How We Met: Trudie Styler and Li Lu

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The Independent Culture
Trudie Styler, 37, grew up in Worcestershire and trained as an actress. Her television documentary Moving the Mountain, to be shown on BBC 2 on 14 May, is about the students who led the Tiananmen Square uprising. She is married to the pop star Sting, and they have three children.

Li Lu, 28, was deputy commander of the Tiananmen Square Command Post during the 1989 demonstration. After the massacre, he was smuggled out of the country; he is now studying law at Columbia University in New York. His book Moving the Mountain is published in the UK by Pan.

TRUDIE STYLER: When I first met Li Lu, it was probably nine or 10 weeks after the Tiananmen Square massacre and he had escaped to New York. He could speak very little English, he was painfully thin because he had been on hunger strike, and everything was new to him. He was in culture shock. He was also guilt-stricken because he had escaped with his life when so many of his friends had died.

So I met this rather timorous, thin boy with a lot of courage. He was living with a friend of mine, Mary Daly, in a big, rambling Victorian house with lots of other people, which was probably good for him.

I liked Li Lu immediately, but at first it was difficult to hold many conversations with him because he was still learning English. He didn't have many clothes and I remember one of the first things I did was to go round with a bag full of Sting's clothes for him. I asked him if he had heard much Western music and he said, 'Only secretly, because you have to remember I was a counter-revolutionary.'

His English came on very quickly. That's typical of Li Lu; he is like a sponge and soaks up everything around him. It was interesting to see how he was settling into Western life and how he was coping with it all.

It was very difficult for him. He had come from Peking, and, having been there myself, I know that there couldn't be a greater contrast to New York. It is like visiting another century. Once I took my son, Jake, to see him, and as soon as we walked through the door Li Lu took him by the hand and said: 'Come on Jake, I want to show you the dungeon.' He took him off on a guided tour of the house and showed him all these wonderful Chinese masks he had bought in Chinatown.

Li Lu is a great survivor. Once he has survived he begins to adapt, and I think he begins to lead people. I don't make friends easily but I do count Li Lu among my closest friends. I think he is one of the most honest people I have ever met, and his honesty can lead him down a dangerous path sometimes. Standing up for what you believe in when the forces against you are so mighty means you can get hurt, and Li Lu has been a victim of that.

He was six months old when the Cultural Revolution began, and his parents were denounced as class enemies and put into labour camps. Li Lu was buffeted from one foster family to another because all of them were frightened to be seen to give shelter to the son of a class enemy. He ended up in a state kindergarten, more like an orphanage really, and from the age of three he was virtually fending for himself. I think those childhood experiences shaped the way he developed as a man.

He often says that if he has one aim in his life it is to represent the 'people of nobody', which is how he regarded himself when he was a child. I believe that one day he will represent those people in some way. Li Lu is a brave and gentle man with great humility. He has this great heart with a terrific sense of responsibility.

He had a book deal to write his story and I bought the film rights to

it. Li Lu was very quickly asserting himself over the ghost writer because he was adamant that he wanted to write his own book. He is a strong and sometimes very wilful character who has his own sense of what is right and what is just.

We are natural friends. I'm very easy in his company and I love to hear his stories about his life as a child.

It was in a culture that is so alien to ours, and yet there is a thread that bonds us together. He has been a great inspiration in my life.

LI LU: The first time I remember meeting Trudie was when I was staying in a house owned by Mary Daly, a human rights activist, here in New York. Mary is good friends with Trudie and Sting. It was a bit of a commune really, lots of us in the one place, and that was good for me because at that time I felt particularly lonely and was suffering from culture shock. I still do, to a lesser extent.

My first impression of Trudie was that she was beautiful and kind, and I later discovered that this was true.

I had escaped from China a few weeks after Tiananmen Square. I went into hiding, then friends smuggled me out in a boat to Hong Kong. From there I went to France and eventually to New York. When I first arrived I had two powerful emotions. The first was guilt that I had survived the massacre; I still feel that. The other was uncertainty about whether or not I wanted to carry on with the Democracy Movement, whether I could give it a long-term commitment.

New York was totally alien to me. I had never seen or experienced anything like it. The whole experience was quite overwhelming. There are all sorts of freedoms here, but in a way that heightened my sense of guilt. When I first arrived I hardly spoke any English, and that increased my sense of loneliness and isolation. I was lucky to meet Mary and, through her, Trudie. I think Trudie came round to the house one day and I was introduced to her, but I had no idea who she was or what she did. I met Sting later and I had never heard of him. I just thought that they were both very nice and kind. At that time I thought that the only way to begin to know the West, to feel less alienated, was to get to know the people. Trudie and Sting and their children were among the first people I got to know; they have become such good friends, and I value that.

I knew nothing of rock and roll or jazz music in China. I was very serious about politics, and I thought that rock and roll was not serious. The only images I had of Western rock and roll concerts were pictures of thousands of young people who seemed to be going mad. Now I know different and I often find myself at a concert doing the same thing, dancing and going crazy.

Trudie told me a lot about rock and roll and so I began to take an interest. She invited me to go and see Sting. I know I am biased, but his music is wonderful - he is the best. Now I have all the records, and I have seen him perform many times.

Trudie and I saw quite a lot of each other in those first few months. We talked about what had happened in Tiananmen Square, and she seemed to understand what we had been through. I liked her immediately. I think she could sense how I felt, and she showed me great kindness. I was made very welcome at her apartment in New York, where I have met lots of interesting people from all different aspects of life.

I told Trudie that I was writing my book and she helped me with some of the ideas. When it was finished and I went to London to see a publisher, I stayed with her and she looked after me there. I feel she has great integrity and cares very much about what she does and about others. She is a warm and honest person but she is also very giving and understanding. There was never a question in my mind that she should make the documentary of my book. I trust her completely.

I place great value on the friends I have made in the West. Trudie will be my friend until the day I die, of that I am certain.

But I still long to go back to China, and perhaps I will soon. I am officially on the most-wanted list, but who knows what would happen if I went back? I have family there and many, many friends. I would like to go back to repay the courage of all the people who helped me to escape. But I also feel a debt to all the people who have helped me in the West, like Trudie.-