Fangwei He's father was a political prisoner for six years during China's repressive Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
Now the 25-year-old Cal State Northridge Chinese exchange student said he is fearful that he too may be marked as a troublemaker and counterrevolutionary for his participation in demonstrations in Los Angeles earlier this month to protest the massacre of Chinese students in Beijing's Tian An Men Square.
"In about a year, I will have to decide to either go back or pursue an advanced degree," said Fangwei, who came to study in the United States seven years ago. "I don't want to go back right now. I have done enough to get myself arrested or blacklisted."
Other less-outspoken CSUN exchange students, some of whom have arrived from China as little as four months ago, said in interviews that they too are afraid to return to their country. But because most still have several months or years to complete their education in the United States, they are not immediately concerned.
"After I graduate, I'm going to get a Ph.D. so I'm at least planning to stay for another five years," said Xiang Lee, 26. Wearing a "Caesars Palace" T-shirt, Xiang was one of the more Americanized of the six exchange students interviewed. He said he plans to complete work toward a masters's degree in educational psychology next spring.
"I think most Chinese students want to stay here for both political and economic reasons," said Xiang, who is one of about 30 Chinese students pursuing advanced degrees at the Northridge campus. "There is more freedom here and a better chance to find your potential."
But Xiang added: "Personally, I couldn't decide at this point whether to go or to stay."
About 40,000 Chinese are studying in U. S. colleges and universities, according to U. S. statistics. Among California universities, UCLA, UC Berkeley and USC have the largest number of Chinese exchange students, with more than 230 at each school.
Ye Song, 27, who is studying for a master's degree in physics, also said he plans to remain in the United States long enough to earn a Ph.D.
"I think that in the end most Chinese students would go back because we are Chinese and we love our country," Ye said. "But if the situation gets worse, I would choose to stay."
The students said their parents have urged them to keep a low profile and avoid being seen at U. S. demonstrations because of possible retaliation by Chinese authorities. "I have brothers and sisters who are older; they have families and jobs," Xiang said.
The students agreed that there were problems in American society, such as crime and drug use among its youth.
"Sure, there are defects," Xiang said. "But think about a society where a leader is deciding the lives of 1 billion people. That's absurd and not logical."
Ideally, the students said, China will continue to expand the personal freedoms of its people and in time they will be able to return to their home and use their U. S. education.