept in tents for the entire 54-day demonstration. They demanded an
audience with government authorities, holding hunger strikes and raising
a statue of the “goddess of democracy.”
The famed photo of the lone student standing before a row of
Then, in the early morning hours of June 4, 1989, the PLA began
killing the students and other demonstrators, beginning the most
shocking story that awakened the world to the pro-democracy movement in
China. On television, we all saw wounded, bleeding and dying people
being transported by bicycle, emergency vehicles and even on the backs
of those who were able to run from the tragedy. They are images we
cannot and should not forget.
The whiz of bullets could be heard flying through their tents. One
bullet hit a female student sitting in her frail shelter just under the
chin, leaving a very small, indistinguishable entry wound. She suddenly
collapsed. Her friends could not tell where the blood was coming from.
Finally, one of the students picked her up and saw that the back half of
her head was gone. The entry wound may have been too small to notice,
but the exit wound had ripped away her skull and brain.
The student who had lifted the young woman up said, “If you guys
forget about tonight, if you forget what happened to this student, you
are not human.”
“I had a very strong feeling right at that moment,” said Yuan, who
was in the square when the bloodshed began. “It looked like I was in a
terrible dream. I could not believe it was happening. ‘Go away bad
dream!’ I thought. I hoped it was not true, but it was true.”
Zhiming Yuan in Tiananmen Square during the protest
“After the June 4 incident, I fled to Hong Kong with a friend’s
help. That was the beginning of my life in exile,” he said.
Two months after Tiananmen Square, Lili heard a knock at her door in
the middle of the night. It was a friend saying Lili had a phone call
from Hong Kong.
“We don’t have a telephone, so I had to go to a friend’s house to use
the phone,” said Lili. “When I picked up the phone, I recognized the
voice of a Hong Kong reporter I know. She spoke softly, saying, ‘He has
safely arrived in Hong Kong. Please don’t worry.’ After I hung up the
phone, I could not stop sobbing. After that, my one-and-a-half year-old
daughter and I lived in Beijing alone.”
“First, I was worried about whether my husband was dead or alive.
Once I knew he was safe, I was worried about a life of separation from
In the meantime, Yuan went from Hong Kong to Paris.
“I felt so lost, unwanted and dejected,” he said. “My own country,
my motherland, kicked me out to another country. Just like a child
whose parents don’t want him, the neighbors’ parents fed me and took
care of me. My attitude and my heart were not normal at that time
because I had just survived death. My life definitely had been saved
for a purpose, but I did not know what that purpose was. I had no root.
I didn’t know when I could go back to China. I didn’t know when I could
be reunited with my wife and my daughter and my family. I tried to keep
myself busy, making speech after speech in Europe and Taiwan. But every
night, the feeling of loneliness and depression crept in, and I didn’t
know what to do.”
“One day, I went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Paris. It was
a pure white church on the slope of a hill. The people in Paris were so
relaxed as they walked along, and a pigeon flew in the sky, sometimes
landing on children’s shoulders. It looked so peaceful and easy to me.
I sat down on the steps of the church, and suddenly, I saw a tank coming
straight toward me. I saw people shouting and crying. There were bloody
bodies everywhere and students running. I knew it was an illusion.
“Eventually, I found out that Princeton University had a scholarship
for people like me. I came to the United States as a visiting scholar
with a grateful heart. I knew everybody wanted to come to the U.S.A.
In America, I can do much more for the democracy movement. All kinds of
people cared about the Tiananmen Square massacre. Many of them set up
an organization called ‘Democratic China United.’ Together with
others, I co-founded a magazine called ‘Democracy China.’ The purpose
of the magazine was for people to discuss and exchange their opinions to
set up a blueprint for a future Chinese democracy.
“I began to learn two very important lessons here about human nature
and life. When I saw the PLA killing students, I felt so much pain in
my heart. Forgive them not! But when I began to write that magazine, I
realized that the same students and people who cared about Tiananmen
Square also have flaws in their human natures. We are all selfish. Our
human nature is so ugly. I am a philosophy student, but living in the
real world gave me a reality check. I began to realize that we are
sinners. In China, we all fought together for democracy, and we
survived. But in the U.S., we all fought against each other over such
small, tiny issues. There is no way a philosopher can explain that
except to say that we are all sinners.
“Why did we live? Why are we in this world? What is the purpose of
human life? The death of my father taught me something. When I was
protesting in Tiananmen Square, my father walked the three-to-four hour
journey from the countryside, saying, ‘You guys go home. You cannot
defeat the government. You are too small.’
“One of the students, innocently joking around, said to my father,
‘Uncle, things are different now. We are not talking about land reforms
anymore like they were during the land reform era.’”
That student was talking about a dispute 50 years ago when the
Communist Party tried to take land from the rich and give it to the
poor. It was bloody.
Yuan continued, “My father’s words were proven to be correct. June
5, 1989, was the last time I saw him. He had spent all his time by the
phone trying to call my only brother, whom he had sent to Beijing to
bring me home. When I finally came home with my wife and daughter, my
younger sister rushed to my father, saying I had arrived. My father
came to me. He normally didn’t talk very much, and so he only said one
thing: ‘Oh, you are alive.’
“When I was running for my life, I remembered what my family said
about my father. They told me how he smoked two packs of cigarettes a
day and listened closely to a short wave radio behind closed doors. He
spent every spare second, every spare minute on the short wave radio
trying to hear if I had escaped from China. Before he passed away, he
told my mom, ‘Do not tell my son that the sickness that will kill me was
caused by him.’
“The moment I heard that my father passed away, a student at
Princeton University gave me a bucket of white flowers. I put it on the
floor, and I went to the supermarket to buy every kind of fruit my
father liked, one pack of cigarettes, a matchbox and two white candles.
I got on my knees, faced China and said, ‘Dad, I got anything and
everything I could, including the cigarettes. I’m sorry I cannot be
there with you, and I love you.’”
“How could I, as a Communist Party member, become a Christian?” Yuan
asked. “Because of God’s love.”
You see, in Communist China, the only way you obtain power is by
stepping on other people’s shoulders. You must discredit your rivals
and attack others to protect yourself and maintain your power. That’s
how it works in China. Yuan explained how that way of thinking was
changed for him by being around Christians.
“Christians live their lives loving each other. They even love their
enemies. That kind of love sucked me in and made me want to become a
Christian. I did not tell my wife that I had become a Christian when I
talked to her over the phone. I only said I had become a better man.”
Lili and Zhiming both have very strong wills. Both are very highly
educated. Lili, who was also a student at China People’s University,
obtained her master’s degree in economics there. The couple, one a
philosopher and one an economist, always fought with each other. Before
they were married, they were already thinking about separating. But
friends told them things would get better after the wedding. So they
married, but tensions were still high because of their personality
Zhiming and Lili Liu Yuan on their wedding day in China
However, after the Tiananmen Square incident and her husband’s escape
from China, Lili resolved to make the marriage work.
“After this kind of difficult situation, I will never leave him,” she
said to herself, “no matter how different our personalities are.”
Yuan made the same commitment after he converted to Christianity,
saying, “After I became a Christian, I knew I was a better man. I
wanted her to know I was no longer that sinner, the old Yuan.”
He prayed to the Lord, Jesus Christ every day for the salvation of
his wife, who was still in China. He wanted her to understand God’s
Finally, under pressure from the U.S. Congress, the Chinese
government released the families of the Tiananmen Square dissidents,
enabling them to be reunited in the United States. When Lili arrived
with their little girl, Irene, it had been two years since the couple
had seen each other. Before Yuan escaped from China, he had taken
pictures and pieces of the baby’s soap so he could have part of them
The moment he saw them in the airport, Yuan picked up his young
daughter, who had never called him “papa” before. The husband and wife
looked at each other, each a bit shy.
When Yuan began to tell Lili he had been born again as a new person
in Christ and wanted to attend a theological school, Lili responded,
“Well, you know what kind of people become Christians? Losers! They
are the hopeless. You are a smart guy. With your educational
background, you could go into computer science to get a programmer job
or anything. Why do you have to go to seminary?”
Because Yuan’s English was not that good, Lili went with him to help
him interpret the professors and take notes. Over time, she said to
herself, “No way, they are all very smart and successful people. They
aren’t losers.” But she continued to refuse Christianity.
That didn’t stop Yuan from praying desperately. Every night, getting
on his knees by the bedside with tears in his eyes, he said, “Lord, this
is the only way out. You have to use your great mercy to open her
heart. That’s the only way we can live peacefully.”
Then, something happened that changed Lili’s life. While in China,
Lili was actively involved in women’s rights and the nation’s one-child
policy. In China, the two issues go hand-in-hand — she was a modern
Chinese woman and was very loyal to her party. But once they were
reunited in the U.S., the couple decided to have another baby.
However, Lili miscarried. She was very sad and so angry afterwards,
and one of their pastors’ wives asked her to read the book of Job. She
did, and God changed her heart.
“Yes, I am a sinner,” Lili said, “but my painful struggle does not
compare to Job’s. I often joke to my husband, ‘You need to save your
own family first before you save others and your country,’” she added.
Yuan could not believe his ears when he heard that Lili had become a
Christian. All he could say was, “Thank the Lord.” God had opened
Lili’s eyes and softened her heart.
Indeed, Yuan helped save his family, and he’s now working on other
people and the country of China.
After Lili came to the United States in 1991, she earned her master’s
of business administration as well as certification as a public
accountant. Now, the couple works together for
China Soul for
Christ — the missionary effort they began that includes a three-and-a-half hour video split into seven different segments.
The video, also called “China Soul for Christ,” uses Chinese philosophy and cultural background to spread the Gospel to China. The video claims that the turmoil in China has grown because there has been no god in the last 2,500 years of Chinese history. Communism has stripped the people of faith. Christ is the only way China’s soul can be saved.
|Cover of the “China Soul for Christ” video|
Always a philosopher, Yuan explains the difference between the Eastern Chinese mindset and Western perspectives.
“Chinese history tells us there is only the relationship from person to person. But in the United States, we see there are two kinds of relationships — from person to person and person to God. In Chinese history, the emperor or the ruler defined justice. So there was no eternal justice — the meaning of justice and values changed with each new ruler. That is why every time the United States talks to the Communist Chinese ruler about human rights, the Chinese ruler always thinks the United States is using human rights as a tool against them.”
In the video “China Soul for Christ,” Yuan says the problem of China is not only a political or economic problem. It is a problem of human belief. Look at the last 2,500 years. The rulers are human beings, and so they are also sinners. When the ruler decides something as a sinner, without a belief in God, he takes the entire nation down the drain with him. Only belief in the Lord, Jesus Christ can save China.
After listening to Yuan, I deeply believe the fate of China is in the Lord, Jesus Christ’s hands.
“If the 21st century is going to be the American and Chinese century, the American people need to pray for them and influence them,” said Yuan. “The 21st century totally depends on what kind of heart China has. If there is no soul, they are not saved, and China will be a big problem to the entire world. So we need to care about their heart and soul.”
What a privilege it is for me to know this couple and to hear their remarkable story. Their testimony deeply touched me, and I hope it has done the same for you.
|Lili, Irene and Zhiming Yuan|
Yes, I believe we, the American people, need to know more about the Chinese heart. And we also need to open our heart to them, showing them Christian love and letting them know we care.
Yuan explained that China’s political and cultural systems should be like the famous Yellow River. Where it originates near the mountains, the river is yellow and murky. You cannot see into it because of all the sediment and residue in the water. Then, in the middle of the long river, the water is more blue in color. But just before it runs into the Pacific Ocean, the Yellow River becomes crystal clear.
“The only way to save China from human disaster or trouble is for the political and cultural system to be crystal clear like the Yellow River when it runs into the Pacific Ocean and is shared with the entire world.”
It is my prayer that China will recognize our Creator, that its heart would be softened and that, as a nation, it will come to know the savior of humanity, the Lord, Jesus Christ.