Excerpt: Jamie Ding
On the surface, it looked as if Yuchuan Ding had achieved the good life. By his mid- thirties he was a highly successful cosmetic surgeon in China. His superb reputation meant he had a thriving practice. He and his wife, Ning Yan, who taught physics, lived a privileged lifestyle in a nice neighborhood in Beijing. Yuchuan, in fact, had known privilege all his life. Since both his parents were Communist party members who held government posts, his family was affluent. As a boy, his family’s chauffeur had driven them wherever they wanted to go.
But being a surgeon caused Yuchuan great anxiety. He worried constantly—he could hardly sleep nights, wondering, “What if I don’t provide perfect treatment?” The thought that he might possibly provide less than ideal care made him feel, “very bad and guilty,” he recalls. He had no reason to worry—he had never had a problem with a patient—but still, “I was too nervous.” The specter of a failure with a patient led to years of angst. Finally, toward the late 1980s, he could no longer stand it. He decided to change careers. He was, in effect, simply too anxious to go on.
But that nervous self-doubt was nowhere to be found in the spring of 1989, as Yuchuan saw the Chinese student uprising begin. That year, crowds of students gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest government repression. The square was close to Yuchuan’s house, and in a gesture of solidarity—he hated the government as much as they did, despite his upbringing—he stood shoulder to shoulder with them. The government, attempting to quash the rebellion, sent a mass of soldiers to take control of the square.
The students refused to give way. It was push and pull, as the two sides stared eyeball to eyeball and the soldiers manhandled the students. Over the course of days the conflict escalated. Yuchuan, risking his career as well as his safety, stayed with the students. The same man who wanted to give up a medical practice out of worry for cosmetic surgery patients was, when his very life looked imperiled, apparently fearless.