Two days after 18,000 demonstrators rallied outside the United Nations and the Chinese Consulate in New York in support of the pro-democracy movement in China, the consulate's education officer showed up at a dormitory at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He began questioning Chinese exchange students.
The diplomat wanted to know who might have participated in the demonstration. He also questioned Chinese graduate students in an apartment complex on campus. For many of the 400 Chinese nationals on temporary visas at the university, the reaction was fear and anxiety.
The Sunday night visit by the Chinese official demonstrated how the terror felt in China in the wake of the government's violent suppression of the student movement has begun spreading to the United States.
Chinese diplomats have videotaped demonstrators in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, protesters said. Threatening phone calls and warnings not to take part in future rallies also have been reported, inspiring fear among the students for their own futures and for their families at home.
"They are watching us," said Qi Anming, a student leader at UC Berkeley. "I am not afraid, but others are."
"The best way to silence the people is to give them a sense of fear," added Yu Maochun, a student at the same university. "Fear is the traditional way in China of controlling people."
Yu quoted an old Chinese saying: "Kill the chicken to frighten the monkey." In today's context, it means intimidating the masses by attacking just a few, he explained.
Qi said students are worried that their involvement in protests in the United States will bring hardship to their families in China. Many are concerned that their parents will lose their jobs, be harassed by government officials or face arrest.
The students wonder if they could face the same fate as their classmates in China should they return. "In the eyes of the Chinese government, we are counterrevolutionaries. It means they can do anything to us," Qi said.
At Stony Brook, some students quickly complained to Lynn King Morris, the university's director of foreign student affairs. "They (the exchange students) said it was disturbing to have the consul there," she said Tuesday.
A Chinese student at Columbia University, who helped coordinate the massive Manhattan rally on Friday, said that during the march, other protesters warned him that there were Chinese people with a videotape camera.
"They told me those were people with the consulate," said the student, who declined to give his name. He said students at Columbia believe that Chinese intelligence officials also have been reviewing newspaper photographs and local and national television coverage of the New York rally in an effort to identify individuals.
Fueling the fear is the widespread rumor that over the years the Chinese Communist government has been able to plant informers among exchange students. At Stony Brook, Morris said it was unclear whether the consulate official showed up on his own or had been invited by student sympathizers.
At Harvard, Prof. Ezra F. Vogel, a China specialist, said that some Chinese students are viewed with suspicion by others. "There is distrust and fear," he said, "a feeling that there are people (here) who are presumed to convey responses (back to China) and are in a position to do this."
Wang Shaohua, a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, denied any attempts to intimidate students in the United States. He said the consulate has taken no pictures and is compiling no blacklist.
"This is entirely unfounded and a fabrication," Wang said.
But student leaders throughout the country said they recognize their government's methods of intimidation since most of them were teen-agers during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when many intellectuals were jailed, tortured or executed.
Many Chinese students say they will continue to protest the massacre in Beijing. But among many willing to risk exposure, there is a recognition that their actions may haunt them for years.
Qi, the student leader at Berkeley, said that students who have participated in demonstrations in the Bay Area are certain that they have been filmed by consular officials on the roof or from windows. At first, he said, the students paid little attention, even when officials they recognized walked with cameras into the crowd of protesters.
But since the June 4 massacre in Tian An Men Square and the arrest of hundreds of student leaders in China, the photographing has been seen as an ominous threat.
"Clearly, they know our names," Qi said. "There is no way I would return to China now."
Wang Haitao, an editor of the recently created Freedom Press Herald in Alhambra, said the newspaper has received two threatening phone calls--one to the newspaper's office and another to an editor's home. He said one anonymous caller simply said, "Be careful, your future is not good."