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The Historian of the Tiananmen Movement and the June Fourth Massacre – An Interview With Wu Renhua (Part One of Two)
June 3, 2016
In 1989, Mr. Wu Renhua was a young faculty member at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, leading the student demonstration along with other young scholars. He participated in the Tiananmen Movement “from the first day to the last,” and was among the last few thousand protesters who left Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4. On the way back to his college, he witnessed PLA tanks charging into a file of students at Liubukou (六部口), a large intersection, killing 11 and injuring many. In February, 1990, Wu swam four hours from Zhuhai to Macau, and onto Hong Kong, and arrived later that year in the United States. Over the next 15 years he was the editor of Press Freedom Herald (《新闻自由导报》), a Chinese-language paper founded on June 9, 1989, by a group of overseas Chinese, to bring news of pro-democracy activities to China. Given Mr. Wu’s training as a historiographer, he began his research of 1989 as soon as the incident ended—but his writing didn’t start until in 2005, when the paper he edited folded. From 2005 to 2014, he published three books (none have been translated into English): The Bloody Clearing of Tiananmen Square (《天安门血腥清场内幕》, 2007), The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth (《六四事件中的戒严部队》, 2009), and The Full Record of the Tiananmen Movement (《六四事件全程实录》, 2014). Together, the three books form a complete record of the 1989 democracy movement and the June Fourth Massacre. I flew to Los Angeles and interviewed Mr. Wu over April 24 and 25. The first half of the interview discusses his work, especially his research on the martial law troops. – Yaxue Cao
CC: Did you decide early on to start carrying out June Fourth research?
Wu: Yes. For one thing, I myself took part in the 1989 democracy movement. But it was also because I was a historiographer. From February 1978 to June 1986, I studied ancient Chinese historiography in the Chinese Department at Peking University, first as an undergraduate and then as a graduate student. After I graduated from Peking University in 1986, I went to work as a historiographer at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law.
Given my academic background, as the events of 1989 were underway I had already begun to feel the need to create a record of this great moment that not only influenced China but also changed the world. That, after all, is the role of a historian.
Ever since the Chinese Communists took power, a lot of history has either been covered up or distorted. Those of us who deal with historical documents are much more concerned with the historical record. And the Tiananmen movement was the biggest public movement of citizens since the Communists took power, and the massacre was so tragic and shocking to the world. So after the massacre, I vowed to create a record of that period of history so that it would not be forgotten.
CC: You’ve published three books to date. Tell us a bit about each.
Wu: My June Fourth research is divided into two parts: the collection of documents, and writing. The document collection process is the harder of the two parts and takes a lot more time. Writing takes a bit less time, relatively speaking. I began collecting documents when I arrived in Hong Kong in 1990. I began writing in 2005 when the Press Freedom Herald ended. I was the chief editor of the Herald for 15 years, from September 1990 to May 2005. Work kept me extremely busy during that time, and I didn’t have much time to write. But over those 15 years, I never stopped gathering documents.
The first book, The Bloody Clearing of Tiananmen Square, was published in May 2007. By that time, many years had already passed and June Fourth wasn’t a big news item anymore. So it wasn’t the greatest moment to publish the book and no proper publishers were willing to put it out. They all thought that there wasn’t any market for a book like that anymore, meaning that there wouldn’t be very many readers who’d be interested. I had discussions with a few Hong Kong publishers, but their terms were really harsh. So I decided to set up my own company, which I called Truth Publishing and published that book myself. Fortunately, the United States has a free press, so it only cost $40–50 to register the company. So, it was pretty tough to get that first book out. After the book was printed, a magazine publisher friend in Hong Kong handled sales and distribution. That book sold better than I expected and is now in its second printing.
CC: What’s that book about?
Wu: That book was a complete account of the clearing of Tiananmen Square, covering roughly 22 hours from around noon on June 3, 1989, to just past 10 a.m. on June 4. It also included materials I collected later on the massacre that happened on West Chang’an Avenue, where the worst of the killing took place. Before I published that book, there had been a few books and some articles on the subject, but their accounts were all based on memories and were incomplete. My book was compiled in the traditional annalistic style, with events presented in the order that they happened and each incident and the time in which it occurred recounted as fully as possible so as to satisfy the requirements of the historical record.
I think another reason this book attracted people’s attention was that it dealt with certain aspects of the PLA martial law troops, such as which units took part in clearing the square, what routes they took, and what tasks they each carried out. This might have been the first time someone revealed the hidden details of what the martial law forces had done.
The second book, which I published in May 2009, was called The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth. Again, I published this myself through Truth Publishing and distributed it in Hong Kong.
The content of this book should be clear from the title. My plan was for it to represent another type of Chinese historiographical writing, namely biography, and to focus on personalities and events. The book is composed of a total of 19 chapters covering each military unit, plus an introductory chapter. The introduction was a comprehensive overview comprised of 14 sections, in which I dealt with questions like how the order to open fire was issued and how many soldiers and police officers died.
This book received quite a reaction from academics and researchers because it was the first of its kind. No one inside or outside China had ever done that kind of research before. Another reason is that it truly did reveal some specific details about the martial law troops. For example, how many soldiers were part of the martial law troops? Everyone else could only guess without being able to give a precise answer. And which units took part? To that point, there had been no answer. Even I, a first-hand participant who carried out several months of investigation after the events of June Fourth and interviewed a lot of other eyewitnesses from different locations, didn’t know which units took part in the crackdown. People only mentioned the 38th Group Army, the 27th Group Army, and the 15th Airborne Corps—no one knew about the rest. In this book, I was able to answer all of these questions at once.
For example, I calculated that around 200,000 troops took part in the martial law forces. And the book gives a more precise number of units that made up the martial law troops. These answers aren’t estimates: they’re precise figures based on evidence. I think the ability to answer these questions is the reason that academics and researchers took note of this book. So, if you go online to places like Wikipedia, the information cited there regarding the martial law troops all comes from that book. On the 20th anniversary of June Fourth in 2009, Yazhou Weekly in Hong Kong mentioned this book as an authoritative source on the Tiananmen Massacre and the details of the martial law troops.
The political scientist Yan Jiaqi (严家祺) went even further. He wrote an article entitled “Wu Renhua’s Contribution to China,” in which he said that those two books were a milestone in research on the Tiananmen Massacre and that future researchers would first have to go beyond the work that had already been done in them. I’m deeply humbled by his praise.
But as far as readers and sales are concerned, the second book has not done as well as the first. The first book was very readable and had many moving, tragic stories that I tried to tell as fully as possible. That’s an attractive aspect of it.
The title of the third book is The Full Record of the Tiananmen Movement, which I published in May 2014. I published and distributed that book myself, just as I’d done with the first two books. It was different from the first two books in that it was a comprehensive account. Another title for it could be A History of the 1989 Democracy Movement. But I don’t dare call it a “history,” given the limits of my ability as a single researcher and the control that the Chinese Communist Party has over information.
Full Record starts from Hu Yaobang’s death on April 15, 1989, which sparked the 1989 democracy movement, and follows events up to June 30. The killing actually continued after June Fourth. In Beijing, many workers and urban residents continued to protest after June Fourth, as did people in other cities around the country. Many of those protesters paid a high price. After June Fourth, the Communist authorities carried out a large-scale campaign of investigations and arrests. This is another important part of the history of June Fourth.
Before my book came out there was another book, called The Tiananmen Papers in English; the title of the Chinese translation is 《中国六四真相》(The Truth about June Fourth in China). This book was edited by Professor Andrew Nathan and Professor Perry Link and came out around the 10th anniversary of June Fourth in 1999.
CC: Can you compare your book to The Tiananmen Papers? Professors Link and Nathan are also friends of yours.
Wu: Like my third book, it’s a day-by-day account presented in an annalistic style. It’s short of documentation in some crucial areas and so lacks a record of certain things. I often divide the events that took place in and around Tiananmen Square into two parts: the 1989 student movement and the June Fourth massacre. This is a division that I’ve proposed. Take the student movement part: there’s no account of the Beijing Students’ Autonomous Federation in The Tiananmen Papers—when and where it was founded and by whom. There are many other examples like this. This is where I had an advantage over them. For one thing, my book came out later than theirs, allowing me to make use of many more participant memoirs and richer documentation.
CC: What’s their book primarily based on?
Wu: It’s mainly based on official news sources and internal reference reports that were never published but were circulated to high-ranking officials. What it lacks the most is documentation of the massacre itself, because there weren’t many official journalists on the scene when the killing took place and the ones who were there were so scared they practically ran away. State-media journalists couldn’t get their hands on documents from the martial law troops, which were highly classified, and they couldn’t carry out interviews. So, compared to my book, that book has very little on the massacre. In my view, the account of the massacre in that book is based on rumors.
The section on the student movement, on the other hand, has some grounding in internal reference reports. Those are quite reliable, even more reliable than the memories of ordinary citizens. At the very least, they were quite accurate about things like time and place, even if they adjusted their reports to the needs of the authorities. So, in my books I pay close attention to the details of time and place as reported in official documents. The Tiananmen Papers doesn’t have anything on the massacre on Changan Avenue, such as how it came about or unfolded.
The later skepticism about their book wasn’t so much because it was based on official documents; rather, it was the errors it made in the section on the massacre. For example, The Tiananmen Papers went along with the rumor that Xu Qinxian (徐勤先), who headed the 38th Group Army, was the son of Xu Haidong (徐海东), a former senior PLA general. An internal Communist Party account would have never made that mistake. There are many examples like this, things I’ve pointed out to Professor Link in private communications. So, The Tiananmen Papers is more reliable in its section on the student movement but less reliable when it comes to the massacre or the martial law troops, because there were no sources for those sections.
CC: Has Prof. Perry Link read your book about the martial law troops?
Wu: Yes, and he even wrote an introduction for it in English. Because I can’t speak English and have always written in Chinese, I have had practically no interactions with English-speaking scholars or researchers. Occasionally, I’ll get a call from someone like a reporter who asks a few questions. But that’s basically it.
CC: I hear you’re working on a fourth book. Can you reveal anything about the status of that and perhaps tell our readers a bit about it?
Wu: My original plan was to write a series of three books: an account of the victims, an account of the perpetrators, and an account of the full series of events. I’ve said to friends that the decade I spent writing these three books took quite an emotional and physical toll on me, and self-publishing was a very difficult process for me financially. But since their publication, these three books have gotten quite a response in the Chinese-speaking world, and every now and then readers will send me questions through the Internet or social media. The majority of these questions have to do with the massacre. For example, was anyone actually killed on Tiananmen Square proper? For such a huge event, the record will never be complete without being able to answer the question of how many people died with a degree of accuracy.
I have no answer for this question. Unlike other people, I can’t just casually answer 2,000 or 3,000. This is the question that prompted me to write the fourth book. I can’t reveal the title for the moment, because there have already been attempts to pirate content from this book. But this book will be about the massacre and not limited to Tiananmen Square or Chang’an Avenue. Through this book, I will try to answer this crucial question of how many people died.
CC: By your calculation, about 200,000 martial law troops were deployed. How did you calculate this figure? And can you first explain which units were involved?
Wu: These numbers come from Chinese official materials. After the Tiananmen massacre, the government engaged in a large-scale propaganda campaign about “suppressing the counterrevolutionary riot,” and handed out a large number of awards to units and individuals in the military, including the 37 “Defenders of the Republic” [Ed: troops who were killed]. I decoded each of the military code designations referred to in these materials, because the PLA’s numerical designations (番号) are secret; instead, each military unit from the regiment level and above has a code, a five digit Arabic numeral. So the first step was to match the actual numerical designation of the unit with the code, tally them, and then calculate out how many troops were involved in the Beijing martial law operation.
I was shocked with the number that came out: a total of 14 army groups. Among them were six army groups in the Beijing Military Zone: Nos. 24, 27, 28, 38, 63, 65. From the Jinan Military Zone there were four army groups: Nos. 20, 26, 54, and 67. From the Shenyang Military Zone there were three: Nos. 39, 40, and 64. The Nanjing Military Zone’s 12th Group Army also participated. At the time, the PLA ground forces had a total of 24 Group Armies. Other troops that were involved include the Tianjin Garrison Command’s 1st Tank Division, the Beijing Military Zone’s 14th Artillery Division, Beijing Garrison Command’s 1st and 3rd Guard Divisions, its 15th Airborne Corps, and the Beijing Armed Police unit (an army-level command). Altogether, there were 19 troops.
Of course, these groups didn’t take part in their entireties. Take for example the 38th Group Army — its total force sat at about 70,000 personnel. Based on a calculation of the size of all the units that actually entered Beijing, I calculated that it was roughly 200,000. I think it is pretty accurate.
CC: Can you explain this code number (代号) and numerical designation (番号) issue?
Wu: Again, take the 38th Group Army as an example. “38th” is its numerical designation, and the so-called code number is a five digit number used to refer to it. The media reports won’t directly refer to the 112th Infantry Division of the 38th Group Army, but will instead talk about “a certain” division or regiment from a certain army group. Sometimes they’re even vaguer, for instance when referring to the commander of the 38th Group Army, they’ll say “the commanding officer of certain troops.” But “commanding officer” could be an army commander, a division commander, or a regiment commander. These books and official materials only use code numbers when referring to the army, for example the 51112 Group — you’ve got no way of knowing what it is. Is it a whole corps, or an infantry regiment?
CC: How did you go about matching each unit’s numerical designation and its code number?
Wu: In the simplest case, you just type “Unit 51112” into Google. If all soldiers and veterans strictly followed the regulations, then you’d find nothing. But by looking at forums and websites run by veterans, you can glean a lot of information. A lot of these veterans don’t always keep secrets, and they’ll say something like: Back in the day I was in, for instance, the 112th Infantry Division of the 38th Group Army. The 38th has three infantry divisions, a tank division, an artillery brigade, and an anti-aircraft artillery brigade. Within an infantry division there will be a number of regiment-level units, so you have to, one-by-one, match together all of the many code numbers for all the units in the 14 army groups involved. I was in the military for a short period before university, so I had some basic concepts about it. Through internet searches, following the idle chatter of old veterans, I just kept a running record of all the code names as they appeared. By the time the book was published in 2009, there were still a small number of code numbers that I hadn’t been able to match up.
Apart from the code numbers, you also need to figure out where the troops are stationed. A lot of the martial law troops came from outside Beijing, and if you can’t find out where they were stationed, you have no way of knowing where they set out from and which route they took to enter the capital. In The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth, I charted out which routes all the different units took when they got the order to enter Beijing and how they were transported: by air, by train, and by just driving their trucks.
Same with information about commanders. When referring to the commander of a unit, they use they’ll say “the commanding officer of certain troops.” But “commanding officer” could be an army commander, a division commander, or a regiment commander.
So I spent a lot of time surfing the veteran message boards and keeping notes – for instance hometown association sites, or alumni groups. Sometimes I might spend a whole day and come away with nothing. Other times I got lucky. There were times when I got not only where a particular regiment was stationed, but also the name of the regiment leader. Sometimes I’d even get a whole name list. That’s why you’ll see in some places in my book that the lists of names are complete. Some people would post the whole name list of a unit that was enlisted together, say a whole battalion, from battalion commander down to everyone in each company and platoon — the whole lot. There were disappointments of course. For instance, I’d been tracking a particular officer for a long time and I wanted to know where he was in 1989, but then I’d find that he’d been discharged in 1988.
CC: How do you get into these veteran websites?
Wu: These websites are all open. Inside there are different sections, and the one “Seeking Old Comrades” is open to everyone — they’re notices of soldiers looking for their buddies, saying “I joined the 38 Army Group’s 112th Infantry, and I’m looking for comrades who enlisted at the same time.” Or “I was such-and-such soldier with such-and-such regiment, I’m looking for my platoon leader so-and-so from back in the day.” All those sections of the sites are open — but the private discussion area is not. You have to be verified before being admitted: for instance, you are required to report your personal information, which year you enlisted with what unit, and you have to provide two names of former military comrades. After you get admitted, you can enter the private chatroom. The numbers of people in there differ. The most popular in China are QQ chat groups. There are a lot of them. Because of my research I had the basic name lists of a lot of units, so I’d provide a name for myself and two for the old comrades and get in that way — it was quite straightforward. In the open segments of the veteran forums, people won’t talk about the June Fourth suppression, or if they occasionally do, someone else will come along and put a stop to it. But in the private chat rooms people do open up, and I was able to collect a lot of valuable information that way.
Announcements of governmental appointments is another source that yielded results for me: it would include a list of appointments and dismissals at various ranks, some of which contain curriculum vitaes.
Then there is Google search: one day I’d search for the 334th regiment in the 38th Army Group’s 112th Infantry Division, another day I’d look up the 335th regiment in the same division. You punch in the keywords, then just flip through page by page. The material is voluminous.
CC: You’ve lived overseas for all these years, how do you get your hands on officially published materials in China? Are there people in China helping out?
Wu: For many years there have been journalists, readers, and other researchers asking me this question. Chinese-language media ask in an even more direct manner: Are there high-level people giving you top-secret materials, and is this how you’re able to write your books? My answer is: no. The material I’ve collected has primarily come from Chinese official publications in the wake of the crackdown, including triumphalist propaganda about how it was suppressed. Many people think these publications are beneath contempt, but for me it’s extremely valuable. These are all open source, published materials, and there’s no problem with taking them out of China. I don’t have internal PLA reports.
On a website for the veterans of the 14th Artillery Division of the Beijing Military Zone, someone mentioned the “Beijing Military District 14th Artillery Division Report on the Suppression of the Counterrevolutionary Riot.” A report like that would record the commands given by headquarters and the entire process of their being carried out, as well as the names of many officers and servicemen. Every participating unit had a report like this — this is the kind of material that I want to get my hands on the most, but I’ve never been able to get hold of one. The only thing I’ve found online is one chapter, the seventh, of the 38th Group Army’s official history. It was about the suppression, but anything that’s in the form of military history is already highly condensed and sometimes altered.
But there was one thing I received from an anonymous source that could be considered an internal document: it was edited by the PLA’s General Political Department, and it was called “A Compilation of the Personal Achievements of the Heroes and Model Soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army” (《中国人民解放军英雄模范个人事迹汇编》), and it has a portion about June Fourth. Even though it wasn’t the sort of primary report I described above, it was still an enormous help. Specifically, with a few of the 37 “Defenders of the Republic,” I had never found out the units they had served in, and this compilation helped me resolve this problem.
CC: Who gave it to you?
Wu: Because of my June Fourth research, I have gained a minor reputation online, and my biographical introductions often include my email address. This document arrived in my email around early 2009. In all sections but the June Fourth one, this person redacted all the names and the numerical designations of troops, even the parts listing the decorated combat heroes of the Korean War. By the way he or she was so careful about confidentiality, I judged that he was a military officer.
CC: What other interesting moments have there been during your research?
Wu: The most dramatic incident had to be the identification of Wu Yanhui (吴彦辉). I was trawling a veteran website when I saw a veteran from the No. 1 Tank Division. At the time he was working at the Hengshui Lao-bai-gan Liquor Distillery in Hebei province (河北衡水老白干酿酒集团有限公司) as a salesman, hoping to spark up some business with his old comrades. He’d often frequent the forums to chat with old friends. He said he was in Beijing in 1989 to put down the riot, and so he became an important target of mine. I’d often go back and look at the message log, and I followed him for a long time, collecting scraps of information about him. Bit by bit, I pieced together his identity: He was in the Tianjin Garrison Command First Tank Division, First Regiment, First Battalion, First Company, First Platoon—and he was the second gunner in Tank No. 106!
I was so overwhelmed, at the moment of this revelation, that I broke down in tears. This, to me, was a most shocking discovery. In the over 3,000 servicemen I’ve verified, he was a highly representative case, because this was the very tank that ran over students in Liubukou. So many people remembered this tank, including the wheelchair-bound victim Fang Zheng who lost both legs, and the Tiananmen Mother Ding Zilin. Back then someone wrote a note to Ding Zilin with No. 106 on it. I was there when the Liubukou massacre happened. It’s something you never forget. I recall that when we left the scene, we shouted: “Remember this tank! Remember this tank!” Now, finding this tank’s second gunner opened up the possibility of finding the driver and the commanding officer. Of course, those who held the most responsibility for what happened are the driver and the commanding officer, but finding the soldier in charge of the ammunition was a close clue.
In early June 2014 I shared about the process of finding Wu Yanhui on Twitter, and posted up his cell phone number. His number hadn’t changed. A fellow Twitter user gave him a call, and confirmed with him directly that he is indeed who I believed he was. This user then went on to describe the phone call on Twitter, which many users found fascinating. At least a few others called too, but he stopped picking up.
Yaxue Cao is the founder and editor of this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao.
By Fang Zheng, published: June 6, 2014
In Zhanjiang, I boarded a train to Wuchang, Hubei (湖北武昌) where I would transfer to the No. 88 train to Beijing. On the ferry, I met a middle-aged business woman, whose destination was Anyang, Henan, on the same route as me. She offered to keep me company and help me when I needed it. It was an arduous journey, and around noon we arrived in Wuchang. We bought tickets for the train to Beijing and then we went to have lunch outside the station. After lunch, I went to a public phone and I wanted to call a college classmate of mine to see if he could bring me a few clothes. Coming out of semi-tropical Hainan, I was wearing too little for March in interior China. I was shivering in the cold and Beijing was going to be much colder.
Before I reached the phone, a van pulled up next to me, and four or five men jumped out of it.
“Are you Fang Zheng?”
“I am. What’s the matter?”
“Come with us!”
With that they grabbed and lifted me into the van. The dajie (big sister), who was also taken, was scared and confused. I told her not to worry, and these men were after me. The van drove for a long while to a small villa-like building in a suburban, hilly area. My sense was that it was a station of the security police, because people in and out of there looked like well-trained people and there was a tall antenna on the rooftop.
“We are ordered by our superiors to hold you here temporarily,” they replied to my question of why I had been brought there.
They interrogated the dajie, my travel companion, asked about her relationship with me, and searched her luggage. In the end they let her go and took her back to the train station.
I was held there for about a week under 24-hour watch, day and night, four people a shift. I asked if I could be allowed to go to Hefei to my parents, they said “No, you are going back to Hainan.”
Finally three officers from Haikou Public Security Bureau’s political security office came, including director Li (李科长) and officer Ma (马警官), with whom I had had many encounters. They complained that I left without giving them a heads up. When I asked why I couldn’t go to Beijing to visit my sister who had gotten married and settled there, or to Hefei to be with my parents, they said we couldn’t tell you why. “How did you know I was in Wuchang?” “We can’t tell you this either,” said they.
Back in Haikou, I got sick, succumbing to prolonged bronchitis because I had no money to get medical care. When I said to officer Ma, who was also a college student in 1989 at People’s Public Security University of China (中国人民公安大学) in Beijing, that the public security should give me medical treatment, he said, “Let me give you two hundred yuan from my own pocket.”
Friends from Beijing sent me money, so did my parents, to help me get by.
Falling in Love
When I had left Haikou, I didn’t plan to come back. Now that I was forced back, I had no place to live. A painter friend of mine helped me to move into an abandoned “villa” he rented at the time. There were a lot of abandoned houses like that after the real estate bust, and some had been turned into hen houses or pig sties or small factories.
I rented a room upstairs, and downstairs lived a group of girls who came from the interior to look for jobs. When I visited my painter friend shortly before I left, I met them in the house, so when I showed up again and moved into the same house, one of the girls asked me, “Didn’t you just leave?” So I told her what happened.
Then I told her more – about June fourth 1989. Her name was Zhu Jin (朱进), and she was twenty-three, ten years younger than me. “Didn’t you kill a lot of PLA soldiers in Beijing?” She asked me. She was 13 years old at the time living in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province (江苏徐州). She had never heard of tanks running over people and machine gun fire on crowds. In the house, I spent most of the day on the first floor helping with various household chores, and I got to my room on the second floor either carried by my painter friend or crawling up myself. Zhu Jin would say, “Let me carry you.” Tall and strong, also an athlete, she would carry me upstairs. She did not worry about who I was. We fell in love.
Unbeknownst to us, in Xuzhou, public security officers found Zhu Jin’s mother. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. “Do you know what your daughter is doing in Hainan? Get her back. She shouldn’t get involved with politically-tainted people!” Zhu Jin’s mother wrote letters to her asking what was going on. Zhu Jin wrote back, “Ask them to come to Hainan to talk to me. I am a grownup and I make decisions for myself.” So her mother told the police, “Stop visiting me. I do not interfere with my daughter’s life.”
Speaking of harassing relatives and friends, the public security over the years had talked to my direct family, my older sister, my younger sister, even my brothers-in-law, and anyone who had business or other associations with me. In a way, they spread a net over my head and everyone related to me. Out of fear or inconvenience, some had distanced themselves from me.
Zhu Jin and I planned to get married. The first obstacle was that I didn’t have an ID. My ID had been confiscated during a police raid and it had expired anyway. I didn’t have a Hainan household registration, so the public security wouldn’t issue me a new ID. When I left Beijing in 1992, I took my Beijing registration with me, but in Haikou, the police said I didn’t meet the requirements for a household registration. I tried my hometown Hefei, and the public security said they couldn’t give me a registration because I didn’t live here and I didn’t work here. I tried to bring it back to Beijing, but Beijing said, no, you had already left Beijing with it. So for eight years in Hainan, I didn’t have a household registration, and after 1995, I didn’t have a valid ID card. If a census was conducted during that time, I was not counted. Without a household registration and ID, I couldn’t get married to Zhu Jin.
In early 2000, I wrote to the Ministry of Public Security. I said I am not writing to talk about anything political; I am writing to talk about my household registration which I have to have just to live. In May my parents received notice that I could settle my registration in Hefei. In August of the same year, Zhu Jin and I moved back to Hefei and moved in with my parents. We got married on September 8, 2000. I had not seen my parents for eight years.
We received many blessings. In New York, Mr. Cary Hung (洪哲胜), a Taiwanese democracy pioneer, raised about 30,000 yuan for me to start a new life with Zhu Jin and our daughter who was born in May, 2001. Zhu Jin opened a cosmetics shop but just as it was doing better, the SARS epidemic shut down the city for several months and also shut down our shop. I sought employment assistance from the Disabled Persons’ Federation in Hefei, but nothing came out of it.
Unexpected Role in the 2008 Paralympics Preparations
In 2005, a high school classmate working at the provincial DPF asked me if I would be willing to assist the province’s newly-formed athlete team of the disabled preparing for the 2008 Paralympic Games. Of course I would.
So I became a helper for the team of the disabled. I lived with the 30 or so athletes, returning home only occasionally. It was not real employment, but I was very content to be doing what I liked and knew the best, and I was happy to help each one of them succeed.
On the team, there was a 19-year-old young man named Zong Kai (纵凯) with a high hip amputation. He was a beggar crawling on the street, supporting himself with both arms, when he was spotted and picked up by the coaches looking for potential candidates for the provincial team. He came from the poorest countryside in northern Anhui. When the coaches discussed what events he should be trained to do, I opposed placing Zong Kai on the swimming team. I analyzed his condition, his muscle-type, using knowledge I learned in college, and I told the team and Zong Kai himself that the event he could quickly learn and excel in would be wheelchair racing.
But wheelchair racing was an expensive sport, the racing chair had to be custom-made overseas and was very costly, and only four cities and provinces – Beijing, Shanghai, Hubei and Liaoning – had this option. Through my connections, I introduced Zong Kai to Shanghai to try out, and he was quickly accepted and moved to Shanghai to train. In the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, he won one gold metal and one bronze. He is now a confident and successful athlete and married too. We had kept contact for a long time, and I was sure he would be attending the 2012 Paralympics in London.
My temporary employment ended in 2007 when the national qualification games for disabled athletes was over. Those who were chosen became members of the national team, and those who didn’t make it went back to their life before.
Ironically, from March 2008 when the Olympic torch relay began, all the way to September, I was pretty much under house arrest in Hefei. There were media that wanted me to visit Beijing, and they even booked a hotel room for me. But the police, CDPF local chapter and neighborhood committee worked together to monitor me. They took turns to visit me to warn me or threaten me against traveling to Beijing, because they too knew that I was a living example of China’s disregard for the Olympic spirit and its human rights condition. They were worried my appearance would ruin their grand show. Indeed, if you asked me then, I did not believe China should be hosting the Olympics.
So I had these mixed feelings about the 2008 Olympics. As someone who studied sports, as a sports fan, I was excited about it and I also knew that many of my college friends were working hard to contribute to its success. And I was also deeply gratified to have helped disabled people like Zong Kai to be part of it. But on the other hand, I was a victim of perverse persecution that ended my career as an athlete. During the Olympics, I watched the games intently at home, but all the while I was reminded that I was imprisoned.
At the time China promised the world that it would allow foreign journalists to report freely in China. Between March and September, 2008, there had been foreign journalists who came to Hefei to interview me. But this was how “free reporting” worked: I remember when a British journalist came to interview me, he was accompanied by a Chinese “observer.” Every time when I talked about my circumstances, this “observer” would interrupt, “Enough, enough, no more talking.”
In another case, in September, a German journalist with Süddeutsche Zeitungwanted to write about the conditions of China’s disabled people. He had interviewed various people already, including me, and he asked me to introduce some interviewees. We decided to visit a young marathon runner I helped train who had lost his arms to electric shock and didn’t make the national team. But before my appointment with the journalist, I was taken to the police station and warned not to go. In the end, we didn’t go because I didn’t think the young man would be free to talk to us, or we might be intercepted halfway.
But for nearly ten years from 1989 to 2008, I had continuously talked about the June 4th massacre to overseas media without fear, I had told the truth I experienced, and I regarded it as my responsibility to speak out.
Around 1994 and 1995, I toyed with the idea of leaving China, but even my girlfriend couldn’t get a passport, what were the chances they would give me one? I was also approached by someone offering to smuggle me out of China. I
declined, given my handicap. In 2007 and 2008, I had communications withZhou Fengsuo and Zhang Qianjin, using public phones to avoid surveillance. They and other overseas friends wanted to help me leave China before the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen movement. My passport application was eventually approved after much delay partly in exchange for my “cooperation” with them during the Olympics.
Before I left Hefei in February, 2009, government officials talked to me many times to prevent me from leaving. Their tactics ranged from persuasion, to threat, to enticement. “Your family are still in China. We can let you leave China, we can also refuse to let you come back if you don’t behave appropriately overseas.” “If you stay in China, we will give you a job.” When nothing worked, they tried to talk me into leaving China a few months later, say in July.
I said to them, “Now I have a passport, visa, and tickets. Unless you use force to intercept me, I’m going.”
My wife and I arrived in San Francisco on February 26, 2009. Our daughter joined us a month later. In the United States, with the help of Mr. Michael Horowitz and many generous friends, I was fitted with prostheses and walked on my own for the first time in twenty years. I learned how to drive, and my family eventually settled in the Bay Area. Our second daughter was born in 2012. Here in the US, my heart is free, so is my movement.
As I translated Fang Zheng’s story the past week or so, his third daughter was born on May 30. – Yaxue
(Based on Yaxue Cao’s interview with Fang Zheng in the summer of 2012. Translated by Y.C.)
By Fang Zheng, published: June 4, 2014
A Disabled Athlete to Represent China, or Maybe Not
With the help of Wu Bei (吴蓓), a teacher at Beijing Steel and Iron College who also witnessed the Liubukou massacre, I settled in Hainan and worked for the real estate company run by Ms. Wu’s husband. After a while, I opened a small convenience shop on the premises of the residential development where I lived.
In Hainan, I continued to train myself. In 1993, Hainan’s Disabled Persons’ Federation took me to two national tryout competitions that selected athletes to attend the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled in September, 1994, in Beijing. I was chosen. In May 1994, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) organized training in Beijing for all the athletes who would be representing China, and it so happened that trainings for his events were held at my alma mater. Needless to say, I was excited about the opportunity to win for China and for myself. I trained very hard.
The staffers and the coaches knew how I lost my legs, and they mentioned that the CDPF was discussing whether to allow me to attend the games, but all in all, everything else went normally. One day toward the end of May, Jia Yong (贾勇), a CDPF official who oversaw the training camp and who is currently the executive deputy chairman of China’s Paralympic Committee and deputy chairman of the Asian Paralympic Committee, and a coach came to look for me.
“Fang Zheng,” he said. “Come with me, our CDPF leader has to talk to you.”
They took me into the hall on the first floor of the college’s administration building, a place I was very familiar with during my student years. Lots of people were standing around, and I saw a few people lifting and moving the Chairman of the CDPF into the hall. He was Deng Pufang (邓朴方), Deng Xiaoping’s wheelchair-bound son who was paralyzed when he had jumped out of a window in Peking University during the Cultural Revolution to escape “rebels” pursuing him for being the son of one of the biggest capitalist roaders.
Xiao Xiaocheng (刘小成), the chairman of the CDPF and a few other officials came over to me. “I talk to you today on behalf of the CDPF,” Mr Liu began. “We know how you became disabled and we discussed whether we should let you participate. Despite differences among ourselves, the CDPF still hopes to keep you if you can make three promises. If you do, you can continue to train and attend the games.”
1) Do not talk about June 4th and your injury with other athletes at the training camp;
2) Do not contact anyone connected to June 4th during the training or the games;
3) If you win medals you will be requested for interview by the media. We hope you avoid media; if it really cannot be avoided, do not talk about the circumstances in which you were injured. Make up something else, like a car accident. Anything.
“If you can promise these three things,” Liu Xiaocheng concluded, “we will let you compete.”
These demands didn’t sit well with me, but I promised nonetheless. I said, “right now, I only see myself as a disabled person and an athlete, and I only wanted to compete and I don’t mean to politicize it at all.”
“That’s great,” they chorused. Deng Pufang was on the scene, but no, he didn’t talk to me.
After the conversation, they even took me with them to watch a show in the auditorium by some singers and other entertainment celebrities. I was relieved, because now that things were laid bare, I could focus on training and not worry about it anymore.
Two months passed, one early morning at the end of July, two CDPF staffers came running. “Fang Zheng, hurry up to gather your belongings and go with us.” In a matter of minutes, one pushed the wheelchair and the other carried my bag, and I was taken into a van outside the dorm. The van drove to the Second Guest House of the State Council in Xizhimen (西直门). There they told me, “On behalf of the CDPF, we are letting you know that you are going back to Hainan today with the chairman of the CDPF Hainan chapter, and you cannot participate in the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled.”
“Why?” I was dumbfounded.
“You have been disqualified.”
“Haven’t we had an agreement? Is there something else?”
“We cannot tell you anything.”
It was around 10 o’clock in the morning, and they told me that they had bought plane tickets for me and the Hainan chairman and we were to leave right then for the airport to catch the flight around noon.
I refused. “There is nothing I can do if you decide to take me out of the competitions,” I said to them. “But as an individual, I am free. I will not be leaving Beijing today. My family has come to be with me, my friends all know I am training in Beijing, and I can’t leave without saying goodbye to them. I will not be leaving today, unless you put me on the plane by force.”
They backed down but they didn’t allow me to go back to the training camp again.
That evening I went to meet teacher Ding Zilin (丁子霖), the founder of “Tian’anmen Mothers.” We had been in contact since 1992 but I had never met her. I thought if I didn’t take that opportunity, I didn’t know when I would have a chance to meet her. When I arrived at teacher Ding’s home at Renmin University of China (中国人民大学), a great number of plainclothes cops were loitering outside her apartment building. I had dinner with her, and left around nine o’clock. She walked me across the campus to see me off. All around us, plainclothes cops followed and watched us. It was at once infuriating and ridiculous. At one point, teacher Ding confronted them, asking why the government was so uneasy about an old lady and a man without legs.
The next day, two staffers of CDPF accompanied me back to Hainan, ending my athletic aspirations. In China, sports – like so many other things – is built into the party-state system. To compete in provincial games, you have to be selected by the city you live in; to compete in the national games, you have to be selected by the province you are in;
and to compete in the international games, you have to be selected by the state. Outside the system, you cannot take part in sports competitions as an individual.
In Hainan, I had been living with my girlfriend. I met her during the Chinese New Year holidays in 1989 in my hometown Hefei. She came to the hospital to be with me two days after I was hurt. Starting in 1993, Hainan’s real estate bubble burst, she was thinking about going abroad, so she went back to Hefei to obtain a passport. But the local public security told her that she would not be given a passport because of her relationship with me. This was something neither she nor I had expected. She became desperate about the future. In early 1995, she left me.
For all those years, for all the hardship she had to endure and the sacrifices she had to make, she didn’t leave me. But in the end, she had to give up because the state power did not like it.
The Sixth Anniversary of Tian’anmen
After the 1989 movement, many students went to jail, more were booted out of the system without a job or unable to maintain one because of lasting and systematic interference from the government. In the 1990s, Hainan had become a destination for many 1989ers, including Zhang Qianjin (张前进), Wang Dan (王丹), Kong Xianfeng (孔显峰), Lu Jiangtai (吕江台), Zheng Xuguang (郑旭光)，Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), where, far away from Beijing, they tried to find luck and make a living, or even make money, in the new economic zone.
My place became a hub for many of these friends. In May 1995, also the international tolerance year, we worked on a signature campaign calling for the release of political prisoners and to redress the Tiananmen movement as its 6th anniversary approached.
Another thing we were working on was a report about the custody and repatriation policies in Hainan arising from a young adolescent I had helped.
One day a boy walked down the street towards my store. Thin as a skeleton and pale, he was about to collapse at any time. He begged for food at the store; I gave him food and kept him. He was seventeen years old and had come to Hainan to look for his older sister from Zhejiang. Being a minor, he didn’t have an ID and was picked up by the custody and repatriation enforcement. In Hainan, you had to have an ID card (身份证), a temporary residential permit (暂住证) issued by the Hainan authorities, a migrant worker permit (外出打工证) issued by your home town authorities, a Border Permit (边防证) and, if you were a woman, a marriage and reproduction certificate (婚育证) to be legally staying in Hainan. Police frequently conducted raids and pulled people off the street and put them into iron-barred trucks. If you paid money, they would let you go, or they would send you to work on road or other kinds of construction sites in Guangdong or Hainan.
The young man was kept in the custody center for a month or so and was let go probably because he had become so weak that he might die there. My friends and I were enraged, Lu Jiangtai in particular who was a college student during 1989 in Hunan. Lu went to the authorities to complain, collected information, and wrote a report to be distributed to human rights groups overseas and to be filed at a court.
In late May, perhaps in the evening of May 26th, we got both the appeal letter and the report typed and printed, ready to be sent the next day. We chatted and stayed up late. In the early morning, still asleep, a swarm of policemen and armed police raided us. The other half of our group, staying with another friend, was also raided at the same time. The police confiscated all of our materials and took all of us, including my younger sister, to the detention center. My sister and I were released after one day; Zheng Xuguang and his wife were detained for a month before being sent back to their home province, Shaanxi. Lu Jiangtai was indicted and sentenced to five years in prison for authoring the report about custody and repatriation policies that weren’t abolished by the State Council until 2003.
It was my first encounter with the police in Hainan. They had probably been watching me all along for all those years, but I just didn’t know.
I went to visit Lu Jiangtai once in the detention center. Then they barred me from visiting him again. After he was sentenced, they sent him away to I don’t know where. I have never heard from him again, nor do I know his whereabouts now.
As Hainan slumped into a depression, people who had come to look for jobs, opportunities and fortune took leave. My store had fewer and fewer customers, the road construction around it made it worse, so I finally closed it down. After that I partnered with friends and had a small tourism business that sustained us just barely.
After the 1995 raid, surveillance and harassment became constant. Telephone lines at home would be cut off during the so-called sensitive days. The police required me to report my whereabouts, should I travel, and my guests and visitors, except that I didn’t oblige. Why should I tell them? Sometimes things were just ludicrous. In March, 1997, a police officer came to “have a chat” with me early one morning. I asked him what it was all about, he said, “Don’t you know? Deng Xiaoping died.” “What does that have to do with me?”
By 1997 and 1998, most of my friends in Hainan had left. I felt lonely and life became harder. Friends in Beijing urged me to go back as well where, they said, economic development was taking steam and it would easier for them to lend me a hand.
On the evening of March 7, 1999, without much planning and without telling anyone, I got into a taxi and went to Xiuying Pier in Haikou (海口秀英码头). Quietly I boarded a cross-channel ferry and arrived in Zhanjiang (湛江), Guangdong, the next morning.
To be continued: Fang Zheng meeting his future wife, his unexpected brush with the 2008 Olympics, and leaving China.
(Based on Yaxue Cao’s interview with Fang Zheng in the summer of 2012. Translated by Y.C.)
By Fang Zheng, published: June 3, 2014
The Morning in Liubukou
In the spring of 1989, I was a college senior in Beijing Sports College, and one of the tens of thousands of students who took part in the Tian’anmen democracy movement. I was in the Square most of those days. I marched, participated in sit-ins, helped the rescue effort when students went on a hunger strike – there were 3,000 of them. They began to collapse. And, after May 19 when Martial Law was announced, I was part of the student patrol to protect the square.
During the days leading up to June 4th, the atmosphere was getting steadily grimmer. The announcement broadcast to us after dark on June 3rd was threatening: the military will do whatever it takes to quashthe anti-revolutionary riot and clear out the Square. I felt something would happen that night, I thought I should stay and, together with the last few thousand students, we should defend our ground in the Square.
We were scared, but at the same time I did not believe they would shoot us. Around 10 o’clock, the news of shooting and death at a nearby intersections came. We also could see the gunfire and hear the shooting. We knew that the troops were very close and coming closer. The last few thousands of students gathered around the Martyr’s Monument surrounded by makeshift tents. Then I met a girl from my college. She was scared and wanted to stay with me. I told her to calm down. I said we had been completely peaceful and there was nothing to fear.
Around 2:30 in the morning or so, about 100 soldiers, armed and in battle fatigues, came out of the Great Hall of the People. They made their way to the top tier of the Martyr’s Monument where the student command center was, and shot down the speakers. Sometime around four o’clock, the Four Gentlemen of the Tiananmen Square (Liu Xiaobo, Hou Dejian, Gao Xin, and Zhou Duo) reached an agreement for the students to leave the Square safely. After discussions and voting, it was decided that we were going to leave from the southeastern corner. At the time, tanks had already encircled us and bulldozed the tents.
Through a tank “gate” and then a passage of tanks on both side, the students walked away. The day had yet to break. I was with the last leg of the student file coming from the north side of the monument. Behind me there were some more students. The soldiers beat them with the butts of their rifles to move them faster, and my sense was that they were ordered to drive the students away before a certain hour and we were slow-moving.
Leaving the Square, we turned westward on West Qianmen Avenue (前门西大街) because most of colleges in Beijing are in the northwestern part of the city. From W. Qianmen Ave. we turned north on a quiet street called N. Xinhua Street. Along the way, we saw smashed road barricades, overturned vehicles, a burned bus skeleton, broken glasses, rocks, and blood stains. We walked slowly in a long file and shouted slogans. We even walked past a file of soldiers marching in the opposite direction without incident. Standing on the roadside and at the entrance of their Hutongs, residents told us what had happened the night before as we passed by.
I was walking with the girl from my school, and around six o’clock, we turned onto W. Chang’an Avenue that runs east-west across Beijing and passed in front of Tian’anmen, and kept walking westward on the sidewalks and the bicycle route on the south side of the street. We sensed no danger, nor were there any soldiers in sight. Suddenly we heard explosions, one right next to us, and with it, a cloud of green-yellowish smoke cloaked us. The girl fell in the sudden chaos. My first reaction was to pick her up and move her to the sidewalk. But there were five-foot-tall fences separating the sidewalk and bike route, and as I turned to lift her over the fences, I saw, through the fog, a row of tanks, three or four of them, speeding towards the students. One of them was already very close to me, so close I felt its main gun was right over my head. I pushed the girl hard against the fence.
Next – it must have been just a matter of one or two seconds– I felt I was being squeezed and then dragged. I remember thinking, “Shit, I’m being run over.” With my shoulders and arms I pulled hard against the ground. I fell off and rolled to the roadside against the fence. My last visual memory was the white bones of my legs, and then I lost consciousness, first receding sound and then a bright spot moving farther away.
It wasn’t until 1999 that I learned of the existence of a photo of me right at that moment. A man was tying up my left leg, and others were helping. I didn’t see the photo until 2009 when I arrived in the U.S.
That intersection, I only learned later, was called Liubukou (六部口) where Xinhuamen, the entrance to the CCP Central Committee and the heart of Chinese leadership, sits at the northeastern corner facing Chang’an Avenue. The greenish smoke, researchers found, was military gas. Eleven were killed in Liubukou and many more wounded that morning.
In the Hospital
Around noon on June 5th, I came to at Jishuitan Hospital (积水潭医院). Around me stood a circle of doctors and nurses who towered over me as I was lying on the floor, I learned later, in the hospital’s conference room with other wounded.
“Do you know what happened to you?” A doctor asked me.
“Did I lose my feet?”
They asked me my name and notified the school. That evening, people from my school visited and confirmed my identity. I was still going in and out of consciousness, ice bags were placed on my head and under my armpits to keep my temperature down, and someone brought a recorder asking me to leave my will. I recorded my name, the names of my parents, what happened to me, and I can’t remember what else I said.
On the 7th, the girl who was with me came to see me. I had been asking about her. After she lost consciousness, residents took her to their home, and she learned about my injury when she returned to school the day after. By the 7th, my mother, my sister, and my girlfriend also arrived from Hefei, Anhui province, to be with me.
On June 9th, a few nurses came and said they had to hide me. Rumor had it that the military would be in hospitals searching for wounded students and even taking over the hospitals. “We can’t let the military take you away,” they said, “you are still in grave danger.” They pushed me around the hospital looking for a good place and finally they hid me in the elevator machine room in the basement. The rumors turned out to be false, but policemen from Xicheng District’s Public Security Bureau did come. I was brought to an office, three policemen and one hospital administrator asked me questions about my activities and how I was wounded, recording the interrogation in writing. Unable to sign it easily, I pressed my fingerprint on it. So the Chinese government has the first record of my account.
“Review” and Refusal
I convalesced quickly. In about two weeks, I was able to sit on wheelchair and go to the bathroom by myself. On June 24th, I checked out of Jishuitan Hospital and went back to my school where I continued to recover in our school hospital. The reason I wanted to go back to school so badly was because I didn’t want to miss the class graduation photo session which had been scheduled for June 24th. But I didn’t know – no one who came to visit me from school told me – that they had already taken it without me.
I was very disappointed. I don’t know if they evaded me on purpose or not. If so, why? Perhaps they didn’t want me in the picture to permanently remind everyone of that summer. I have two class photos, one taken at the beginning of freshman year, and the other is the graduation photo. I was given a copy of it but was not in it.
On July 1st, most of the students graduated and left the school. Those who were held behind, myself included, were to go through the so-called “Double Qing” – qingcha (清查, thorough investigation) and qingli (清理, cleaning up) – to come “clean” of their involvement in the movement.
Cadres from the school’s communist party committee, its propaganda department, and administrators from my department began to visit me in my hospital ward. Once, twice, many times. They wanted to know how I got hurt. So I told them.
They did not accept my account. “Why did the tank run over you, not others?” They asked. “You must have provoked or attacked it or soldiers, because a tank would go after you only under these circumstances.”
“There are witnesses who have seen it all,” I said, enraged. “I also rescued a girl, and you can ask her. Before she fainted, we were walking peacefully hand in hand with students in front of and behind us.”
“We know the girl you talked about. We asked her, and she said she didn’t know what you did. She cannot prove anything for you.”
I was flabbergasted. “She at least knows that she and I left the square together, walked on the W. Chang’an Avenue together, and encountered the gas together. A tank rolled over from our side, she was rescued but I was injured. How can she not know all these? Also, when I was in the hospital, she visited me. At the time other teachers and classmates were also present, and they also asked about it.”
I don’t know what the school did to her, whether they applied pressure on her. In any case, she never visited me again, nor have I seen her ever again.
Two teachers from Beijing Steel and Iron College (now University of Science and Technology Beijing), one was Wu Bei (吴蓓) and the other by the family name Chai, came to my school to provide testimonies upon hearing my encounter with the school officials. They were at the Liubukou scene in the morning of June 4th, but the school didn’t accept their testimonies.
My own account of the event, one draft after another, had been rejected.
I was a student communist party member at the time. “As a party member,” the party official said to me, “you should keep the party’s interest in mind and yield to it. June 4th crackdown is in line with the party’s interest, and you have to make demand of yourself according to the standards of a party member.”
The party official claimed that “the interest of the party is the interest of the people.” I disagreed. “June 4th crackdown may be in line with the party’s interest, but it is not in the interest of the people. On this, the party does not represent the people.”
After the unsuccessful visits by school officials, many teachers whom I was familiar with came to give me advice one after another. “Give up,” they said. “For the sake of getting your diploma and for the sake of getting a job to survive, don’t say you were run over by a tank. You can say you were run over by a military truck, or even by an armed vehicle. As long as you don’t say tank, they will let you pass.”
Gradually I realized that the so-called “investigation” was all about getting me to obscure the fact that tanks had run over people. I refused to temper the facts no matter what. And from that point on, I considered myself to have withdrawn from the party membership.
Because of my refusal, the review on me lasted no fewer than eight months. In the end, the whole thing simply stopped without me knowing what conclusions they had made.
A Gold Medalist in the National Games for the Disabled
At the time, colleges still assigned jobs to each graduate, and before the student movement began that spring, I had already been accepted by South China Normal University in Guangzhou to teach sports theories. While I was in the hospital, the school sent three telegrams to the department asking me to report to work, but the school simply said “Fang Zheng is not available anymore for some reason” without giving them a reason why.
Meanwhile I stayed on campus waiting for a resolution of my future. After checking out of the hospital the school put me in one of the rooms that had been used for storing sports equipment at a far corner of the sports field. My younger sister came from Anhui to take care of me, while I helped teachers with various chores and got paid a little.
In 1991, I met a woman who worked with the disabled. She told me that Beijing Disabled Persons’ Federation was recruiting athletes to attend China’s 3rd National Games for the Disabled to be held next spring, and asked if I would interested in giving it a try.
It was an excited idea. Although I wasn’t a student athlete in the Sports College, I had always loved sports, and was well built. Living next to an equipment storage room and off a sport field was no small advantage. Instead of ping pong or swimming which I was good at before my injury, I chose the wheelchair discus throw and javelin throw for convenience, and I began to practice on the field day in and day out.
In March, 1992, I participated in the 3rd National Games for the Disabled held in Guangzhou representing Beijing, and I won a gold medal for both the discus throw and the javelin throw.
For months, the school had been pressing me to leave, and my sense was that, as the post-89 students came in, more and more were learning about my story. After the Games in Guangzhou, I didn’t go back to Beijing but went straight to Hainan island where, with the help of Wu Bei, I was to work for the real estate company her husband had operated in the new economic special zone. The school had never awarded me my diploma.
Nonetheless, the two metals installed a lot of confidence and optimism in me about the future. I might succeed as a disabled athlete. Given my background, my inclinations and my physical condition, it felt right and it would be a tremendous self-fulfillment.
To be continued: Fang Zheng’s attempt to participate in his first international games for the disabled, invisible but omnipresent surveillance around him throughout the years, and his unexpected brush with the 2008 Olympics.
(Based on Yaxue Cao’s interview with Fang Zheng in the summer of 2012. Translated by Y.C.)
By Yaxue Cao, January 15, 2013
An exile returns to his 86-year-old mother and family.
In the morning of November 27, 2012, after tweeting “Good morning, tweeps!” to his friends on Twitter, Mr. Wu Renhua (吴仁华), a resident of Los Angeles, boarded a plane to China.
At Customs in Shanghai’s Pudong airport, he was nervous. On a small screen, a photo check resulted in a “data error.” An alphabetic name check also showed “date error.” When asked to provide his name in Chinese, he gave a homonymic name. Again, “data error.” He broke out in a cold sweat, thinking he was caught.
It turned out to be otherwise. “Data error” meant that his information was not identified by the database. A man on China’s political blacklist, he slipped through Customs without being recognized.
Once through, sweat ran down his face, neck and body. He felt dizzy, and smoked a cigarette to collect himself. He couldn’t tell whether he had been too nervous or too excited; too happy or too sad.
He had planned to show up at the door of his home in Wenzhou (温州) without telling anyone, but he changed his mind lest his arrival, after 22 years of separation, was too overwhelming for his 86-year-old mother. He called his younger sister and asked her to announce the news to their mother.
He took a picture of himself before boarding the flight to Wenzhou. He didn’t notice, but later on someone would point out the gate number 89 in the background.
At the highway exit to Cangnan (温州苍南), he was stuck in traffic for two hours and thought he would walk home in the rain. He arrived at one o’clock in the morning to his mother and two sisters.
“I can’t tell you what it was like,” he said when I spoke to him on the phone earlier today. “I just can’t. It’s been 22 years.”
Mr. Wu Renhua was a young lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law (中国政法大学) in 1989, a participant in the Tian’anmen Movement, and an eye witness of one of its bloodiest scenes in Liubukou (六部口) where three tanks charged into files of students leaving the Tian’anmen Square in the morning of June 4th and killed eleven and wounded more. Many of Mr. Wu’s friends were arrested during the crackdown, a few of them, such as Wang Juntao (王军涛) and Chen Ziming (陈子明), received little attention from the international media at the time because they were not on the list of the wanted, and the rumors had it that they could be sentenced to death. Determined to take the news, as well as the truth about the massacre, overseas, Mr. Wu made to the south, swam across the water separating Zhuhai (珠海) and Macau in a rainy night in late February, 1990, with the help of paid smugglers. From Macau, he sneaked into Hong Kong and, then, on July 5th that year, to the United States as a political refugee.
For years, Mr. Wu had applied in vain for a Chinese passport. Being on the blacklist of political exiles, he had been barred from visiting China, unless he wrote a Statement of Repentance about his actions during the June 4th and overseas advocacy as well as a Statement of Guarantee promising that he would never speak or write against the Chinese government, nor engage in any activities of the same nature. Many made the deal with China and returned to visit or stay, but Mr. Wu did not want to do that.
Meanwhile, his mother was getting very old, and he couldn’t wait anymore. Last year Mr. Wu reluctantly gave up his status of political refugee and became an American citizen with an English name. “I didn’t tell anyone at all, not even friends, about the American passport and my name on the passport.”
Hours after he arrived, fearing that he would be discovered and possibly deported, he and his mother and siblings – the entire family – visited his father’s grave to pay respect and “to get the most important things out of my way and be prepared for possible deportation,” he said.
Fearing that his stay would implicate his family (years ago his younger brother, a brilliant graduate of Zhejiang University on track to become a CCP cadre, was expelled from civil service because of him), he asked one of his sisters to report his visit to the authorities. To protect his family from trouble, Mr. Wu declined to provide more details about his subsequent encounter with the Chinese state security police, except that he was indeed warned there would no more visits for him.
During his stay, he didn’t use a cell phone, didn’t use the internet, didn’t speak or meet with friends, and he didn’t leave Wenzhou.
He spent all his time by his mother’s side.
“My father died young, and my mother raised five of us alone,” Mr. Wu said. “She doesn’t have much of a political awareness, nor does she understand my ideals or the meaning of what I have done, but she has never interfered with my choices. Over the years when we talked over the phone, she had never expressed her desire for my return, nor shed tears, so as not to put pressure on me.”
For years, the community of exiles has made numerous efforts to get the Chinese government to allow them visit on humanitarian basis. Many of them couldn’t go back to visit ailing parents or attend funerals. Last spring, there were rumors that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao wished the Party to redress the June 4th Movement and welcome exiles to go back China to “take a look.” In response to the rumors, Wang Dan (王丹), Hu Ping (胡平), Wang Juntao (王军涛), Wuerkaixi (吾尔开希), Wu Renhua (吴仁华) and Xiang Xiaoji (项小吉) issued in April a public appeal to the Chinese government entitled “We Hope to Go back to China to Take a Look”.
“We believe that it is our inalienable right to return to our own country. The rulers of China should not deny our most basic human rights just because we hold different political views. China is undergoing profound changes, and it is the expectation of all Chinese citizens that human rights be protected and democracy promoted,” the open letter reads.
Mr. Wu visited one of his uncles who was in a vegetative state in the hospital. The uncle joined the Communist Party in 1937, graduated from the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yen’an (延安抗大), but was branded as a “rightist” for his expressions in the anti-rightist campaign in 1950s, spent four years in a labor camp and the rest of his life in the countryside. He had been Mr. Wu’s hero since childhood. Unable to communicate and share the joy of homecoming with his uncle, Mr. Wu was reduced to tears.
After spending 42 days with family, it was time again to separate. In the early morning on January 10 when Mr. Wu left, he insisted on his mother not seeing him off, but she walked him outside the building nonetheless. When he turned around to say goodbye to her, she had already gone back. “She did not want me to see her sadness,” Mr. Wu wrote in a set of tweets hashtaged #回家 (going home). “When I looked up, I saw her standing on the balcony against the parapet. Sorrow welled up in me. She had endured 22 years to see her son!”
Mr. Wu Renhua had been prepared for three possible outcomes of his visit before he headed to China: arrest, deportation, or a smooth visit. Once in Wenzhou, his family feared that he might be “disappeared” any time. Fortunately for him, everything turned out as well as it can be, in part probably because he’s now an American citizen.
Back to Los Angeles last week, Mr. Wu, the historian of ’89, continues to work on his third book. His first two books were published in Hong Kong, Tian’anmen Massacre in 24 Hours recording the last day – June 4th – and the bloodshed in the Square and the city, while The Martial Law Troops during Tian’anmen Movement presenting his research into the troops that carried out the bloody crackdown. Both have yet to be translated into English.
His third book, tentatively titled A Chronicle of the Tian’anmen Movement, is a description of the day-by-day events from April 15 to June 20, 1989, a year destined to etch deep in the memory of China.