Story Behind Keeping the Dream

Radio Free Asia

When I first created Keeping the Dream in 2000, it was for the people in China who heard my Radio Free Asia interview. Although RFA programs were jammed in China, they weren’t entirely inaccessible. People often listened to programs secretly, though they were hard to hear and frequently intermittent.

But the gist of the programs did get through. At that time, it was also still possible for the Chinese to visit outside websites, so I created this one. A year or two later, a beautiful young person, whose village received their first communal computer, found me on the web. He contacted me. You can read my response to him here. 

You can listen to Part 1 and 3 of the interview below.

RFA Interview Part 1: Interviewed and produced by Bei Ming, first aired 2/22/2000
RFA Interview Part 3: Interviewed and produced by Bei Ming,  first aired 3/7/2000

In Part 1 of the interview I read a letter I had written, Dear China, my heartfelt desire to connect with a country that meant so much to me in my childhood.

Three years after these interviews, in 2003, the Great Firewall was erected, a massive digital censorship effort by the Chinese government. Much access to the outside world and outside information was cut off.

Dictatorships love walls.

Students of Tiananmen Square

Keeping the Dream was part of my human rights activism, particularly as it applied to the Chinese Democracy Movement. I called this website and my activism, Keeping the Dream, after a song I wrote in honor of the students of Tiananmen Square, Keeping the Dream Alive. I knew the communist government would blame the students for the massacre, and I wanted them to know it wasn’t their fault. Having a dream doesn’t cause deaths. Murdering people does.

Demian Yumei singing at the Candlelight Vigil for the Students of Tiananmen Square, Washington DC, 2002

Candlelight Vigil for the Students of Tiananmen Square, Washington DC, 2002

Much of my writing at that time was dedicated to the fight for human rights. For several years after the RFA interview, I sang at candlelight vigils for the students of Tiananmen Square in Washington D.C. In many ways I identified with the students.

I didn’t know what it was like to be attacked by bullets or crushed by tanks, but I did know what it was like to be betrayed by someone who’s supposed to protect you. For the Chinese students, it was their own government. For me, it was my father and to another extent, my own mother.

The situation was different, but the emotional reality was similar. Abuse — no matter its expression — is abuse, and trauma is the shared result.

Changes and Time

Over the years the website evolved, as I did. Sometimes, it lay fallow for long periods of time. Other times it came to brief periods of life as it was infused with new enthusiasm and renewed engagement.

But I was never able to maintain a focus or clear sense of purpose, perhaps reflecting the wandering nature of my own life and growth. I created other websites of topical interest and later took them down. Having different sites made me feel fragmented.

Last night I wrote in my journal:

Why do I feel I should only write if I write for other people — for causes or movements? Why do I feel guilty, when I write for the sake of writing, for the sake of story or for myself?… like I’m stealing time and space from someone else?

Is writing for myself so radical that the very idea of it is such an affront?

I don’t live under a regime that forbids me from speaking my truth — not yet, but I do live under an unspoken law from my family of origin: I am never to let my voice cause our public image to crumble, or to reveal the truth of what happens within these walls.

But I’m already beginning to feel the words forming on my lips, and my fingers tapping on the keys causing the walls around me to tremble.

Activism to Intimacy

There’s something safe about speaking up for other people or fighting for a cause. You bring attention to others. Not yourself. The emphasis is on injustice, and it should be. But it can also be a place to hide which, while a very noble blanket, is still a blanket.

I have, over time, put myself “out there”, including in my activism, sharing some pieces of my personal story here and there. But I’m also aware these were individual moments in special settings. I could always call it a night, and leave.

I don’t need or want to do that anymore.

Keeping the Dream Today

As a long time advocate for others finding their voice and sharing their story and speaking their truth, I think it’s time for me to step it up a notch or two, and become more fully engaged in doing that myself.

Keeping the Dream is still about the students of Tiananmen Square — I will always love them. It’s still about anyone who has ever had a dream, who faces obstacles and even oppression. It’s still about finding your voice, telling your story and speaking your truth. I’m just going to be sharing more of mine.

I welcome you to this new chapter of my life.

Demian Yumei
~ Keeping the Dream

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