Rowena Xiaoqing He

Department of Government

Dr. He’s research focuses on the nexus of history, memory, and power, political socialization, youth values, and social change,  and their implications for citizenship, human rights, and democracy.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and has conducted her postdoctoral research at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. Her book Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China was published simultaneously in paperback and hardcover in April 2014 by Palgrave-MacMillan. Tiananmen Exiles has been named one of the Top Five China Books of 2014 by the Asia Society’s China File. The book is a result of her eight years’ collaboration with political prisoners and student leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Movement. Her postdoctoral project Identifying with a `Rising China’?: Overseas Chinese Student Nationalism examines the roots and development of nationalism among Chinese students in the post-Tiananmen era. Preliminary results of this study have been published in an edited volume Constructing Modern Asian Citizenship (Routledge, 2015).

In addition to her scholarly work, Dr. He speaks and publishes widely outside the academy. She has been a keynote speaker for the Canada Human Rights National Symposium, and delivered lectures for the Harvard Human Rights Journal, the U.S. State Department, Canada International Council, and Rights and Democracy in Canada. She has served as co-chair of the International Section of the Program Committee and a core member of the selection committee for the annual Ella Baker/Septima Clark Human Rights Award for the American Educational Research Association.

Dr. He’s writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and the Globe and Mail. She has been interviewed by AI Jazeera, Associated Press, BBC, Boston Globe, Boston Public Radio, CBC, Christian Science Monitor, CTV, Daily Telegraph, Globe and Mail, Guardian, Harvard Gazette, Harvard Crimson, Harvard Magazine, Harvard Political Review, Los Angeles Times, NBC, Public Radio International, Radio Free Asia, Radio Canada International, Time, Voice of America, Wellesley News, and various other international media.

Dr. He has taught for Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard’s Freshman Seminar Program, the Harvard Extension School, the Harvard Summer School and Wellesley College. Her seminars on the 1989 Tiananmen Movement and its aftermath have earned her the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence for three consecutive years. She has also been funded by the American Educational Research Association for three years to organize and chair a mentoring seminar for doctoral students in international studies.


Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China

Tiananmen Exiles


“A moving and very personal account of life as a political emigrant…A convincing and powerful account of a central experience in contemporary Chinese life” -New York Review of Books by Ian Johnson

‘Tiananmen Exiles is a brave book written eloquently, with controlled passion… [it is] a masterly narrative and analysis..[He’s] often profound book is an unmistakable sign of her devotion to the cause’ – The Spectator by Jonathan Mirsky

“Rowena He herself is an example of someone who has battled for years, sometimes in the face of angry criticism, to keep alive the memories of an idealism that emerged in full force in 1989. And she’s determined not to let us forget.” -Christian Science Monitor by Dan Southerland

“A compelling account of idealism and the price it exacts” – Kirkus

“Bold attempt to reclaim Chinese history from the state” –The Independent by Edward Wilson

Tiananmen Exiles has organically tied the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen movement together through the lives and agonies of three former student leaders, and through them, the lives and struggles of their generation. – Journal of East Asian Libraries by Zehao Zhou

“Rowena He…courageously battles state-imposed amnesia, forcing us to remember the human cost of China’s 1989” – The Daily Telegraph by Julia Lovell

“Those who have chosen, or were forced by circumstances, not to live the official lie, including Rowena He, are condemned as traitors to China rather than as critics of the regime. For the three student leaders interviewed in her book, the events of 1989 and their subsequent exile created a permanent post-traumatic state. Much the same could be said of the nation they left behind, a nation that is waiting for the moment when the legacy of the tragedy suffered a quarter-century ago can be faced.” – New Statesman by Isabel Hilton

“As long as the Communist Party continues to refuse to tolerate any conversation about June Fourth, it will only ensure that voices like Ms. He’s echo even louder in the silence.” – The Wall Street Journal Real Time by Maura Cunningham

“Though China’s democracy movement was crushed in the Tiananmen Massacre 25 years ago, the ideas that animated it are eternal. Rowena Xiaoqing He, one of the most courageous academics in the U.S., has written a powerful book that tracks the poignant journeys of three exiled activists and honors the sacrifices so many Chinese had to make in 1989 and after.”
– Adi Ignatius, Wall Street Journal Beijing Bureau Chief in 1989 and co-editor of Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

“This new book revives as well as preserves the memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Movement in a quintessential way. Combining autobiographical and biographical approaches with psycho-cultural analysis, Rowena Xiaoqing He has ingeniously reconstructed the entire movement in historical perspective not only to unlock the past and explain the present but also to peer into the future of China’s sustained struggle against totalitarian tyranny. This is also a deeply touching narrative that the reader will find difficult to lay down until reaching the last sentence.”
– Ying-shih Yu (余英时), Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History, Princeton University, and winner of the John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity

Tiananmen Exiles rekindles our painful memories of those who paid dearly for their ideals. In this oral history project, Rowena Xiaoqing He captures the indomitable spirit of three student leaders forced into exile after the Tiananmen crackdown a quarter century ago. Their stories are powerful, moving, and inspirational.”
– Minxin Pei, Director, Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College and author of China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy

Book Description
In the spring of 1989, millions of citizens across China took to the streets in a nationwide uprising against government corruption and authoritarian rule. What began with widespread hope for political reform ended with the People’s Liberation Army firing on unarmed citizens in the capital city of Beijing, and those leaders who survived the crackdown became wanted criminals overnight. Among the witnesses to this unprecedented popular movement was Rowena Xiaoqing He, who would later join former student leaders and other exiles in North America, where she has worked tirelessly for over a decade to keep the memory of the Tiananmen Movement alive.

This moving oral history interweaves He’s own experiences with the accounts of three student leaders exiled from China. Here, in their own words, they describe their childhoods during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, their political activism, the bitter disappointments of 1989, and the profound contradictions and challenges they face as exiles. Variously labeled as heroes, victims, and traitors in the years after Tiananmen, these individuals tell difficult stories of thwarted ideals and disconnection that nonetheless embody the hope for a freer China and a more just world.

Wall Street Journal
Reading Havel in Beijing by Rowena Xiaoqing He

Washington Post
Still Seeking Justice for the Tiananmen Massacre by Rowena Xiaoqing He


The Fight for Democracy is not just a Challenge for People in Hong Kong

Harvard Gazette:

Harvard Magazine: