Tiananmen Square’s Circle

May 29, 2006  •  Post A Comment

It truly is a remarkably small world after all.

Seventeen years ago, Shen Tong was a leader of the dissident students demonstrating for democratic reform in China. He was operating a radio station out of his second-floor Beijing dorm room and piping news-including foreign radio coverage of the remarkable protests-to fellow dissidents on the campus triangle below through speakers perched outside his window. He was cranking out as many as 50,000 copies of a movement newspaper, which would be recopied so many times that they ultimately would become unreadable.

Susan Zirinsky was a CBS News producer dispatched to Beijing, where her handsomest fixer/translator was Bob Woodruff-yes, ABC News’ Bob Woodruff, who in 1989 was teaching law in Beijing.

Ms. Zirinsky’s husband, Joe Peyronnin, was the CBS News executive in charge of Tiananmen Square coverage from New York. “It was the first revolution seen live around the world,” Mr. Peyronnin said.

Over the past 17 years the trio’s life lines have crossed more than once. Now all live in New York, where Ms. Zirinsky is executive producer of CBS News’ “48 Hours Mystery.” Mr. Peyronnin is the former Telemundo news executive considering the next chapter in his life while zapping out scripts, enjoying his family and the end to his long New York-to-Miami-and-back commute and occasionally advising Shen Tong.

Shen Tong is living the entrepreneurial American dream. He was among the students who were forced to flee China days after the government violently shut down the protests on June 4, 1989. He came to the United States, where he learned English; racked up an impressive college record; wrote a memoir, “Almost a Revolution”; lectured; and ran a couple of foundations dedicated to democracy in China, from which he was exiled.

He became an American citizen. “I hold a New York driver’s license,” he likes to joke. He lives in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. He and his wife have a daughter and another child on the way.

He will turn 38 in a month, Shen Tong said, after referring to his driver’s license.

He has started a number of companies and has fashioned a life as a businessman with a very personal interest in the democratization of content and Internet technology. He is founder and president of VFinity, a company dedicated to making the digital revolution user-friendly.

The Insider’s audience might well have heard Shen Tong speak on a panel at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in April in Las Vegas (where VFinity had a booth). “Metadata Schema and Use-Based Metadata Generation” was the subject, and if you have to ask for a translation, you’d best ask someone more “meta”-fluent than The Insider.

“He’s a phenomenally bright, intellectually curious man,” said Ms. Zirinsky, who recalled that in Shen Tong’s circle of intellectual dissidents at the time of Tiananmen Square, “If you had dinner with them, it ended at 4 a.m.”

Even today, she said, “He’s afraid to go to sleep because he might miss something.”

“I’ve been really blessed,” Shen Tong said.