Dai Qing

Dai Qing
A photograph of Dai Qing from the VOA archives.

Dai Qing, born in August 1941, (Chinese: 戴晴, Pinyin: Dài Qíng) is a journalist and activist for China-related issues; most significantly against the Three Gorges Dam Project. Dai is also an author who has published many influential books, articles, and journals.



Early life

Dai, also called Fu Ning (傅凝/傅小慶), was born in Chongqing, Sichuan in August 1941. She is the daughter of Yang Jie (楊潔) and Fu Daqing (傅大慶)—a Chinese intellectual and Communist Party martyr who was killed by Japanese soldiers in 1944. Dai Qing was then adopted by her father's friend, Ye Jianying (葉劍英), who was a major Chinese political figure and one of the ten marshals of the People's Liberation Army.

Reasons for becoming a journalist

In 1966, Dai wrote a short story that was well accepted by the public. At that time, her daughter was about 7 to 8 years old. Unfortunately, her daughter did not have any books to read. Dai then wondered why children in other countries, like the United States, had books to read, but there was none for children in China.

She then tried to study English in Nanjing (南京) for two years. This enabled her to translate English books into Chinese for her daughter. At that time, however, only a minority of Chinese could study English, such as those in the military. As Dai could not afford English education, she returned to her engineering career, working on guided missile systems. However, she knew that she could be an accomplished writer but could only have little achievement as an engineer.

During the Cultural Revolution (文化大革命) in 1966-1976, Dai and her husband, Wang Dejia (王德嘉), were sent to the countryside to be "reformed through labour" and worked as peasants. They were forced to leave Beijing where their daughter, Wang Xiaojia (王小嘉) lived. This showed Dai the uglier side of the Chinese government and made her realize that Chinese citizens were least important to it. After the Cultural Revolution, Dai was unable to return to her former career. Later on, she worked on surveillance equipment and after that as a writer for the People's Liberation Army( 人民解放軍). In 1982, she left the Army and joined Guangming Daily (光明日報) as a news reporter.

Early life as a journalist

In 1966, Dai Qing graduated from the Harbin Military Engineering Academy (哈爾濱軍事工程學院). After graduation, she furthered her studies in Japan to become an oil engineer, and she was also trained as a missile engineer. In the same year, she worked as an engineer in a top secret plant which specialized in intercontinental missiles. After working as an engineer, she started her career as a writer/news reporter.

She was noticed in 1969 when the Guangming Daily published her short story which depicted the plight of a husband and a wife separated during the Cultural Revolution. As a result, she joined the Chinese Authors Association (中國作者協會) in 1982. After publishing the short fiction, "Pan" ("盼"), she was paid high tribute as an author.

She then became a reporter for the Guangming Daily (光明日報) (also called Enlightenment Daily in English) and she remained as a columnist from 1982 to 1989. Dai was the first Chinese journalist to announce the views and points of dissidents — people such as astrophysicist Fang Lizhi (方勵之), who held different political views.

At that time, Dai was a dedicated patriot. She once said that she would die if Mao Zedong (毛澤東) needed her to do so—but after three to five years, she gradually changed her stance. Dai wanted to understand her community and the lives of ordinary citizens through the eyes of a journalist. She hoped to be able to contribute to the community.

Dai has a quixotic style of sudden asides in her writing, which may occasionally confuse the reader. At times, her biting sarcasm may be lost on those not intimately acquainted with China's political and journalistic culture.

Opposition against the Three Gorges Dam

In 1979, when Dai Qing returned from France to China, she was sent south to cover the Sino-Vietnamese War. At that period, she decided to reveal the dark side of the Three Gorges Dam. As a famous and fearless China journalist and writer, Dai hoped her writing would encourage Chinese people to speak out and avoid repeating past mistakes. Thus, she openly opposed the Three Gorges Dam Project (三峽工程) on the Yangtze River (長江) in 1989. She regarded the project as "the most environmentally and socially destructive project in the world".

She collected a lot of information on the project which led to the publication of the book Yangtze! Yangtze! (是否该进行长江三峡水坝的工程). The information included interviews and essays from the Chinese scientists and journalists who also opposed the project. During the period, a conference was held in the Hall of Chinese People's Political Forum about the Three Gorges Dam, and Dai was the only reporter who attended and reported the forum. She even went to Japan in 1996 to ask the Japanese government not to provide loans or any kind of financial assistance for that project.

She argued that there was already serious emigration today, either legal or illegal, from China to other countries, like Canada, the United States, Europe and so on. The project would create a large number of refugees who had to find a place for them to reside. As a result, the legal or illegal emigration problem would be aggravated. In addition, the project would have had global effect on the climate. Dai claimed that there was a potential risk for the Yangtze River (長江) and the Yellow River(黃河) to dry up, leading the sandstorms in Inner Mongolia to have a greater influence on Korea, Japan and even the west coast of the United States.

Life as a prominent journalist

Three Gorges Dam

Besides publishing Yangtze! Yangtze!, she also authored many books to share her opinions, especially about the Three Gorges Dam project such as The River Dragon Has Come! (水龍來了!). However, Yangtze! Yangtze! was banned after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 on (天安門屠殺 June 4, 1989).

Because of that event, she was denounced on June 4, 1989, and quit the Chinese Communist Party on June 5, 1989. In addition, she was jailed for ten months and was not allowed to publish books in China. When she was released from jail in May 1990, she declined political asylum (政治庇護) from the United States and Germany. As a result of the event, She has been honored with several fellowships and awards.

Turning point for Dai

Dai Qing took part in the opposition of the Three Gorges Dam project because, as a journalist, she thought that the project was environmentally destructive. Around 1986, a group of old respected Chinese scientists, including Zhou Peiyuan 周培源 and Lin Hua (林華), visited Three Gorges to inspect the region for dam construction. One day a conference was held in the Hall of the Chinese People’s Political Forum about Three Gorges which The Ministry of Media told the press not to report. As the only journalist who went to the conference, Dai did not know much about the Three Gorges Dam project. However, after the conference, she found the scientists to be very reasonable.

Dai's turning point came in 1987 when she made a visit to Hong Kong. She saw that every journalist and intellectual were free to express their opinions on the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River, and she was touched by their concerns for China. However, since the Chinese media was controlled by the Chinese government, even citizens who were most susceptible to the disastrous effects of the Three Gorges Dam project knew nothing about the disadvantages of building the dam. She felt ashamed because the Hong Kong media was way ahead of China's. Extremely anxious, Dai felt that it was her responsibility to let people know the opposing views about the Three Gorges Dam project. Therefore, she decided to publish a book to voice her concerns. Eventually she met a writer named Lin Feng, and after he discovered her concerns about the Three Gorges, he mailed her all the Hong Kong newspaper articles related to this issue.

Life in prison

In 1989, the student protest movement broke out. Dai Qing joined other scholars by calling on the government to curtail corruption and support democratic reform. When students staged large protests that included a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square, Dai Qing made a passionate speech there, encouraging students to leave peacefully to avoid bloodshed. If they stayed, she warned, they could provoke a violent crackdown that could seriously set back the process of reform. She was not heeded, and the crackdown came on June 4. Dai Qing was arrested a month later on June 14, 1989.

After the incident, many scholars either went into hiding, were detained, or fled overseas. Dai Qing, not knowing whether to flee or not, only managed to make phone calls everyday to comfort her friends and relatives.

According to one of her famous books, Wo de Ruyu (My Imprisonment; 我的入獄), Dai mentioned that the police had visited her the day before her imprisonment as a way of warning her. However, she did not plan to run away for her life because she loved her country. She said, "As a citizen of a country, I cannot leave her. And I have to criticise it in order to build a more perfect and stronger one."

On June 14, 1989, she was arrested and started her life in prison. She understood that although she had not committed any criminal offences, she could still be convicted and be sentenced to death. Soon she discovered that there were many holes all around her room. However, no matter how hard she tried, she could not escape from her cell.

She left prison on January 21, 1990, but was kept in informal detention at a guest house for three and a half more months. She was finally released and allowed to go back home on May 9, 1990, and although she was being watched, she was granted a free atmosphere to write. She then wrote My Imprisonment (我的入獄) in which she said, "What I can fight for is to let others know I am innocent but have a rebellious spirit."

As a former reporter for the Guangming Daily, she used to write a lot. However, her imprisonment after the publication of the Yangtze! Yangtze! made her change. From Wo de Ruyu, she declared she would no longer be a reporter. Since she was no longer a member of the Communist Party, she said, "They (the Communist Party) will probably give me up, but I will not be glad to work with them neither." She is currently calm and objective enough to be more suitable than ever to write as an independent author.

Dai's current life

Dai currently resides in Beijing. She argues that China has not yet abolished the mode of collective society from the previous eras. Therefore, she continues to fight for human rights, democracy, and environmentalism along with people in both China and the West.

According to an article of Telegraph newspaper on November 9, 2010, Dai Qing confirmed that she will attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December on behalf of Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an eleven-year prison sentence since 2009 for "inciting subversion".

Fellowships and awards

  1. Fellowship from Australian National University (澳大利亞國立大學)
  2. Fellowship from Columbia University
  3. 1991 Prestigious Nieman Fellowship for Journalists from Harvard University
  4. 1992 International PEN Award for Freedom (世界報業協會自由金筆獎)
  5. 1993 Goldman Environment Prize (格德曼環境獎)
  6. 1993 Condé Nast Environmental Award (耐斯特環境保護獎)
  7. 1994 Best Essay on the Two Sides of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan
  8. 1998–1999 Fellowship from Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.
  9. 1998 - Probe International Fellow (Toronto, Canada).



  1. No: A Collection of Short Stories (不 : 中短篇小說集) (1982)
  2. Spring Story of the Red Rock (紅岩英魂逢春記) (Meng #Yong, Dai Qing, Li Jiajie/孟勇, 戴晴, 李家杰著){China-History-Civil War}(1983)
  3. Spirit (魂){Collection of Articles} (1985)
  4. Red Alert: Report of the Da Xing An Ling Forest Fires (紅色警報: 大興安嶺森林大火直擊報導) {Report}(1987)
  5. Liang Shuming, Zhang Shizhao and Mao Zedong (梁漱溟,章士釗與毛澤東){China-Interllectual Life} (1988)
  6. Series of the Chinese National Women (中國女性系列) {Report}(1988)
  7. Readers' Questions and Answers (學者答問錄) {China-Interllectual-Interview}(1988)
  8. Chasing the Devil and God (追逐魔鬼撾住上帝) {Collection of Articles}(1988)
  9. Away from Modern Superstitions (走出現代迷信) (Tao Ling, Zhang Yide, Dai Qing et al./ 陶鎧, 張義德, 戴晴等著) {Philosophy, Marxist}(1988)
  10. Sexually Open Women (性開放女子 ) (Dai Qing et al./ 戴晴等著){Chinese Fiction} (1988)
  11. Yangtze! Yangtze! (揚子! 揚子!) {Reservoirs-China-Yangtze River-Environmental aspects}(1989)It was banned when it was first published in 1989 when the democracy movement in China became active. It is a collection of essays, interviews, statements, points of views and articles from Chinese scientists, environmentalists, journalists and intellectuals who all opposed the Three Gorges Dam scheme. Its credits lie in the fact that it successfully pressured the Chinese government to postpone the implementation of the scheme and it signaled as the first time which democratic movement could interfere with state decisions.
  12. Chang Jiang, Chang Jiang: Arguments Regarding the Three Gorges Dam Project (長江長江 : 三峽工程論爭) (主編戴晴 ; 副主編剛建, 何小娜, 董郁玉 ){Dams-China-Yangtze River Gorges}(1989)
  13. Whether to Continue with the Three Gorges Dam Project: Readers' Collection of Arguments (長江三峽工程應否興建 : 學者論爭文集) (主編戴晴 ; 副主編剛建, 何小娜, 董郁玉){Dams-China-Yangtze River Gorges}(1989)
  14. China's Lack of Interest Regarding Sex: A Collection of Questions from the Mainland Society (中國的性苦悶 : 大陸社會問題紀實){Social Problems-China} (1989)
  15. An Offering to the Heart(心祭) {Chinese Fiction}(1989)
  16. Liang Shuming, Wang Shiwei, Chu Anping (梁漱溟, 王實味, 儲安平) {Intellectuals-China}(1989)
  17. Away from Modern Superstitions: Arguments on Rational Questions (Chen Ling, Zhang Yide, Dai Qing et al.) (走出現代迷信: 關於真理標準問題的大辯論 / 陶鎧, 張義德, 戴晴等著) {Philosophy-Marxist}(1989)
  18. My Imprisonment (我的入獄) {Political prisoners-China-Daires}(1990)
  19. Mo Takuto to Chūgoku chishikijin: Enan seifu kara han uha toso e (毛澤東と中國知識人: 延安整風から反右派鬥爭) (1990)
  20. Mao Zedong, Influencing the World, "Wild Lily" (毛澤東, 黨天下, 野百合花) (1991)
  21. Sentimental Writing for Women (Dai Qing et al.) (齋女 : 女性感抒文學 / 戴晴等著) (1993)
  22. Wang Shiwei and 'Wild Lilies': Rectification and Purges in the Chinese Communist Party (1942–1944) (王實味與野百合花) (1994)
  23. My Account II of Imprisonment at Qin City (在秦城坐牢 : 自己的故事(二)) (1995) In this book, Dai talked about her life in prison and what she thought and saw there. Also, this book included what Dai wrote to her husband, daughter and the police at that time. And she talked about her opinion on June 4 incident and the immigration problem when she went to the United States to study at Harvard University.
  24. Women Who Keep Small Feet: Problems of the Women in Contemporary China (纏足女子 : 當代中國女性問題) (Dai Qing, Luo Ke/戴晴, 洛恪著)(1996) In this book, Dai and Luo give a message to the public. They want the society to pay attention to the problems of the women in China. There are seven chapters in this book spanning such subjects as women who persist in the practice of foot-binding, bigamy, a modern matchmaker and a girl who is raped at the age of nine. In this book, Dai shows herself a unique and critical view on current gender issues.
  25. Whose River: Can a Developing China be Responsible of the Three Gorges Dam Project (誰的長江 : 發展中的中國能否承擔三峽工程) (Dai Qing, Xue Weijia) (編者戴晴, 薛煒嘉) (1996)
  26. The River Dragon Has Come! (水龍來了!) (1997) A book in which Dai Qing gave stern warning to prominent government officials, journalists, intellectuals and the public in China about the disastrous effect which the Three Gorges Dam project might bring to the environment and society of China. Dai Qing also gave a few suggestions on how to achieve the same goal with less catastrophic effects entailed.
  27. Tiananmen Follies: Prison Memoirs and Other Writings (2003)


  1. (with Jeanne Tai), "Raised Eyebrows for Raise the Red Lantern," Public Culture 5(2): 333-337 (1993).
  2. Members of Falungong in an Autocratic Society 2000: Dai Qing contended that China was still based on the mode of collective idea of the previous era. While the members of Falungong gathered together to cultivate their own ideas and worshipped their own god, the Chinese government saw it as a kind a deviation. She criticized the Chinese government for deploying the usual tactics of suppression to crush against Falungong members. Dai claimed that this event represents the greatest conflicts when China steps towards modernity. This article is based on her lecture at the Fairbank Center, Harvard University on November 18, 1999.



  1. Goldman Environmental Prize (English)
  2. Communism's Negotiated Collapse: The Polish Round Table Talks of 1989 (English)
  3. Three Gorges Dam Project (English)
  4. The article about Dai Qing (Chinese)
  5. Business Week (English)
  6. Dai Qing, Voice of the Yangtze River Gorges (English)
  7. Three Gorges Probe news service (English)

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