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Jour­nalist Claudia Rosett spoke at a recent event hosted by the Alexander Hamilton Society | Courtesy of AHS

Claudia Rosett is a former staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. She was the edi­torial page editor of The Asian Wall Street Journal and covered the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. Ms. Rosett spoke Sept. 17 on campus. Her speech, titled “Why Hong Kong’s Freedom Matters,” explained the current protests in Hong Kong which she reported on first hand this summer.

Why did you go to Yale?

Both my parents grew up in the slums of Bal­timore and they both ended up there. My father went there for graduate school and so did my mom. I guess I grew up thinking, since they went there, that was where I wanted to go. 

I was told in high school that Yale didn’t take women –or girls, as I thought I was at the time — and as I was grad­u­ating from high school they started taking women. 

What’s the most inter­esting story you covered?

That was Tien­anmen. It was the most haunting and com­pelling. It was so big. What hap­pened there was huge. It was the first time a com­munist state had really lost control of its own capital. And it wasn’t a small state, it was China, the world’s most pop­ulous country. It was heart­breaking. It was people asking for some­thing that everybody deserves. They wanted freedom, they wanted a voice in their own gov­ernment and an end to the official lies. And they were shut down and shut up. 

What were your first steps into writing pro­fes­sionally?

Some people sail through in this great golden glow. That wasn’t me. You just keep writing and you keep asking people for work. I wrote some things for student news­papers, I got an internship at the Wall Street Journal, and when that didn’t lead to a full-time job on staff, I just began writing wherever I could. I went in to Business Week and asked if they needed a stringer. It was just going in, asking if they needed some­thing or if I could write some­thing for them. And just keep writing, and you will get there. 

Then I had the luck with the WSJ to review Dr. Seuss’s Nuclear Deter­rence Book, in Dr. Seuss rhyme, and they hired me.  

What are some key pieces of history or infor­mation that newer gen­er­a­tions don’t know? 

World War II. We ended up with WWII because everybody just thought we could sit down and cut deals with ambi­tious predator total­i­tarians. We should not think that the world is now immune to that. One of the lessons of great poetry and history is that it comes around and around again. 

What went so wrong that this incredible con­flict broke out and we let it happen? We need to be careful that we don’t end up there again, that we don’t end up with rising powers like China, or Russia, which is a mess inter­nally but has serious weapons. 

With China, we should take to heart the lesson of Tiananmen. I wrote a piece in the Journal recently saying the cir­cum­stances are dif­ferent, the people are dif­ferent, the location is slightly dif­ferent, but what’s hap­pening in Hong Kong is the same showdown. It is this ruthless, Chinese Com­munist Party power that does not permit any com­pe­tition or rivalry. We know what they did in Beijing years ago they are going to try to crush this in Hong Kong. I don’t know if they’ll do this with guns or if they’ll do it behind the scenes.

Do you think China’s regime could ever fall?

Sure. It’s a question of when. It won’t last forever. It’s a ter­rible system of gov­ernment and it turns people into slaves. The reason they have all those security mea­sures and the reason you can speak up in Hong Kong and march in the streets – and it’s not over yet – it’s a cliffhanger. You don’t know how this story turns out. Not yet. But the reason they have huge security every year on June 4 is so nobody can start a protest in Tien­anmen Square in China. The gov­ernment is afraid of what people will do. They know people aren’t happy. People like being able to say what they want. 

So could it happen someday, yeah. Is it going to happen the way it hap­pened in Germany and Japan at the end of a ter­rible war? Or is there some process with the Soviet Union it col­lapsed? Or can it somehow evolve? The problem is rel­a­tively more benign dic­ta­tor­ships evolve away from com­munism but the con­trols are still enormous. With that kind of system, the history isn’t won­derful for peaceful evo­lution.

What’s your advice for college stu­dents? 

Read real books, write with real pens. Before you do any­thing else, get to know the smell of paper and the feel of ink. Read widely. Read the eclectic, crazy stuff. Read books for fun. Read books to get you places you wouldn’t go. Read novels, thrillers, mystery. Read poetry, whether you like it or not. Look for the things you would really find inter­esting in these. 

Keep your powder dry. 

And don’t be afraid to ask stupid ques­tions.