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Yaxue Cao, December 13, 2017
Humanitarian China celebrated its 10th anniversary in Los Angeles last Sunday, December 10, on International Human Rights Day. I was there with more than 200 others, one of the largest recent gatherings of overseas Chinese who support democracy and human rights in China. Gone is the time when, in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre, several thousand Chinese students and visiting scholars gathered in Chicago in 1989 to form the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars and give their support in words and actions to the cause of democracy in China.
“Where are all the Chinese?” Someone asked me once, referring to the puniness of a June 4th Massacre commemoration one year. I asked back: “Where are all the political leaders of the Western democracies?”
In 2017, it’s not a popular thing to be a Chinese democracy activist. So I was mightily heartened by the 200 plus human beings, and the din that filled the evening, in a Chinese restaurant in downtown LA.
I’m deeply proud of Humanitarian China. It’s just a bunch of regular guys living in California. They all have jobs to go to and families to raise. They hustle every day on the 12-lane freeways in the Bay Area. For 10 years, they have worked on providing humanitarian assistance to political prisoners and their families in their greatest hours of need.
In the first few years, the founders and the board of directors were the main donors. Only over the last few years have more contributions come from other sources.
Humanitarian China is not the only organization that provides such assistance to political prisoners. In fact it’s small by any standard.
But it’s unique like no other. It’s self-motivated, self-organized, and it’s grassroots. In other words, it’s not institutionalized human rights work. This 19-minute film tells Humanitarian China’s humble beginning and inspiring story.
There is a sad irony about this that shouldn’t be lost, as a friend of mine plainly pointed out to me. “It’s amazing that, given the scale of China and its role in the world, and the number of overseas Chinese people, and the amount of capital being moved outside of China, that this is the most established program of its kind. It speaks to the incredible ‘success’ of the CCP’s repression from another perspective.”
Clarity about conflicts of interest is one of the two most cherished principles of Humanitarian China (the other being volunteerism). To honor it, I hereby disclaim: I’ve been one of the eight directors of Humanitarian China since 2014 , and I produced the film I’m asking you to watch.
In this holiday season, I also ask you to consider making a charitable contribution to Humanitarian China.
Among other methods of donating, you can also use AmazonSmile to support us.
July 15, 2017
“This was a long and public slaughter.”
Today, Xiaobo is gone. Xiaobo, our teacher, our classmate, is gone. The courageous man who protected others’ lives at the scene of the Tiananmen massacre has perished, and the beautiful soul behind Charter 08 has passed away.
Xiaobo was a writer, a scholar, a sage, but even more he was a man who acted on his word. He is the unforgettable dark horse in literary circles. His words radiate with rational brilliance; he sacrificed his frail body for Tiananmen; he used pen and ink to calmly write his beautiful freedom-seeking articles. Years of purgatory did not change his ideas. He said at the devil’s court—I have no enemies.
Xiaobo had no enemies. But the illegitimate Chinese communist regime that murdered him sees him as an enemy. Lengthy imprisonment destroyed him physically, and the kidnapping of his family tormented him mentally. Xiaobo is gone. He is gone in solitude; he is gone in the gaze of the world. This was a long and public slaughter. This was a shameless revelry by the despotic rulers.
However, the thieves with sharp fangs and claws were fearful of the unarmed Xiaobo. They dare not demolish the cage that besieged him; they dare not speak his name aloud; they even dare not to allow him a plot for a tomb. They thought the ashes of the dead being scattered into the sea is equal to being totally crushed. But what they don’t know is that in every drop of spray blown from the crests of waves is his reflection.
Xiaobo said: “I look forward to my country being a land of free expression, where different values, ideas, beliefs and political opinions… can compete and peacefully coexist.” “I hope to be China’s last victim for the crime of free thought.” This is the poem of a martyr who died for his ideals, as well as the prayer of scholars like us.
Xiaobo is gone, but the tyrants remain. As long as we live, we will not stop resisting. Xiaobo, we will always remember your name, for your dream is ours too.
The Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) was founded on August 1, 1989, when over 1000 Chinese student representatives from more than 200 major U.S. universities held their First Congress of Chinese Students and Scholars in USA at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The mission of IFCSS was to promote democracy in China and to protect the interests of the Chinese students and scholars studying in the United States, as a response to Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Since its birth, IFCSS had become one of the most influential overseas Chinese students groups in history. It had lobbied successfully in U.S. Congress, organized the well-known “Washington March for Chinese Democracy” in 1989, and united tens of thousands of Chinese students together for many years since 1989. However, its relevance and importance have been declining for years, even though some of its members continues to organize Memorials for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in Washington D. C. every year, and provides financial assistance to Tiananmen victims on a regular basis.
The Historian of the Tiananmen Movement and the June Fourth Massacre – An Interview With Wu Renhua (Part Two of Two)
June 4, 2016
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》).
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?
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.
CC: 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.
Yu Shiwen Hunger Strikes in Protest at Two Year Detention Without Trial For Holding Zhao Ziyang Memorial
China Change, May 3, 2016
Shortly before June 4, 2014, ten citizens in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, were arrested for holding a public memorial for Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳), the late Communist Party leader who died under house arrest in 2005. Zhao’s crime was to show sympathy for students in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. The memorial was held in the open fields of China’s Central Plains, not far from Zhao’s hometown; now, all participants but Yu Shiwen (于世文) have since been released.
Mr. Yu was indicted on February 11, 2015, for “provoking disturbances.” But he hasn’t been sentenced, and is instead being kept in deplorable conditions as his health rapidly worsens. Both Yu Shiwen and his wife Chen Wei were college students in Guangzhou in 1989 and got involved in the democracy movement that took China by storm.
On March 9, 2016, Yu wrote an open letter to Ren Kai (任凯), the lead judge of the court in Zhengzhou, where his case was supposed to be tried, confronting his abuses and cowardice. Yu vowed: “I’ll hold you responsible for this for the rest of your life. You’ll be pursued by me forever, to the very ends of the earth.”
On March 18, Yu was told that his trial had been postponed for the third time, supposedly approved by China’s Supreme Court.
On April 1, Yu’s lawyer Ma Lianshun (马连顺) submitted a complaint against the presiding judge and three other judicial personnel.
“The law doesn’t say who you can or can’t hold memorial services for,” the complaint said. “Moreover, Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) and Zhao Ziyang were both former leaders of the Party and state, and made great contributions to the reform and opening of China. When Zhao Ziyang died, he was cremated at the Babaoshan revolutionary cemetery. Why can’t Yu Shiwen, who shared the same hometown with Zhao, memorialize the latter’s death? Why all of a sudden is it a matter of picking quarrels and provoking trouble?”
The argument continued: “None of the defendants [referring to the judges] independently exercised their judicial authority. They did not scrupulously follow the constitution and the law as required in China’s Judge’s Law. Judicial cases must be founded in the facts, the law must be the criterion for judgement, cases must be handled impartially, and judges must not bend the law to favor their associates or other officials. Refusing to exercise proper judicial judgement, detaining Mr. Yu for two years with the clear knowledge that he was innocent of the crime, and refusing to promptly exercise judicial supervision over procuratorial power as required by law—all of this, according to Article 399 of the Criminal Law, constitutes a crime.”
On April 28 Yu Shiwen’s wife Chen Wei published an open letter to the president of the Supreme People’s Court Zhou Qiang (周强) titled “A Captive Who’s Neither Been Tried, Sentenced, Nor Released,” (《一名不审不判不放的被羁押者》) in which she wrote: “The procedures under which this case was heard are shockingly preposterous, and even the Supreme People’s Court played a special role in how it was handled.”
Chen wrote that every time the Guancheng District Court of Zhengzhou city postponed the trial, it provided Yu Shiwen’s lawyer with a letter saying that it had received the approval of the Supreme People’s Court for the “postponement.” Each postponement was for three months. But the court refused to give Yu’s lawyer an explanation of the reason for the postponements, and also refused to provide them the authorization documents from the Supreme People’s Court.
“Just like that, my husband became a non-person, a lonely prisoner that no one was responsible for. His fate was simply ‘set aside’ in this inconceivable fashion. His future, family, happiness, and career—all was taken away. His life was frozen, given over to an indeterminate ‘postponement.’”
“During the nearly two years he has been held captive like this….in a tiny cell about 30 square meters, curling up with a dozen other prisoners in a long bed with little room to move around and only occasional yard time. You can imagine the torment and helplessness he suffers!”
“For my own part, every day is spent enduring bottomless anxiety. Yu Shiwen suffers high blood pressure, cerebrovascular disease, and in late 2012 he suffered a serious stroke. He suffered another stroke shortly after he was detained, and spent four months in the detention center hospital. My mother-in-law, 86 years old, is sick from worrying about her son. I can’t help but worry that she won’t live to see her son again.”
On May 2, the lawyer met with Yu Shiwen again, who had been fasting for nearly a week in protest against his treatment. Though extremely weak, Yu said he’s going to resist until the end—to use his death as protest, if need be. He said: “Tell my friends to take care! This is how I’m leaving!”
By Mo Zhixu, published: December 21, 2015
“Pu Zhiqiang has many facets to his character. He is a rights lawyer, an Internet opinion leader, and a dissident, in the broader sense of the word. His commitments and pursuits over the past 26 years help to explain how Pu has come to be so influential.”
On December 14, 2015, renowned human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强) was tried by the Beijing Number Two People’s Court on charges of “provoking a serious disturbance” and “inciting ethnic hatred.” This case has been watched closely ever since Pu was first detained in May 2014.
On the day of the trial hearing, diplomats from the United States, the European Union, and other foreign governments went to read statements outside the courthouse. Many international media outlets were also on scene to conduct interviews and tape reports. Both the diplomats and the reporters were roughed up. A large group of Pu Zhiqiang supporters also gathered outside the courthouse, shouting “Pu Zhiqiang is innocent!” A total of 17 people were taken away from the scene. Now, a few days later, we know that Zhang Zhan (张占), Wang Su’e (王素娥), Qu Hongxia (渠红霞), and Ran Chongbi (冉崇碧) have all been placed under criminal detention. The others were released after being detained for a few hours or are being held at the Majialou “relief and assistance center,” where petitioners are often detained.
Pu Zhiqiang is a well-known human rights lawyer in the mainland. As a graduate student at China University of Political Science and Law, he took active part in the 1989 student movement and was one of 13 students from his university to take part in the first wave of hunger strikes in Tiananmen Square. Pu was also one of the last students to leave the square on June 4th.
Over the next 25 years, Pu Zhiqiang remained committed to commemorating the events of 1989 in his own way, which included going to Tiananmen Square each June 4th to pay homage to the dead. On the 15th anniversary in 2004, Pu Zhiqiang played a part in issuing the “Statement of the ’89 Generation on the June 4th Issue.” In 2008, Pu was also among the first group of 303 Chinese to sign Charter ’08. In addition, Pu Zhiqiang long maintained close and friendly relations with dissidents and liberals such as Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波), Zhang Zuhua (张祖桦), Zhang Xianyang (张显扬), Jiang Ping (江平), and Zhang Sizhi (张思之). He was active in the pan-liberal camp and could even, in a broad sense, be considered a dissident.
Pu Zhiqiang also became widely known for his public role as a human rights lawyer. Influenced by Hu Ping’s essay “On Freedom of Expression,” Pu became almost religious in his commitment to free expression. Very early after he became a lawyer he started getting involved in litigation related to freedom of expression, such as defending literary critic Xiao Xialin (肖夏林) in the lawsuit brought against him by author Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨) or representing the authors of the book An Investigation of Chinese Peasants, Chen Guidi (陈桂棣) and Wu Chuntao (吴春桃), in the defamation lawsuit brought against them by Zhang Xide (张西德), the former party secretary of Linquan County, Anhui.
Back in 2005, Pu Zhiqiang was featured alongside Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Teng Biao (滕彪) and others chosen by Asia Weekly (Yazhou Zhoukan) as “Persons of the Year” for their membership in the emerging “rights defense movement.” More recently, Pu has represented Tan Zuolin (谭作人), Ai Weiwei (艾未未), a series of individuals sent to re-education through labor in Chongqing, and the Hunan “petitioning mother” Tang Hui (唐慧), also sent to re-education through labor.
Relying on new social media platforms such as Twitter and Weibo and his use of other media such as the commercialized press, Pu Zhiqiang gained widespread public fame. In addition to being the subject of widely circulated features by several media outlets, he was also honored as “Influential Chinese Rule of Law Personality for 2013” by China Newsweek. He was seen as one of the leaders of the contemporary legal rights defense and the most influential of China’s human rights lawyers.
As Pu Zhiqiang took part in more and more human rights cases in recent years, his influence only continued to grow. As this was happening, Pu Zhiqiang never tried to hide his past history on the Internet or social media. From time to time, he would post an image of a march, hunger strike, or demonstration from 1989. Features published by the commercial media, such as the Southern People’s Weekly cover story “Pu Zhiqiang, Salt of the Earth” (《中坚浦志强》) might try to gloss over this history, but there were clear indications pointing to that year and more and more people came to know about the connection between Pu’s participation in the student movement and his later determination. You could say that, in the way he acted and expressed himself and through his own personal charisma and efforts, Pu Zhiqiang managed to bring that period of history back into the mainstream.
After June 4th, the authorities tried to use economic development and the fading effect of time to eliminate the problem of June 4th once and for all. To this end, they carried out 26 years of continuous pressure and attempts to isolate the incident from the public. This is why the authorities could not tolerate Pu Zhiqiang’s rising influence, and, to a great degree, it explains why they would go to ridiculous lengths to use a mere seven Weibo posts to charge Pu with two crimes. In fact, the very thing that ultimately led to Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest was a gathering of a dozen or so people in a private home to hold a seminar on the 25th anniversary of June 4th in Beijing.
Besides June 4th, the authorities have long been on guard against human rights lawyers. On July 31, 2012, the overseas edition of People’s Daily published an article by Yuan Peng (袁鹏), director of the Institute of American Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations [a think tank of the Ministry of National Security], who lumped together rights-defense lawyers, underground religious activity, dissidents, Internet leaders, and vulnerable groups like petitioners into a kind of “New Black Five Categories.” In the eyes of the authorities, rights-defense lawyers are direct participants in rights defense cases, and they also play a pivotal role by disseminating information about these cases and explaining their significance. It’s thanks to rights lawyers that individual cases can take on broader legal and political significance, and only lawyers are able to span different groups, such as petitioners, followers of underground religious groups, dissidents, and Internet leaders.
Of the 14 rights defenders who were, along with Pu Zhiqiang, selected as the Asia Weekly “Persons of the Year” in 2005, Zheng Enchong (郑恩宠), Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Xu Zhiyong (许志永), Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), and Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) have all since spent time in prison. Others have experienced different degrees of repression or been forced into exile.
In the social media age, there gradually emerged a group of rights lawyers, including Pu Zhiqiang, who were sometimes known as “die-hard” lawyers. They frequently took on sensitive or controversial cases, such as the forced eviction case in Pingdu City, Shandong. Using new modes of communication and new online space for action, a new rights defense protest model began to appear, one that allowed sharing of costs in the public interest, the merging of online- and offline action, collective action across geographic boundaries, and positive expressions of protest.
For example, there was the attention surrounding the unnatural death of the father of democracy activist Xue Mingkai (薛明凯) in Qufu, Shandong; the effort to investigate the black jail at Jiansanjiang; the protests outside Zhengzhou’s Number Three Detention Center; and the attention focused outside the trial of Fan Mugen (范木根) in Suzhou. All of these cases involved legal defense carried out by die-hard lawyers who used social media and instant messaging software to disseminate information, giving them a much stronger capacity for mobilization, publicity, and sustainability. This posed a considerable challenge to the authorities’ model of rigid stability.
Even if Pu Zhiqiang did not directly take part in all of these cases, influential human rights lawyers like Pu, Si Weijiang (斯伟江), and others early on became seen as a threat. The large-scale crackdown on rights lawyers and related activists finally got fully underway on July 9, 2015. In this campaign of repression, 12 lawyers and more than a dozen others have been placed under criminal detention or residential surveillance, with more than 250 other lawyers having been temporarily detained, forced to take part in “meetings” with police, or summoned for questioning. In this sense, Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest a year earlier can be considered a harbinger or rehearsal of this crackdown.
More than anything, though, Pu Zhiqiang’s case is closely connected to the subject that concerned him most—freedom of expression. In the days before and after his trial for “provoking a serious disturbance” and “inciting ethnic hatred,” this was the focus of the media inside and outside China, as well as the public at large.
Pu’s case is widely seen as a test of the limits of free expression in today’s China. As China has gradually expanded the influence of market forces, the space for free expression in China’s commercial media and Internet has become closely linked to the liberal tendencies of the emergent social stratum commonly called the middle class. A kind of pro-liberal discourse has spread more widely and gained greater influence. This is especially true on the new microblogging platforms, where this discourse gets amplified and disseminated. It is there, too, where we find the emergence of liberal intellectuals, journalists, rights defenders, NGO activists, and entrepreneurs who are brought together through this shared discourse. There’s a spanning of geographic boundaries and a tendency for online action to turn into offline action.
This kind of expression and its corresponding social potential concerned the authorities, who quickly took repressive measures, ranging from deleting the online accounts of popular Internet opinion leaders to rolling out a list of “seven unmentionable” subjects to the 2013 campaign to “cleanse” the Internet.
As both a lawyer and opinion-maker, Pu Zhiqiang became a quite active figure on the new social media platforms. He was an active participant in many cases and also a frequent contributor to the liberal discourse. His self-description on his microblog account as a “Formosan lawyer and godfather outside the system” was somewhat self-mocking, but it was not an exaggeration. Pu’s personal accounts were deleted dozens of times only to be “reincarnated.”
The offense of “provoking a serious disturbance” being used against him relies on the “Interpretation on Several Questions Related to the Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases Involving Provoking a Serious Disturbance,” issued by the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate on July 5, 2013, as part of the authorities’ campaign to “cleanse” the Internet. For this reason, the attack against Pu Zhiqiang can be seen as an extension of that earlier campaign, both an effort to wipe out the huge influence that Pu once enjoyed and part of the overall attack on liberal discourse in China.
Pu Zhiqiang has many facets to his character. He is a rights lawyer, an Internet opinion leader, and a dissident, in the broader sense of the word. His commitments and pursuits over the past 26 years help to explain how Pu has come to be so influential. At the same time, they show how this idealist who has never forgotten his original intentions and this human rights defender who uses his role as a legal professional to fight for freedom of expression and justice must inevitably become an enemy of the regime.
The attack on Pu Zhiqiang is part of the wider repression of the memory of June 4th, rights defense lawyering, and the universal liberal discourse. Today, several days after the trial, we are still waiting for the verdict. [Mo’s article was first published on December 19]. Some are hoping for or imagining some sort of miracle. They simply cannot accept that such an upright person could be treated so cruelly and charged with such groundless crimes. This mindset makes them want to hope for a miracle and refuse to give up their illusions. They want to see a “touchstone,” a “watershed,” a “turning point,” a “milestone.”
At the moment, the question of Pu Zhiqiang’s fate is nothing less than a huge test of the public psyche. But faced with the strength of the market neo-totalitarian regime, Pu Zhiqiang’s fate was probably predestined long ago. I believe, however, that the history we’ve been waiting for him to usher in still lies ahead of us.
Mo Zhixu (莫之许), pen name of Zhao Hui (赵晖), is a Beijing-based Chinese dissident intellectual and a frequent contributor of Chinese-language publications known for his incisive views of Chinese politics and opposition. He is the co-author of “China at the Tipping Point? Authoritarianism and Contestation” in the January, 2013, issue of Journal of Democracy.
Also by Mo Zhixu on China Change:
Chinese original 《莫之许：浦志强命中注定的荣耀与苦难》, translated by China Change.
Testimony by Zhou Fengsuo in front of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing on May 30, 2014
Published: June 4th, 2014
Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the committee:
Thank you for inviting me to come to this special event, a time for remembrance and celebration.
I would want to thank this committee for being such a powerful voice for freedom in China, not only today but for many years. I particularly would like to thank Mr. Chris Smith for your leadership and persistence.
Twenty five years ago, I was deeply involved in organizing the demonstration in Tian’anman Square, and in the ensuing crackdown, I was No. 5 on the communist government’s wanted list known as the Tiananmen 21. It has been the greatest honor of my life.
I did not deserve that honor, for others worked harder and fought more bravely. But I will always be proud of my work in helping organizing the Tiananmen protests. I was responsible for setting up a student network that directed the protesters on Tiananmen Square, provided medical services to thousands of students on hunger strike as hundreds and thousandsmore poured in from all corners of Beijing to rally in support. Through this network, ambulances were able to pass every 5 minutes through the crowds. Through this network, many Chinese were able to express freely and publicly,for the first and only time in their life, their love for freedom and democracy and their hope for a better China. It was a festival of freedom and hope in China’s recent history.
That is why, every year, people all over the world commemorate the democratic movement of 1989. That is why, every year, Chinese risk their freedom and wellbeing to bring the Tiananmen memories to public arenas. This year alone, as many as 50 people were arrested in connection with June 4th commemoration. They are lawyers, professors,journalists, Christians, Buddhist monks, and people from other walks of life. They lost their freedom to keep alive the dream of Tiananmen protesters.
That is why, I ask myself everyday, as a survivor of Tiananmen Massacre,what more I can do to help the freedom struggle in China, to speak for those who are muted by ruthless suppression.
I believe when the history books of the 21st century are written, their struggles will be seen as major stepstowards bringing freedom and democracy to China. I know they will come.
Mr. Chairman, I am confident you will help bring about that change to China, as you and President Ronald Reagan and others did to the Soviet Union.
This change will not only bring freedom to the people of China, including my own relatives, but perhaps more importantly, it will bring peace and freedom to the people of the world.
The greatest issue that will define the 21st Century will be whether democracy and freedom will come to China. If China is free, the 21st century is likely to be defined by competition on who builds better cars and computers and how nations cooperate to solve problems facing life on earth. But if China remains a dictatorship, the 21st century could very well be bloodier than the 20th had been.
So the fight we fight here today, Mr. Chairman, is not only a fight for the people of China. It is, perhaps more so, a fight for the freedom of our children and your children and our children’s children.
It is a fight to determine whether our children will live in a world of peace and freedom, or a world of enslavement, pollution, and censorship.
Mr. Chairman, this is the large question that the hearing must deal with too.
But we must deal with the large question by asking what we can do in America, and what you can do as members of Congress, to help move China to freedom and democracy.
1) Internet freedom. As Xi Jinping made it clear, and emphasized, in the notorious Document No.9, the survival of the communist regime depends on controlling the internet and blocking Chinese citizens’ access to information from the outside world.
The communist regime today spends billions of dollar to build and maintain internet firewall. Even more so on its military and jails, the Great Fire Wall of China is the primary tool by which the regime isolates and controls the Chinese people.
I have met many Chinese students in the United Stateswhose first internet search, upon arriving in the US, was Tiananmen Massacre. And they have been changed by what they learned from the free internet. Among mainland Chinese Twitter users who have made the effort to scale the GFW, Tiananmen Massacre is one of the most enduring topics.
By allocating a portion ofBBG (Board of Broadcasting Governors) funding to developing technologies that circumvent the GFW, we will help more Chinese access to more life-changing information.
You have the power to insist and to put into the law that requires BBG to immediately begin a competition in which field-tested systems will gain support from BBG to bypass the Chinese government-sponsored firewalls, and the Congress has the power of making sure that BBG spends no less than 10% of its budget towards this objective.
The internet can be a great instrument of freedom, and it should be in the 21st century.
2) Reject entry visa to perpetrators of human rights violations. As we all know, Xi Jinping’s daughter studied, or may still be studying, in Harvard. The dream of the corrupted Chinese government officials is to have their family live in America.
With the help of the internet, we are able to gather information on those who actively and willingly participate in the persecution of dissidents, including those who killed protesters in 1989. If the U.S. rejects visa to these people, it will directly and effectively help the freedom fighters in China.
3) Reciprocity in journalist visa. Beijing is rejecting more and more journalist visas to foreign journalists whose coverage of China has displeased the Chinese regime. No doubt this creates fear and self-censorship among foreign journalists, who need to make a living too. Bloomberg has openly admitted that they will no longer report on anything like the family wealth of the communist ruling families.
At the same time, more and more Chinese state-owned media are setting up shops in the United States to broaden the propaganda reach of the totalitarian regime. This issue cannot be left to the media alone;the U.S. government should firmly raise the issue of reciprocity as an option.
By many accounts, China’s GDP is already the biggest in the world. The communist regime has kidnaped the Chinese people and hijacked global trade and investments. It empowers the Beijing regime to export its model of human rights abuses, censorship, imprisonment,pollution and brutality. It is corrupting universal values and human dignity around the world.
But no matter how powerful it seems,I am proud to stand up to fight such a regime, just like the people in Beijing who stood up against the tanks 25 years ago. Truth and freedom will prevail.
“A senior studying physics at Tsinghua University in 1989, Mr. Zhou was a leader of the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation. …He was imprisoned for a year, and left China in 1995 for the United States, where he earned a graduate degree in business at the University of Chicago. He became a Christian in 2003 and has worked in finance in recent years. He is a co-founder of Humanitarian China, a group that promotes the rule of law and civil society in China and raises money for Chinese political prisoners.” (From the New York Times Sinosphere blog)
Watch the hearing here.