Her father was thrown into jail for three years for exposing companies dumping toxic waste into one of China's largest lakes.
Although he was released in 2010, he is kept under constant surveillance and barred from leaving his native Jiangsu province.
Ms Wu Yunlei, 23, who fled to the United States last October with the help of her father's American supporters, said she could not understand why they kept comparing him to another "Chinese hero" she had never heard of. "They kept talking about the 'Tank Man', and I finally had to admit that I did not know who that was," she told The Straits Times over the phone from Los Angeles, referring to the unnamed man who stood alone blocking a column of tanks on June 4, 1989.
Ms Wu looked it up online and came away with an understanding of June 4 that illuminated her past and made her even angrier about her present.
She has learnt more in her few months in the US than in her 20-odd years in China, she said. With the new insight, she realised why, for example, her talented high school maths teacher languished for years in their small town of Yixing. A friend told her at the time the teacher had done something wrong in Beijing. Ms Wu now believes it is because he was a student protester.
She has also begun to forgive neighbours and friends who distanced themselves from her family after her father Wu Lihong started speaking up about environmental abuses.
Most importantly, she now feels fiercely proud of her father, whose principles had hurt his wife and daughter. "I blamed him for very long," she said. "But now... I understand how much courage it took. I respect him more now for standing up when no one else would."
This article was first published on June 4, 2014.
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