China Change

Home » Posts tagged 'Tian’anmen Movement'

Tag Archives: Tian’anmen Movement

The Historian of the Tiananmen Movement and the June Fourth Massacre – An Interview With Wu Renhua (Part Two of Two)

June 4, 2016



(Continued from Part One)

Wu: Another find that was very exciting was to discover the chief of staff of the 38th Group Army’s 1st Tank Division. This chief of staff led the spearhead of that tank division, the 1st Regiment of armored infantrymen and the 1st Regiment, the very first tanks to arrive in Tiananmen Square, including the three tanks involved in the massacre at Liubukou. This chief of staff was eager to carry out orders and show his “politically correctness.” In all the military propaganda materials celebrating his “heroic achievements,” he was only ever referred to as “Chief of Staff Yan.” They described how he repeatedly ordered for forcing advancement, and his troops shot dead a student attempting to obstruct them outside Beijing Broadcasting Institute (now the Communication University of China). So I had a very strong wish to identify this chief of staff. But despite countless searching, I had never found the man’s name.

There were a total of five regiments in the 1st Tank Division.  The 2nd and 3rd tank regiments, and the artillery regiment, were led by the division commander and political commissar — they were the remaining units that followed. The division commander and political commissar acted completely differently. Like a lot of the other martial law troops, they encountered obstruction and interference by citizens as they advanced toward Tiananmen, but they weren’t willing to smash through and hurt people. So they simply stopped, and only arrived at the Square on June 5. They didn’t participate in the clearing of the Square, and had no involvement in the massacre.

A Taiwan publishing house is going to put out the Taiwanese version of The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth this year, so I made a round of revisions for that, correcting a few minor errors, and also did some more searching for a few tricky pieces of information that I had never been able to solve. The name of Chief of Staff Yan was one of them. As I searched, I came across a Yan, the division commander of the 38th Army Group’s Sixth Tank Division. My intuition was: this is my man! Yan Hongji (闫红计) is his name! I was able to confirm the connection with more searching. I’d poured countless hours into figuring out this person’s name and whereabouts, and in this round of revision I found the answer. I was so excited. This happened not long ago.

CC: Mr. Wu, you often refer to the book One Day During the Martial Law (《戒严一日》) in your book about the troops. Can you talk a little about this book?

Wu: One Day During the Martial Law was edited by the PLA’s General Political Department and published in 1990. This is the most valuable official publication about the Tiananmen incident. It consists of two volumes and was an anthology of over 100 articles by as many authors, all of whom are named along with their service post and military rank. Each of the authors records their participation and experience in the enforcement of martial law. Some of them write about how they helped the common citizens, others discuss their marching into Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3. Among them there were commanders and political commissars of army groups, but also regular soldiers. Apart from a few policemen from the Beijing Public Security Bureau, the vast majority were all soldiers and officers involved in martial law. The value of each piece is different, but overall this book provided many leads and clues for my own research. From a historiographical perspective, the official documents are extremely accurate, better than individuals’ memories, when it comes to times and places, although other details of the events may be concealed or distorted.

Not a month after this book was published in 1990, it seems that the military realized that it revealed too much, so they retracted it, making it a “banned book.” Later they published an “abridged edition,” which was shrunk into a small pamphlet with huge chunks deleted.

CC: I assume it goes without saying that you consult the full version.

Wu: Right. In early 1990 when I’d just arrived in Hong Kong, the editor-in-chief of the magazine Contemporary Monthly (《当代》) Ching Cheong learnt about my interest in researching and recording June 4, so he gave the book to me. He was once the Beijing bureau chief of Hong Kong’s Wen Hui Bao (《文汇报》).

FullSizeRender (10)CC: You mentioned another book, Defenders of the Republic. Tell us about it.  

Wu: This is official propaganda material, also published between the latter half of 1989 and 1990. A year after the June 4 incident, this form of propaganda was put to a stop; evidently an internal decision was issued to cease it, because they knew there was nothing glorious about it, and it would only draw more criticism. On June 4, 1990, Yang Baibing (杨白冰) and the General Political Department wanted to put on a massive celebration, but Li Ruihuan (李瑞环), the then head of Communist Party propaganda and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, dissented. Yang was furious. Li said that it wasn’t his order, but from the top — from Deng Xiaoping, obviously. So from that point on basically all celebration and propaganda about the suppression vanished from official sources.

The sub-title of Defenders of the Republic is A compilation of the deeds of heroic troops and model soldiers enforcing martial law in the capital — that’s the kind of book it was. There are about a dozen or so similar books. I asked friends in Beijing to dig them out for me. Some were brought over to the U.S., other were scanned and sent.

CC: Out of the 200,000 martial law troops, you verified and listed the identities of over 3,000 soldiers in your book The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth. You’ve taken an enormous amount of time to identify them, and yet it’s only 1.5% of the total. Why did you put so much time into finding and verifying these names?

Wu: Of the hundreds and thousands who experienced the June 4 massacre, I may be one of a few who has a background in historical and documentary research. From the perspective of recording history, to ensure that a massacre like this is properly recorded, we must have the victims, as well as the perpetrators. Since the Communist Party’s founding of its regime, a huge number of people have died in its political movements. For instance, in just the campaign to suppress counterrevolutionaries in the 1950s, official figures say that 2.4 million were executed. Is there a name list of these 2.4 million people? No. Who sentenced them to death? We don’t know that, either. The political campaign closest to June 4 was the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, and official Communist Party documents acknowledge that it was a “calamity,” and vaguely say that millions of people suffered unnatural deaths. But who are they? Wang Youqin (王友琴), who also graduated from the Chinese Department at Peking University and who teaches at the University of Chicago, has been searching for victims of the Cultural Revolution for the last two decades — her record is still extremely limited.

I feel that when it comes to June 4, if I don’t do this kind of recording, then with the passage of time the massacre will become just like the Cultural Revolution, or any other political campaign, and end up with no legitimate historical record.

In The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth, my chief task was to search out information about the perpetrators. The work of the Tiananmen Mothers for so many years has been to seek out and record information about the victims. They have a list of those who died in the massacre, and so far have recorded and verified the names of 202 victims. This is still quite far from the real death toll, but the work they’ve done has already been extremely difficult.

CC: Let’s not forget that these 200,000 martial law troops are a huge group of witnesses, and most of them are of the same age as the student protesters. When we say “the 1989 generation,” we have to keep in mind that they are the other part of the 1989 generation. Are there any in their midst who have spoken out about June 4?

Wu: Yes, they are indeed a huge group of witnesses, but so far, only two out of the 200,000 have come out, using their true identity, and spoken about their experiences. One is Zhang Sijun (张四军), a soldier with the 54th Group Army and now a veteran living in his home province of Shandong. He has been detained several times and harassed for speaking online about 1989. According to my research his testimony isn’t that valuable, but morally, it’s significant. If a large number of them testify, we would know so much more about the massacre.

CC: Imagine a few thousand of them doing this.

Wu: The other is Lieutenant Li Xiaoming (李晓明) , who headed a radio station of the Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment of the 116th Infantry Division of the 39th Group Army. He was what we call a “student-officer” who enlisted after graduating from college. Following his discharge, he went to study in Australia and became a Christian. He held a press conference and spoke about his experiences. It is from his testimony that we learned about another general who disobeyed orders, in addition to Xu Qinxian (徐勤先), the commander of the 38th Group Army.

That was Xu Feng (许峰), commander of the 116th Infantry Division of the 39th Group Army. I had done so much research, and I discovered the passive resistance on the part of General He Yanran (何燕然), the commander of the 28th Group Army, and Zhang Mingchun (张明春), the political commissar, but I had known nothing about the division commander. Because of his refusal, he was disciplined and discharged after June 4. I have wanted to know his whereabouts and what happened to him, but I have never found any more about him despite my efforts.            

CC: What about the commander and the political commissar of the 28th Group Army?

Wu: They were both demoted and removed from the combat forces. Zhang Mingchun was demoted and reassigned to deputy political commissar of Jilin Provincial Military Command, and He Yanran the deputy commander of Anhui Provincial Military Command. Zhang Mingchun died a year after being demoted.

CC: This is probably a no-brainer question, but I’ll still ask anyway: Have you received any comments, publicly or otherwise, from the PLA after you published The Martial Law Troops of June Fourth?

Wu: No.

CC: I’m sure there are reactions that are just not reaching you.

Wu: They would definitely purchase the books and give them to certain people to read. Not no one has told me anything. On the other hand, the authorities haven’t come out to say: this book is wrong here and there, or it’s nonsense.

CC: I saw some news on Twitter a while back saying you’d be taken “ill” for a while. Can you talk about that?

Wu: I worked at the Press Freedom Herald for 15 years and then wrote for 10 years, and I’ve always been healthy. I fell ill for a period because of the emotional and psychological toll of my work. There’s a famous saying about 1989: “Dare not forget; don’t dare to recollect.” I had been immersed in everything about 1989 for more than two decades. I’ve collected a photo gallery of 9,000 images, each one of them full of blood and passion. Take the clearing of Tiananmen Square: When I was writing about how 11 students were crushed by tanks at Liubukou, an incident I personally witnessed, tears would stream down my face, and I would crying bitterly by my desk. Finally, beginning in the latter half of 2010, while I was going over the draft manuscript of my third book, something went wrong — I succumbed to depression.

My original plan was to publish it in May of 2011, and I knew that I had to work every day in order to meet the deadline. But every time I opened the computer I just sat there in a daze. I couldn’t write. I’d go out for strolls, or chat idly with friends, but I couldn’t enjoy distraction either, and had to return to my desk. This dragged on for a long while. So I had to stop working and think of a way to solve the problem.

In addition, a lot of my friends know that I’d been paying out of my own pocket to get these books published, and relying on meager royalties to get by. It wasn’t easy. Emotionally, I’ve been separated from my family, and especially my mother, for 22 years. It’s hard to put into words how much we missed each other. She knew my situation, and never said anything disheartening in all my years calling her.  She’s never said: Son, I miss you, I’m old, come back and see me. She’s never said that. So when I found myself unable to work, I said to myself: I need to see my mother; it’s been 22 years, she’s 85 years old. Maybe I’d be able to write again after I got back.

Up to that point I had not taken up American citizenship, nor had I planned to. I always wanted to be a Chinese citizen, and record this massacre as a Chinese citizen; oppose dictatorship as a Chinese citizen; and contribute to democratization of China as a Chinese citizen. As a historian, my PRC citizenship had an added significance. Young people might dismiss my old fashioned sentiments. But in the end, in order to go back and visit my mother, in late 2010 I decided to become an American citizen. After that I quickly got my American passport.  

CC: How about the visa?

Wu: That’s another story. In order to stop people like me — who are banned from the country — from getting a foreign passport and coming back in, the Chinese authorities required all ethnic Chinese, whether mainlander, or from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore, to submit their original passport when applying for a visa after becoming an American citizen. That’s how they would get your original Chinese name.

I spotted advertisements in the World Journal for a service to handle Chinese visa applications. I picked one and called the number. Sure enough, they accepted cash, and they took care of the visa. It wasn’t cheap: for $1,200, I could get a visa without having to provide an old Chinese passport.

I picked one of the services. A male clerk asked me a few questions, and then got down to it: are you involved in politics? I said nope, that I’m a Wenzhounese who got smuggled into the U.S., and that I didn’t have a passport at the time. Wenzhou was a known source of illegal immigrants. I was accompanied by a friend who also came from Wenzhou, so we chatted in Wenzhou dialect. He believed the story and asked me to write down my Chinese name. I came up with Wu Yanhua (伍彦华), matching Yenhua Wu, the English spelling of my name — it was spelled this way on my documents when I left Hong Kong in 1990. He asked nothing else: no address, phone number, or reason for visiting. When I got the visa two weeks later, I was worried it was fake.  

Over all these years, my mother had never asked me what I was doing overseas, what book I was writing, but she knew because the younger generations in the family would find out and tell her. At my mother’s home, I accidentally found my first two books under my mother’s pillow. I’d never seen a book so dog-eared and used, with the pages worn yellow. I could imagine my mother, in the dead of the night, missing me terribly, going over the pages again and again. In the preface to the first book I dedicated it to those who died, and also to my mother. I had resolved not to shed tear on my visit, but I broke down seeing those two books.

CC: You can’t go back anymore?

Wu: No. Now that they know, they won’t give me visa anymore.

Tank man long shotCC: My last question has to do with Wang Weilin (王维林), the Tank Man. There have been different versions of who he is. What’s puzzling is that, so many years have passed and the image has become so iconic — how could there be no information about this man whatsoever? I want to hear your take on him.

Wu: As long-time researcher on 1989, of course I’m very interested in finding out who he is and what happened to him — the man in the white shirt and shopping bag in each hand who, on the morning of June 5th, stopped a formation of tanks. Wang Weilin, as many believed, is not necessarily his name. Videos show that he was spirited away by a few men off the street. For many years the story went that he was dragged away by good people and once on the sidewalk disappeared into the crowd, and safety.

But a couple of years ago, an academic specializing in body language studied the video and concluded that those who took the Tank Man off the street were not ordinary bystanders, but trained personnel. He believed that the Tank Man fell into the hands of the Chinese military or police.  

When this analysis came out, the Voice of America was very interested and consulted me for my comment. In their studio in Los Angeles, I watched the video over and over again. It was a couple of seconds longer, and revealed the scene: there was nobody on the sidewalk, and dozens of tanks were parked in the area. That means that it was an area secured by the martial law troops, and there could be no large crowds anymore. I had to agree with that professor that the Tank Man ended up in the hands of the soldiers or the police.  

We already know that protesters who were captured after the clearing of the Square were beaten badly with batons or the butts of rifles. For example, Gao Xu (高旭), a student of Shanxi University who was captured on June 5, was tied to a pillar at the Great Hall of the People and beaten so badly he ended up blind in one eye.

In the case of the Tank Man, he was seen as highly provocative in that he not only tried to stop the tanks, but even climbed on one. So he would be treated even more brutally in the hands of the troops. My sense is that he was probably beaten to death. Otherwise, in the age of internet, we would have heard something.

CC: Recently a friend said that they’d heard from a credible source, that at the time of the June 4 massacre, the PLA had killed students in the parks near Tiananmen—Zhongshan Park and the Worker’s Cultural Palace. I momentarily thought of Wang Weilin.

Delving deep into the full truth of June 4 is still such an arduous task, so we thank you so much for your studies. I agree with Mr. Yan Jiaqi’s assessment: This isn’t merely the pursuit of one individual, but a contribution to all of China.


Yaxue Cao is the founder and editor of this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao.



The Road Home Is 22 Years Long, January 15, 2013.

A Young Political Prisoner in the Grand Picture of US-China Diplomacy in the Wake of June 4th Massacre, May 11, 2016.



The Torchbearers – Participants in the 1989 Democracy Movement Who Are Currently in Prison

By Wang Yaqiu, published: June 4, 2015


Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波)

Liu Xiaobo in 1989, second from left.

Liu Xiaobo in 1989, second from right.

In the spring of 1989, Dr. Liu Xiaobo left Columbia University where he was a visiting scholar and went back to Beijing to take part in the democracy movement.  In Tiananmen Square, he became a leader and a mentor, drafting open letters, giving speeches and leading a hunger strike. Liu Xiaobo was instrumental in preventing further bloodshed by negotiating with the troops and persuading students to evacuate the Tiananmen Square in the early hours of June 4th.

After the crackdown, Liu was identified by the Chinese government as one of the instigators of the “turmoil” and jailed for two years. After being released in 1991, Liu published articles and gave interviews, urging the Chinese government to redress its actions in cracking down the protest and the grievances of the parents whose children were killed. He also drafted petitions to advocate for rule of law and democracy in China, and he called for dialogues between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.

In May 1995, he was arrested and held without charges for six months. In October 1996, he was sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” (劳教), a form of arbitrary administrative detention, for “disturbing social order.”

In the early 2000s, Liu wrote a large quantity of articles, published three books, and became the director of the Independent Chinese PEN center, a writers’ organization promoting free expression. At the same time, he was subject to surveillance and harassment.

In 2008, Liu was arrested for coauthoring Charter 08 (零八宪章), a manifesto calling for democratic reform in China. About 300 Chinese intellectuals signed the Charter initially, and all of them were later interrogated and threatened by the Chinese government. In December 2009, a Beijing court sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”

Liu is the recipient of the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, the 2010 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism, and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. Liu is currently incarcerated in Jinzhou Prison (锦州监狱) in Liaoning Province. His wife Liu Xia (刘霞) has been held under house arrest since the announcement of the Nobel Prize.


Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌)

Liu Xianbin (left) and Chen Wei went to Suining  High School together.

Liu Xianbin (left) and Chen Wei went to Suining High School together.

Liu Xianbin, a Sichuan native, was a student at Renmin University in Beijing when he took part in the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.  After the crackdown, Liu continued to organize activities until in 1991 when he was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement (反革命宣传煽动罪).”

After being released in 1993, Liu quickly resumed activism. He penned essays and petitions, campaigned for the release of other dissidents, and helped establish the China Democracy Party, which has been outlawed since 1998. As a result, Liu became a target of frequent house raids and interrogations. In 1999, Liu was given a 13-year prison term for “inciting subversion of state power (煽动颠覆国家政权罪).”

Liu was released in 2008. Once out of prison, Liu continued to write articles criticizing the Chinese one-party system, advocated for human rights cases, and organized gatherings to discuss political issues. Liu was also a signatory of Charter 08.

Liu was once again detained in June 2010 and, in March 2011, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, again, for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu has since been held in Sichuan Province’s Chuanzhong Prison (川中监狱).


Chen Wei (陈卫)

Chen Wei was a high school friend of Liu Xianbin and a student at Beijing Institute of Technology in 1989. For his role as a student leader, he was imprisoned after the Tiananmen movement until January 1991.

Chen was arrested again in 1992 for commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre and for organizing the China Freedom and Democracy Party. He was charged and sentenced to five years in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”

After he was released in 1997, Chen continued to organize democratic activities. He was the literary editor of Suining Culture (遂宁文化报), a small publication in his hometown, which was later shut down for publishing news about the banned Nobel Literature Prize laureate Gao Xingjian (高行健).  Chen was also a signatory of Charter 08.

In 2011, a Sichuan court sentenced Chen to nine years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” The conviction was based on the essays he had penned for overseas Chinese-language websites. Chen Wei is currently jailed in Nanchong (南充), Sichuan. The Chinese authorities prohibited his wife and their daughter from leaving the country.


Zhao Changqing (赵常青)

Zho Changqing released from prison on November 27, 2007.

Zho Changqing released from prison on November 27, 2007.

In 1989, Zhao Changqing was a history student at Shaanxi Normal University in the northwestern city of Xi’an. On May 23 that year he came to Beijing for the first time to join the student protests in Tiananmen Square. He was one of the leaders of the Autonomous Student Union of Non-Beijing Universities (外地高校学生联合会) in support of the movement.

After the crackdown, Zhao was held in Qincheng Prison in Beijing for four months. Zhao said that his life-time commitment to advancing democracy in China stemmed from his experience in Tiananmen Square and Qincheng prison (秦城监狱).

After he graduated from college in 1992, Zhao became a high school teacher. In 1997, he wrote an open letter to the Chinese government urging political reform. In 1998, Zhao campaigned in the election of local people’s representatives as an independent candidate. He was soon arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for “endangering state security.”

He was released in March, 2001. In 2002, he again drafted an open letter to the 16th Communist Party Congress calling for political reform, and he collected nearly 200 signatures. Zhao was later arrested and sentenced for “inciting subversion of state power.” He spent five years in prison until 2007.

In April 2014, a Beijing court sentenced Zhao Changqing to two and a half years in jail for his involvement in the New Citizens Movement. Zhao is currently serving his sentence in Weinan Prison (渭南监狱) in Shaanxi province. His wife and his toddler boy were forced to move out of their rental apartment due to police pressure on their landlord.


Chen Xi (陈西)

Chen Xi

Chen Xi

In 1989, Chen Xi was a 35-year-old administrative worker at Jinzhu University in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province in southwestern China. He had been an active member of local salons that discussed political ideas. During the Tiananmen Movement, Chen Xi established the Patriotic and Democratic Union in Guiyang, in solidarity with students in Beijing. For that he was jailed for three years.

In 1995, three years after he had been released, he was arrested again for organizing the Guizhou branch of the China Democracy Party. A year later, a Guiyang court sentenced him to ten years in prison for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group.”

After Chen was released in 2005, he continued to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law in China. He and several other Guizhou-based activists established the Guizhou Human Rights Forum, which was later declared an “illegal organization” by the authorities. Chen was also a signatory of Charter 08.

In November 2011, after announcing his intention to run for a seat in the local People’s Congress, Chen was detained. A month later, Chen was handed down a ten-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.” The conviction was based on dozens of articles Chen had written for overseas websites.

Chen is currently held at Xingyi Prison (兴义监狱) in Guizhou Province. According to his wife, Chen has been suffering from chronic diarrhea and other ailments. He has not been allowed to write letters with family and friends.


Zhang Lin (张林)

Zhang Lin

Zhang Lin

Zhang Lin graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1983. In 1989, while living and working in his home province of Anhui in southeastern China, he organized and led local citizens to participate in the democratic movement that was quickly spreading beyond Beijing. Zhang was arrested on June 8 and sentenced to two years in prison.

After Zhang was released in 1991, he organized several underground groups to promote democracy and human rights. One of those groups was the Labor Rights Protection Union, for which he was sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” in 1994.

In 1997, after his release, he came to the United States and became an active member in the overseas Chinese democratic movement. However, when he returned to China in October 1998, he was arrested upon arrival and later given another three years of “reeducation through labor.”

In January 2005, Zhang was detained after returning from a failed attempt to attend a memorial service for the deposed Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳).  In August, a court in Anhui sentenced Zhang to five years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” and the conviction was based on his online writings and interviews he had given to overseas radio broadcasts.

In February 2013, Zhang’s 10-year-old daughter was taken out of school in Hefei one day by police without his knowledge. The school later rejected her on the ground of school jurisdiction. Netizens from around the country traveled to Hefei, demanding that the girl be allowed to resume school. Zhang Lin was accused of organizing these protests. In September 2014, Zhang was sentenced to three and half years in prison for “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.”

Zhang is currently incarcerated in Tongling Prison (铜陵监狱) in Anhui Province. Zhang’s two daughters now live in the Untied States, thanks to the help of Ms. Reggie Littlejohn, the president of Women’s Rights without Frontiers.


Li Bifeng (李必丰)

Li Bifeng, front middle. Liao Yiwu, back right.

Li Bifeng (front center) and Liao Yiwu (back right) were among the June 4th political prisoners in Sichuan.

In 1989, the 25-year-old poet Li Bifeng was elected the president of the Chengdu Youth Autonomous Committee. He organized protests and mobilized local residents in Chengdu and Mianyang, cities in Sichuan province, to support the nation-wide democracy movement. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.”

After being released in 1994, Li became a labor activist, advocating for workers’ rights. Li provided critical information about labor protests in the 1990s to foreign media and human rights organizations. In 1998, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on dubious charges of “fraud.”

In 2011, Li was arrested again because the authorities suspected him of financing the escape of his friend Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), a dissident writer and also a participant in the 1989 movement, who had fled to Germany months earlier. In 2012, Li was given a 12-year prison sentence for “contract fraud” which his lawyer and family believed was groundless. The sentence was later reduced to 10 years. Li is currently imprisoned at Chuanbei Prison (川北监狱) in Sichuan province.


Chen Yunfei (陈云飞)

The ad saluting Tiananmen Mothers that Chen Yunfei placed in 2007.

The ad saluting Tiananmen Mothers that Chen Yunfei placed in 2007.

Chen Yunfei was a junior at Beijing Agriculture University in 1989 and one of the students on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. On May 18, he fainted and was taken to the hospital. On the night of June 3, when resting in his dormitory, Chen heard that the troops were marching into downtown Beijing. Chen and his friends went out, trying to block the troops’ movement. The riot police knocked him unconcious.

In the following two decades, Chen interviewed parents whose son or daughter were killed in the massacre, collected their information, and commemorated the June 4th anniversary every year. Chen has also campaigned tirelessly for human rights and environmental protection over the years, and has received constant harassment because of his activities.

On June 4, 2007, Chen placed an ad in the Chengdu Evening News (成都晚报) that read “Salute the brave mothers who lost their children on June 4th.” Two days later, he was detained for “inciting subversion of state power” and placed under house arrest for six months.

On March 25 this year, Chen was detained shortly after visiting the grave of a journalism student gunned down and bayoneted to death in the morning of June 4th. In April, he was formally arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

Chen is currently detained at Xinjin County Detention Center (新津县看守所) and denied of lawyer visit.


Yu Shiwen (于世文)

Yu Shiwen and his wife.

Yu Shiwen and his wife.

In 1989, Yu Shiwen was a junior majoring in philosophy at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou and active in student affairs. After the democracy protests broke out, Yu was elected the president of the Autonomous Student Union of the university. He led student marches on streets, and staged a hunger strike in solidarity with students in Beijing. After the crackdown, Yu helped Beijing students who had escaped to Guangzhou. For this, Yu was detained for 18 months.

In the two decades that followed, Yu and his wife, who was also a student leader in 1989 at the same university, made a fortune from stock trading, but they had never forgotten 1989. They organized and hosted commemoration events over the years. In February 2, 2014, they organized a visit to the birthplace of Zhao Ziyang, the deposed Communist Party leader. Three months later, Yu and his wife, along with 10 others, were arrested.  While all the others were eventually released, Yu Shiwen was indicted on April 23rd for “picking quarrels and creating trouble.” He is currently detained at Zhengzhou No.3 Detention Center (郑州第三看守所).

Yu wrote from the detention center, “I feel at ease, and honored. I’m finally making a real contribution to the memories of June 4.”


Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强)

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989.

Pu Zhiqiang in 1989.

Pu Zhiqiang was a graduate student in law at China University of Political Science and Law in 1989. He too was among the students on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square and remained there until the last moment. “On June 3, 1989, while in the Square,” Pu said years later, “I made a promise: ‘if I get out of here alive, I will revisit Tiananmen on this day every year.’” And he did.

In the years followed, Pu became one of the most prominent civil rights lawyers in China. He was the defense lawyer of, among many others, artist Ai Weiwei and dissident writer Tan Zuoren (谭作人) who was jailed for five years for investigating the collapse of school buildings during the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

Pu played a key role in ending the notorious “reeducation through labor” in China in 2012.

In May 2014, Pu was detained after attending a small gathering to commemorate the Tiananmen movement. On May 15, 2015, the Beijing Municipal People’s Procuratorate indicted Pu for “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and the evidence cited is a series of tweet-like comments he made online that criticized the Chinese government’s policies in Xinjiang and made fun of the Party propaganda.

Pu is currently held at Beijing No.1 Detention Center (北京第一看守所). He suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease and has been subjected to inhumane interrogations.


Gao Yu (高瑜)

1989 GaoyuIn 1989, Gao Yu was 45 years old and the deputy editor of the Beijing-based magazine Economic Weekly. After learning that the government might use force against the students, Gao went to the Square to talk to the student leaders in an effort to persuade them to leave. In the morning of June 3rd, Gao was taken away by plain-clothes policemen as she left her home. She was secretly jailed for 15 months in Qincheng Prison.

Not too long after she was released, in 1993, Gao was arrested again and sentenced to seven years in prison for “leaking state secrets,” after she wrote articles about elite Chinese politics for a Hong Kong publication.

She was released on medical parole in 1999. Gao Yu continued to report news and write commentaries critical of the Communist leadership. She has since won numerous international awards for her courage and her contribution to the freedom of speech.

In April 2014, Beijing detained Gao again, also on charges of “leaking state secrets.”  This time, the alleged secret was a Chinese Communist Party document known as the “Document No. 9,” which orders suppression of the ideas of constitutional democracy, rule of law, civil society, freedom press and other universal values. In April, a Beijing court sentenced the 71-year-old Gao Yu to seven years in prison.


Xu Zhiqiang, or Monk Shengguan (徐志强/圣观法师)

Monk Shengguan and His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

Monk Shengguan and His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

In 1989, Xu Zhiqiang was an engineer at a state-owned enterprise in Xi’an. He became a leader of the pro-democracy protests and a co-founder of the Xi’an Democracy Advancement Federation (西安促进民主联合会). Xu was arrested and jailed for a year.

In 2001, Xu became a Buddhist monk with the title Shengguan. In 2006, for performing Buddhist rituals to commemorate victims of the Tiananmen Massacre and promoting transparency in the temple in Jiangxi Province where he resided, Xu was evicted from the temple by police. In 2009, after Xu organized an event to pay tribute to Hu Yaobang, the liberal-minded Communist leader whose death triggered the 1989 movement, Xu was dismissed from the leadership of Honglian Tempe in Hunan Province.

In 2011, Xu met with His Holiness Dalai Lama in India.

In May 2014, three days after Xu had hosted a small seminar in Wuhan to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, he was detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Xu was tried in April for “inciting subversion of state power,” but the court has yet to hand down a sentence. Xu is currently held at Wuhan No. 2 Detention Center (武汉市第二看守所) in Hubei province.


Zhu Yufu (朱虞夫)

Zhu Yufu

Zhu Yufu

In 1989, Zhu Yufu was an official at the Bureau of Housing Management in Hangzhou, the capital of coastal Zhejiang Province. He was detained for 27 days after taking part in in protests and lost his job.

Zhu was a co-founder of the outlawed opposition group, China Democracy Party, in the 1990s, and in 1999, he was sentenced seven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.”

After his release in 2006, Zhu spoke out against the torture he had endured in prison and continued to promote democracy. A year later, he was detained again for pushing a police officer who was harassing his teenage son. He was sentenced to two years in prison for “disrupting public service (妨碍公务罪).” His son was jailed for 18 months too.

In 2011, Zhu was arrested during the crackdown of the “Jasmine Revolution,” a series of public assemblies that took place in over a dozen cities after an anonymous tweet called for peaceful protests in China. In February 2012, Zhu was sentenced to seven years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power,” and his “crime” was a poem titled “It’s Time” that he had disseminated:

It’s time, Chinese!

The time is now.

The square belongs to all, and your feet belong to you,

It’s time to walk to the square to make a choice.


Zhu is currently imprisoned at Zhejiang No. 4 Prison (浙江第四监狱) in Hangzhou.  Zhu suffers from poor health, and his application for medical parole has been denied repeatedly.


Chen Shuqing ( 陈树庆)

Chen Shuqing (front) and his friends from the China Democracy Party in 2010 when he was released from prison.

Chen Shuqing (front) and his friends from the China Democracy Party in 2010 when he was released from prison.

In 1989, Chen Shuqing was a 24-year-old graduate student at Hangzhou University (now Zhejiang University) and took part in the democracy movement.

Chen has since become an activist. In 1999, he was detained for four months for co-founding the China Democracy Party. After being released, he continued to organize activities on behalf of the Party, enduring harassment from the authorities.

In 2006, Chen was arrested in connection with his online expressions and the activities of the China Democracy Party. He served a four-year sentence.

In September 2014, Chen was criminally detained again on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” Chen has been held at the Hangzhou Detention Center (杭州市看守所). His trial, scheduled for May, has been postponed.


Zhou Yongjun (周勇军)

1989 周勇军There is a famous photo of 1989 in which three students knelt on the steps of the Great Hall of the People, entreating an audience with the Chinese leaders. Zhou Yongjun, on the right, was a student at the China University of Political Science and Law and the president of the Autonomous Student Union of Beijing Universities, a student group formed during the protests.

Zhou was imprisoned for two years afterwards. He came to the U.S. in 1993. In 1998, he was arrested and sentenced to three years of “reeducation through labor” when he attempted to re-enter China to visit his parents.

Zhou came to the U.S. again in 2002. In 2008, after being repeatedly denied of visa to return to China, Zhou made a second attempt to re-enter mainland China. He was arrested in Hong Kong for using a fake passport. Seven months later, the Hong Kong authorities handed Zhou to the Chinese government.

In January 2010, Zhou was sentenced to nine years in prison by a court in Sichuan on undisclosed charges of financial fraud. Zhou is currently held in Chongzhou Prison (崇州监狱) in Sichuan. In August 2014, it was reported that Zhou suffered from serious liver failure and partial blindness. For a while it was feared that he might die in prison. There has been no more reports about his conditions since.


Yaqiu Wang (王亚秋) researches and writes about civil society and human rights in China.



Always Parting: My Life with Liu Xianbin, by Chen Mingxian, 2010.

Democracy Is My Love Affair – the Story of Zhao Changqing, by Gu Chuan, January 12, 2014.

Tamer of Beasts, Tamer of Despots, by Liao Yiwu, May 24, 2015.

Tackling a Wall of Lies – a Profile of Pu Zhiqiang, by  Albertine Ren, September 14, 2014.

Xi Jinping the Man, by Gao Yu, January 26, 2013.


US Army Chaplain, 1989 Student Leader, Refused Entry into China to Visit Dying Mother (with a Poem)

By China Change, published: April 24, 2015


Major Xiong Yan (熊焱). Photo credit: RFA.

Major Xiong Yan (熊焱). Photo credit: RFA.

Xiong Yan (熊焱) was a law student in 1989 and a leader in the student democracy movement that ended tragically when the Chinese government cracked it down with machine guns and tanks. Xiong Yan left China in 1992 and is now a U. S. Army chaplain stationed in Texas. His applications for Chinese visa have been turned down repeatedly over the years, and he has not been able to visit his loved ones in China, and, this time, his dying mother.

According the New York Times:

Now an American citizen and a United States Army chaplain, Major Xiong said in a telephone interview on Friday that he had asked to return to his homeland. His mother, who is in her 70s, is dying, he said, and he has asked the Chinese authorities to allow him to travel back to say goodbye.

But Chinese consular officials have so far ignored his request, he said, reflecting how the country has yet to come to terms with the protests 26 years ago.

On April 23, Major Xiong Yan flew to Hong Kong from Seattle, and at the airport in Hong Kong, he was taken to a room and questioned by Customs officers, his friend Wang Min in Seattle told Radio Free Asia. A few hours later, Major Xiong was told by the airport officials that he may not enter Hong Kong and must return to the U. S. immediately.

Major Xiong in Hong Kong six years ago, attending the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Tiananmen Movement.

Major Xiong in Hong Kong six years ago, attending the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Tiananmen Movement.

It must be noted that, as a U. S. citizen, Major Xiong Yan is eligible to enter Hong Kong without a visa, and six years ago he was able to travel to Hong Kong to attend the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Tiananmen Movement but no more, an example how fast the promise of “One Country, Two Systems” is falling apart.

While in Hong Kong, Major Xiong Yan wrote the poem below:


Arriving at the Border of the Free World

by Xiong Yan

Written in Hong Kong, April 23, 2015

Dedicated to my dying mother


I arrive at the border of the free world,

gentle of heart

and eager to move forward.


Gazing over there, at that leaden sky,

I cry out to my dying mother,

tears of sorrow mingling with grief.


Dearest Mother,

lying on your sickbed

as your strength ebbs,

forgive your unfilial son

for not being there to bid you farewell.


Here in Hong Kong,

I envision your pallid face,

I stretch out my hand

that I may be nearer to you.

Dearest Mother,

stretch out your hand

that we may meet again

in a more loving world.


Unable to meet here on Earth,

we will be reunited in Heaven.

The scene, so vivid,

is but a lingering hope.

As the pain of this mortal world

drives me ever forward,

I will remember what the Lord taught:

that Love is everlasting.


I stand at the border of Hong Kong,

gazing at my mainland—

a mainland I can but see

as a swath of gray.


I stand atop a Hong Kong skyscraper,

reminiscing of motherly love—

a love I may not meet again,

though I may but hope.


Hope is a truth

that each of us has,

a promise from God

to never be forgotten.


(Poem translated by Cindy Carter)



The Road Home Is 22 Years Long, by Yaxue Cao, January 15, 2013. How another Tiananmen exile returned home to visit aging mother.

Exiled Tiananmen Protester Blocked From Entering Hong Kong, the New York Times, April 24, 2015.


Prominent 1989ers Voice Support for Yu Shiwen, Detained for Commemorating the Tiananmen Movement

By China Change, published: January 12, 2015


Shortly before June 4th, 2014, ten in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, were arrested for holding a public memorial for Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳). Seven of them have since been released, and three have remained in custody for over six months now without an indictment. The 47-year-old Yu Shiwen, who organized the memorial along with his wife Chen Wei, suffered a stroke. Recently, the public security once again urged indictment for the three. Yu’s case has drawn attention from participants, inside and outside China, of the Tian’anmen democracy movement 25 years ago.

于世文陈卫在加州On February 2nd, 2014, Yu Shiwen, Chen Wei, and a group of Henan-based citizens held a memorial in Hua County, Henan provicnce (河南滑县), to remember Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang and those who died during the June 4th massacre in 1989. After the memorial, Yu Shiwen sent photos to overseas Chinese websites and was interviewed by Radio Free Asia. But they were not arrested until shortly before the June 4th anniversary on charges of “picking quarrels and creating disturbances,” likely a result of Chinese authorities’ nervousness leading up to the anniversary.

In poor health, Yu Shiwen has been shuttled several times between the detention center and a hospital. The public security twice recommended indictment but were asked to provide more evidence. Last December, the public security once again sent Yu Shiwen’s case to the prosecutors for indictment.

Lawyers of the three recently issued statements against possible indictment. Yu Shiwen’s lawyer Ma Lianshun argued that there is nothing against the law about remembering Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang and the June 4th dead, and what Yu and his friends did in no way “created disturbances.” Lawyer Ma further argued that the Chinese Communist Party should redress the Tiananmen Democracy Movement, recognizing its legitimacy and historical significance. Should Yu Shiwen be tried, Ma said, he would have to defend his client by introducing a plethora of witness accounts relating to the June 4th crackdown, its origin, development and tragic ending.

Participants in the public memorial took a group photo in front of Zhao Ziyang's birth place.

Participants in the public memorial took a group photo in front of Zhao Ziyang’s birth place.

Yu Shiwen and Chen Wei were students at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou in 1989. They became student leaders during the democracy movement that took the country by storm that spring. They each served prison time afterwards. In the two decades that followed, the couple lived mostly in Zhengzhou where they tried their hand in business and made a considerable fortune in stock trading.

Zhou Fengsuo, another 1989 student leader who lives in California now, told Radio Free Asia that, “as a member of the 1989 generation, I have a lot of respect for Yu Shiwen for keeping alive his idealism after 25 years. I personally feel compelled to stand side by side with them in his current plight, and I also call on other 1989ers to pay attention to his case.”

Braving the cold, on January 6, Yu Shiwen’s 85-year-old mother and older sister, the wife of Dong Guangping, and the mother of Hou Shuai demonstrated in front of Guancheng District Prosecurorate, holding banners that read, “It’s not a crime to remember the dead,” “Return to your loved ones.”

Family members, including Yu Shiwen's mother, demanded release of their loved ones.

Family members, including Yu Shiwen’s mother, demanded release of their loved ones. Click to enlarge.

“Among our ranks of the 1989ers, many have had success in business and made money,” said Zhou Fengsuo. “In private, many are candid about their assessment of the democracy movement of our youth, but few are as courageous as Yu Shiwen and Chen Wei to make a public statement. Such is the burden imposed on our conscience by the CCP tyranny. When we choose silence, we are giving tyranny a free rein.”

Fang Zheng, another 1989er who lost both legs in the morning of June 4th to charging tanks, initiated a signature campaign calling upon 1989ers, whether they are overseas or inside China, to provide testimonies on the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre, should Yu Shiwen and the two others be tried.

“I don’t know what CCP is thinking to detain Yu Shiwen and the two others, and possibly try them, for commemorating June 4th after 25 years. As witnesses, it’s imperative that we step out to testify the facts of that time in front of the CCP prosecutors…. We will make our voices heard,” said Zhou Fengsuo.






Without the Right to Remember There Can Be No Freedom to Forget

By Chang Ping, published: August 23, 2014


(This is Chang Ping’s rebuttal to Frank Sieren’s Let Fairness Replace Anger [link in German], the second round of the Sieren vs. Chang Ping debate in June this year in Deutsche Welle about the June 4th massacre in 1989 in China. Read Tiananmen Massacre not a “Passing Lapse” of the Chinese Government, Chang Ping’s rebuttal to Frank Sieren’s  From Tian’anmen To Leipzig [link in German], the first round of the debate– The Editor)


Matthias von Hein, a Deutsche Welle (DW) commentator, quotes George Orwell’s “1984” in his essay on the Tiananmen massacre anniversary: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” The Chinese Communist regime is in the process of carrying out this aphorism. I am therefore compelled to engage DW’s Beijing correspondent, Mr. Frank Sieren, on the history of the massacre.

Responding to objections I raised in a previous article, Mr. Sieren published “Replace Anger with Justice.” In addition to insisting in this rather brief piece that “it is incontrovertible that the 1989 incident is a lapse in the history of New China,” he puts forth assessments on several historical and contemporary questions of great significance. By asserting that “many Chinese wish to forget the Tiananmen massacre” and that “consumerism appeals to Chinese people more than memories,” Mr. Sieren cedes a wide berth for me to take this debate further.

No One Can Escape History

I am quite taken aback to see a German author claim that “many people wish to forget history.” In Germany, I have interviewed many organizations and individuals who study and manage issues of history, including the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship; The Foundation for Remembrance, Accountability and theFuture; the former Chief Prosecutor of Berlin, Christoph Schaefgen, who led the indictment of East German leaders including Erich Honecker and Egon Krenz; the head of the Stasi archives, Roland Jahn; and ordinary Germans I meet in daily life. Throughout these interviews, everyone keeps bringing up the same word,Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “coming to terms with the past.” It’s a word that keeps simplistic evasions of truth at bay, and inspires the utmost respect for the sincerity of German efforts at reexamining their own history.

When it comes to familiar quotations, this one from the Czech exile in France, Milan Kundera, is close to Chinese hearts: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” His works chronicle the agonized struggle of Czech intellectuals against the mandatory oblivion under Communist dictatorship. Nor is Kundera alone. From Solzhenitsyn to Herta Müller, the list of writers of conscience who fight to defend memories of what ought not to be forgotten grows long.

Lies Are Spawned by Fear

I am well aware that you cannot find scenes of such conscientious struggle in today’s China. On the contrary, there aremany who are reluctant to openly discuss the Tiananmen massacre and the Cultural Revolution, stressing the need to “drop the baggage and look forward.” Even those who are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo are mostly unwilling to put up a fight. Fighting back is futile, and the only way out is to put up and to put it out of your mind. Those who study historyknow that this is far from unique to China; in the former East Germany and other Communist countries things were exactly the same. Havel, the dramatist, dissident and eventual Czech President, captures in his play, “The Power of the Powerless,” a particular ludicrous moment in time: The manager of a grocery store, out of his own initiative, puts up a slogan on his shop window: “Proletarians of the world, unite!” Are we to believe that he is personally invested in the global solidarity of workers? Hardly. The truth is, in an autocratic society teeming with desperation, lies confer a sense of security.

If surveys were conducted in China during the Cultural Revolution or, for that matter, today’s North Korea, the vast majority is likely to describe their lives as blissfully happy. Can we therefore conclude that the Chinese and North Koreans much prefer authoritarianism, and we are to honor their “right to happiness?” The dissatisfaction Germans express toward theirown government must be greater than that in China. Does this mean China’s system is better than the German one?

Commemoration, Not Forgetting, Is Banned

Moreover, it is impossible to obtain statistics to support the conclusion that “many Chinese wish to forget the Tiananmen massacre.” What we do know is that the propaganda department of the Chinese Communist Party would consider all such assessments a joke. I personally attended Party propaganda meetings, and witnessed an extraordinary and palpable nervousness whenever the massacre anniversary drew near. Party officials were convinced that even a slight slack in thecontrols would see public opinion break through and bring the truth to light. For the CCP’s controls on free speech are in every way comparable to those achieved in the Eastern bloc countries of the Soviet era.

Of course people have the right to choose to forget. However, it is worthwhile to consider this thought with which I sign off all my posts in Chinese social media: “Without the freedom to criticize, compliments are worthless.” Rights are theoutcome of free choice. In a country where people have no right to commemorate, it is not only a luxury to speak about the right to forget, but a downright act of collusion with the oppressor. In a political environment where people are arrested and sentenced for going to a commemorative event held at a private residence, Mr. Sieren’s statement that “just as you cannot forbid people to commemorate, you cannot forbid them to forget” has no basis in reality. Such a position is not as rational as it strives to appear, and is regrettably lacking from a humanitarian standpoint.


Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping. Photo from DW site.

Chang Ping (长平) was  former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》).  He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.


(Translated by Louisa Chiang)

Chinese original

The Zhengzhou Twelve

By China Change, published: June 26, 2014


Apart from Beijing and Guangzhou, the other Chinese city where large-scale arrests of citizen activists and rights lawyers have taken place is Zhengzhou (郑州), midway on the Beijing-Guangzhou transportation artery and the capital of Henan province (河南省).  Between May 8 and June 21, twelve have been arrested for allegations either of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order” or of “provoking disturbance” and they include two rights lawyers, two journalists, young internet activists, petitioner-turned-activists, and hosts of civil gatherings and activities, a typical array of China’s social activism in general.

Yu Shiwen (left) and Chen Wei.

Yu Shiwen (left) and Chen Wei.

One can say that the June 4th anniversary prompted the arrests that occurred across China over the last two months or so because the CCP was afraid of protest or commemoration by civil society. Three weeks have passed since June 4th, while some have been released (they cannot afford to try too many without paying a heavy price for it), those who haven’t been released and who could be facing indictment and trials really tell the story of what the CCP is after.

In Beijing, Xi Jinping’s sword has fallen on lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and journalist Gao Yu. The arrests and trials of the New Citizens Movement have aimed at smashing emerging networking and coalescing of citizens. Of those who have recently been detained as part of the knee-jerk reaction to the Tiananmen anniversary, the Chinese government singled out Pu Zhiqiang for persecution. It is a hateful reprisal against a prominent but also charismatic human rights lawyer (he has been a defense lawyer in many high profile cases, notably Ai Weiwei’s Fake tax case in 2012 and Sichuan writer Tan Zuoren’s case; and he was instrumental in pushing to abolish the barbaric and extralegal re-education through labor system in China through the Tang Hui case and the Ren Jianyu case among others). It also serves as a stern warning to the growing rights lawyer community in China. Gao Yu is an insider of the Beijing circle of CCP critics comprised of former senior advisors and policy makers such as Bao Tong, Yao Jianfu who center around the Yan Hung Chun Qiu magazine (《炎黄春秋》). The arrest, humiliation on CCTV, and possible trial of Gao Yu is meant to deal them a blow and warning.

June 4th Public Memorial held on February 2, 2014, in Hua county, Henan. The speaker is Chen Wei.

June 4th Public Memorial held on February 2, 2014, in Hua county, Henan. The speaker is Chen Wei.

In Guangzhou, Guo Feixiong (Yang Maodong)(link in Chinese), one of China’s rights movement pioneers and a veteran activist and two-term political prisoner, was indicted on June 20, according to his lawyer Zhang Xuezhong. Meanwhile, Tang Jingling, another rights movement pioneer and advocate of the civil disobedience movement, and two others were formally arrested on June 21 for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Aizhong, one of the initiators of the Southern Street Movement, was criminally detained on May 29, but in a good piece of news, he has been released today (June 25) “on bail pending trial.” In Xinyu, three New Citizens Movement activists Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua were given harsh sentences last week.

At first, the arrests in Zhengzhou looked like part of the June 4th spasm, but now it looks increasingly ominous. Beijing and Guangzhou notwithstanding, Zhengzhou has been one of the few second-tier cities in China where citizens’ activities have thrived, and the twelve who have been detained are some of the core members of the citizen circle in Zhengzhou.

Jia Lingmin in front of her demolished home.

Jia Lingmin in front of her demolished home.

Jia Lingmin (贾灵敏), who was arrested along with Liu Diwei (刘地伟) on May 8 was a school teacher-turned-activist. Over the last few years since 2009, she has undergone a transformation from a victim of forced demolition to a petitioner to a rights activist in Zhengzhou. She has devoted herself to help other victims of forced demolitions to defend their rights. She gave lectures and made videos to teach people how to use the law to defend themselves and how to fight abusive police power. For her activism, she has suffered the familiar spectrum of abuses from kidnapping to physical abuse, and from illegal detention to criminal detention this time around. She was helping a demolition victim to call 110  (China’s 911) when she was seized by police on May 7th.

Among the nine detained on May 26th and May 27th, Yu Shiwen (于世文) and Chen Wei (陈卫) are a married couple and were student leaders in Zhongshan University in Guangzhou during the Tian’anmen Movement in 1989. Both went to jail for it. This year, the two organized the June 4th Public Commemoration on February 2nd, one of the earliest June 4th-related events this year, in Hua County, Henan province (河南滑县), the removed Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang’s birthplace. Shi Yu (石玉, pen name for Shi Ping 施平) is a journalist with Time Weekly. He was a Xinhua News Agency reporter in 2011 but was expelled after he had visited Dongshigu during the Free Chen Guangcheng movement. Shao Shengdong (邵晟东) is the host of “Zhengzhou Ideas Salon” (“郑州思想沙龙”), a forum where civil rights activists meet and network in Zhengzhou. Dong Guangping (董广平), Fang Yan (方言), Hou Shuai (侯帅) are rights activists and internet citizens. Ji Laisong (姬来松) and Chang Boyang (常伯阳) are two locally influential rights lawyers. As a local friend of theirs pointed out, this group of eleven is very representative of China’s politically active citizens today.

Reporter Shi Yu (Shi Ping) and his detention notice.

Reporter Shi Yu (Shi Ping) and his detention notice. Click to enlarge.

All nine of them were detained for allegedly “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” but the police have not specified the event which constituted the allegation. Friends and observers believed that their arrest had to do with the public commemoration in February, but it is probably more than that. On June 14, more participants in citizen activities were interrogated. According to Duan Hanjie (段汉杰) who tweets using the handle @Wuyoulan, the “interrogation concerned with same-city dinner gatherings, protests in support of the Southern Weekend [in January 2013],  even the banquet celebrating the first month of Shi Yu’s newborn son.”

In another tweet, he said, “the recent interrogations of several Zhengzhou activists covered a wide-range of questions to include pretty much all the activities of civil society, indicating that the case is really about combing through all the old scores in the name of June 4th crackdown in order to  deter a large number of people by selectively persecuting a few.”

It’s worth noting that, in April 2013, ten some citizens were briefly detained for holding a dinner gathering with Xu Zhiyong who was visiting Zhenzheng, his home province.

Tearing up Mao's photo in Zhengzhou, 2013. Far left is lawyer Ji Laisong. Click to enlarge.

Tearing up Mao’s photo in Zhengzhou, 2013. Far left is lawyer Ji Laisong. Click to enlarge.

By all indications, this might very well be the case. The detention of Yin Yusheng (殷雨声) on June 21, however, could be a sign that the June 4th public commemoration could be the “charge” with which the Zhengzhou police seek to indict the detainees. Yin Yusheng is a young journalist, a Henan native, not based in Henan but familiar with the Zhengzhou circle. He also participated in the commemoration in February. In as early as 2006 he accompanied prominent activist Hu Jia to visit Chen Guangcheng in Shandong. As a reporter for Chengdu Shangbao (Chengdu Business Journal), he broke the story “My Father Is Li Gang” in 2010 and was subsequently forced to leave the paper. In a heart wrenching account, he recorded how he was badly beaten by plainclothes policemen in Beijing not too long after the report made the rounds on social media.  His more recent reports include the investigation into the case of another journalist Chen Baocheng who was arrested in his home village when trying to fend off a forced demolition.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Thursday (June 26) and Friday (June 27), nine of the Zhengzhou twelve will be detained for 30 days, the time allowed for police to decide whether to release them or to formally arrest them.

Lawyer Chang Boyang.

Lawyer Chang Boyang in a New Citizens Movement T-shirt.

On June 17, plainclothes policemen raided the Zhengzhou Yirenping (亿人平) office, asking staff to “cooperate in the investigation of the gathering a crowd to disrupt social order case involving multiple people.” The police took away two computers and some financial documents from the small non-profit NGO that is dedicated to alleviate discrimination against the handicapped in China and also froze its organizational bank account. From the police inquiry of a project manager at Yirenping, the raid seemed to be aimed at lawyer Chang Boyang who is a shareholder and the legal representative of the organization.

In Zhengzhou, all indications are that the authorities have plucked out an array of the most active and influential citizens to punish, and they have been looking everywhere to build cases against them.

Over the last 30 days or so, more than 40 lawyers who represent the detainees have been to Zhengzhou to request meetings with their clients, but the Public Security Bureau in Zhengzhou has so far denied any of these requests on the grounds that their clients were involved in “crimes of  endangering state security,” citing Article 374 of a document titled “Several Procedural Provisions on the Public Security Organs’ Handling of Cases Involving Criminal Crimes” (《公安机关办理刑事案件程序规定》).

Reporter Yin Yusheng.

Reporter Yin Yusheng.

Some 120 rights lawyers across China have written a letter to the State Council calling for honoring China’s own Criminal Procedure Law and the right of counsel. But lawyer Tang Jitian (唐吉田), a signee of the letter and no stranger to China’s brutal punishment against human rights lawyer, is not optimistic about beating back the authorities’ willful distortion of the law. “There probably won’t be any serviceable change in the near future of the rampant abuse of power that illegally strips both the attorneys and clients of their lawful rights,” he said.


Update: Seven were formally arrested on July 2nd, and they are: They are: Yu Shiwen (于世文), Chen Wei (陈卫), Dong Guangping (董广平), lawyer Chang Boyang (常伯阳), Fang Yan (方言), Hou Shuai (侯帅) and lawyer Ji Laisong (姬来松). Shi Yu and Shao Shengdong have been released on the same day. Journalist Yin Yusheng was released on July 19.





Beyond Stability Maintenance – From Surveillance to Elimination, by Teng Biao