Yi Lu, a senior history and mathematics major at Mars Hill College has received two national awards for a research paper about the event that has come to be called the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Lu’s paper, Struggle and Massacre: China’s Leadership in the 1989 Beijing Student Movement, deals with the events of the summer of 1989 in Beijing, China, when thousands of Chinese students rallied for government and political reform. Government forces met the protesters with marshal law, beginning a tense stand-off that culminated in the massacre of hundreds on June 4.
In her paper, Lu effectively argues that the Chinese government could have appeased the student protestors and avoided bloodshed with relative ease, were it not for the power struggle of two men vying for leadership.
The research paper has received the Robert W. Sledge fellowship from the prestigious national college honor society Alpha Chi. The Sledge Fellowship is the society’s highest honor for written work. Only Two Sledge Fellowships, worth $3,500, are awarded each year. The award must be put towards the first year of graduate study toward the master’s, doctor’s, or professional degree at any recognized institution.
In addition, the paper was selected as the Best Undergraduate Paper at the 23rd Annual Graduate History Forum held at UNC- Charlotte in April. Though the forum is held in North Carolina, research papers from across the nation are submitted for consideration at the event.
Lu, a native of Wuhan, China, produced the paper as part of a “capstone” research requirement at Mars Hill College required for the history major. Her mentor and professor for the research was Dr. John Gripentrog, assistant professor of history.
According to Gripentrog, Lu’s paper was deserving of recognition because of its unique perspective. “Despite a plethora of articles, monographs, and websites dedicated to the 1989 Student Movement, sometimes referred to as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, not a single piece of scholarship explores the events from the perspective of Ms. Lu’s paper,” he said. “For one thing, the preponderance of scholarly works focus on the student protestors; secondly, those researchers who do examine the “other side”—that is, from the view of the government officials—do not make the same historical connections or proceed from the same argument.”
The simple reason, according to Gripentrog, is that Lu was privy to primary sources to which most scholars have had little or no access. Most importantly, Lu gained access to the recently published diary of Chinese official Li Peng, a key player in developments in China in 1989.
“Access to this new source, made possible by Ms. Lu’s fluency in Chinese and the fortuitous timing of her research, along with the already published journal of Zhao Ziyang, another key official and rival of Li Peng, enabled her to examine the events of 1989 from a unique perspective,” Gripentrog said.
As for herself, Lu sees the hand of fate in both the timing of her research, and personal associations which have made the student movement of 1989 important to her family.
“I was born that year, in 1989, two months after the movement,” Lu said. Like most average citizens, her father was especially sympathetic to the students’ concerns and said he would probably have supported the movement in some way, had his very pregnant wife not asked him to stay home. In the months following the incidents in Tiananmen Square, the government randomly pursued participants of the movement for imprisonment as a means of instilling fear. Lu said she is only half joking when she says: “I feel like I kind of saved his life, or at least, saved him trouble in his life.”
Though Lu is careful to emphasize that China is not the police state that westerners tend to envision, she also knows that the research paper which has won academic awards in America is unlikely to be published or recognized in her home country -- at least not any time soon. Though the topic is not banned, she said, neither is it encouraged as a topic for publication or research.
“No one is watching you; it’s not a like a ‘big brother’ type of thing,” she said. “You can talk about the movement with your friends, your parents. You can write about it, read about it, but you just cannot publically publish something online where thousands of people can freely watch it. The government doesn’t fear that you, one person, is interested in it. They fear the spread of it.”
According to Lu, the government’s reticence to allow discussion about the Tiananmen Square Massacre may have actually encouraged her interest in researching the topic. “I’m somewhat cynical toward the government,” she said. “So the more the government says that topic isn’t allowed for discussion, the more I want to figure out what happened,” she said.
Lu has been admitted to graduate school at Ohio State University to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics, with an emphasis on cross-disciplinary research. She also has been awarded a prestigious campus-wide fellowship by the graduate school. Her career goal is to be a college professor, preferably in North Carolina.
Though she came to America entirely focused on pursuing mathematics, she credits her liberal arts education at Mars Hill with spurring her interest in the humanities.
“I’m kind of divided as you can see from my two majors,” she said. “I like the humanities’ intellectual pursuits, but I can’t live without the practical approach of numbers. I want to make sense of the world, but I want to use a concrete quantitative approach rather than a solely philosophical kind of approach. For me, statistics allows that interdisciplinary study that is most satisfying.”
Mars Hill College is a private, liberal arts institution offering over 30 baccalaureate degrees and one graduate degree in elementary education. Founded in 1856 by Baptist families of the region, the campus is located just 20 minutes north of Asheville in the mountains of western North Carolina.www.mhc.edu 1-866-MHC-4-YOU.Read the full article