Sunday, March 30, 2008

Beijing Intellectuals Meet and Talk "Conflicts and Reconciliation"

A group of intellectuals in Sydney, Beijing and other places have formed a new private think-tank for "Chinese Reconciliation". Their stated mission is to help the growth of the weak democratic forces and the civil society and help the Chinese government on the road of correcting past mistakes, apologizing, reestablishing truth, clarifying responsibilities, compromising, and towards a constitutional democracy. All in the name of reconciliation.

The group had just held its first "Conflicts and Reconciliation" symposium in Beijing, attended by more than 20 intellectuals. Twice they got kicked out of their reserved meeting spaces due to suddenly discovered "booking errors" of the respective hosts. But nonetheless the meeting was carried out with no further harassments.

Prominent names from the 1989 movements, including Chen Ziming, Zhou Duo, and Liang Xiaoyan, attended the symposium.

NYT Archive 1989: No Amnesty

In an apparent response to the growing amnesty movement in the spring of 1989, New York Times reported on March 30, 1989, that the Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, Wang Hanbin (王汉滨) , said that the Congress ''is not considering giving, nor does it think necessary to offer, special pardons to prisoners.''

Human rights advocates from Hong Kong also said that customs officials had seized a petition supporting the amnesty signed by 24,000 people from 30 countries.

Dozens Still Prisoned for Tiananmen Protests

It's been more than 18 years since the 1989 Tiananmen protest and it's believed that all political prisoners from that event have since been released, exiled, or passed away. However, it is also known that many participants, who are neither students nor intellectuals, were still kept in prison for participating in the more violent acts of the movements, such as arson, beating, or damaging public properties.

They are the hooligans and rioters (暴徒) of the movement. It is difficult to ascertain their motives for the violence. It could range from attempting to protect the demonstrating students, emotional vengeance, or personal. Their fates had not been a public focus in the aftermath of Tiananmen.

In a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong, the human rights activist John Kamm asserted that he now believes "there are somewhere between 60 to 100 people still imprisoned for offences committed during the protests that swept the country between April and June 1989". A year ago, he had estimated the number was between 200 and 300. Some people had been released over the last six months.

John Kamm's speech included a few names and their cases for both the released and still detained. He says:
We know of the existence of these men because Chinese journalists inserted their names in newspapers and other official publications, and dedicated researchers like Mickey Spiegel of Human Rights Watch in New York, Robin Munro now of China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong, and Joshua Rosenzweig and his Dui Hua researchers in San Francisco found and published their names. It has fallen to me to submit lists of their names to the Chinese government, confident that by doing so their chances of better treatment and early release are improved. Even today, Dui Hua still finds previously unknown names of people detained in the spring 1989 protests. To date, we and other NGOs have found hundreds of such name
China’s June Fourth prisoners are now middle-aged men who have spent their entire adult lives in prison. The protests for which they have been sentenced would, for the most part, today be called “mass incidents.” Most would likely be fined and given relatively short sentences. Those serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism form a special group: these “crimes” were removed from China’s Criminal Law in 1997. They are serving sentences for crimes that no longer exist.

John Kamm and his Dui Hua (Dialog) Foundation calls for China to have an "Olympics amnesty" to release these counterrevolutionaries and hooligans.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Wei Jingsheng's Anniversary in Prison

On March 29, 1989, New York Times carried a portrait of Wei Jingsheng, who had just spent his first 10 years in the prison. The story led with:

Somewhere in China, a befuddled and sickly man will presumably spend Wednesday alone in his prison cell, the way he has passed most of the previous 3,653 days: the broken, toothless remnant of a dreamer who took on the state and lost.
In the spring of 1989, Wei Jingsheng's case had long faded from the public awareness. It would have been totally forgotten if not for Professor Fang Lizhi's open letter to Deng Xiaoping in January, appealing for his release in an amnesty. In this report, NYT confirmed that Fang's letter has garnered the support of more than 110 intellectuals in China, and many more in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and America. But Fang said in an interview that "at the moment, it doesn't look very good for his release".

But there are also signs that Fang Lizhi's campaign "already has galvanized and revived the democracy movement in China" and that "the government is alarmed".

Wei Jingsheng's condition in jail had remained a top secret and mystery for all the years before his release. Rumors were rampant about his failing health, as evident in the NYT story. Many of his fellow dissidents had openly predicted that he would not survive his 15-year term. It was also likely that such rumors were spread by his comrades to help gaining sympathy and his early release.

Wei Jingsheng was first released from prison in 1993, when China was actively campaigning to become a host of the Olympics Games. Wei emerged as a relatively healthy man. His teeth looked fine. He would be put in jail once more later and finally released and deported in 1997, for "medical treatment" in the United States. In exile, he is one of the most prominent and controversial activists.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Power War at the Top

On March 23, 1989, New York Times' Nicholas Kristof offered an analysis of Premier Li Peng's keynote speech to the National People's Congress. Kristof found that the speech offered many hints that a subtle but critical power struggle between Li Peng and the Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, and that Li Peng appeared to be winning.

The evidence was that, in the speech, Li Peng offered an unusual amount of "self-criticisms" on the "shortcomings and mistakes" of the government's economic policy within the last year: "generally, there was a tendency to be too impatient for quick results in economic and social development. More often than not we tended to ignore the fact that China has a huge population, is relatively short of resources and has an unevenly developed economy." Also that "we often lacked a full understanding of the arduousness and complexity of the reform" and "we failed to take firm action and effective measures" to stabilize the economy.

It was easy for Li Peng to say that, Kristof pointed out. Those policies that he was criticizing were all the handy works of Zhao Ziyang, who had been in charge of economic policies both as a Premier himself and in his earlier days as the General Secretary. It was only in the late summer, when inflation was running out of control and panic buying had erupted in many large cities, that Zhao had to surrender his power to Li Peng.

Conflicts between the Party General Secretary and the Premier was nothing new. Quite ironically, while being Premier himself, Zhao Ziyang had quite a bit trouble with then General Secretary Hu Yaobang. It was widely believed that Zhao had played a role in sacking Hu following the 1986 student movements. At least he did not offer his support to Hu at the time. Now that Zhao had succeeded Hu as the General Secretary, he was also feeling the heat from the new Premier Li Peng.

The rift between Zhao and Li would eventually play a most significant role in the coming turmoil in a couple of months.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Taiwan Has a New President

Ma YingJeou (马英九) handily won the election and will become the new President of the Republic of China, aka Taiwan. His victory is viewed as Taiwan's willingness for a closer relationship, at least economically, with the mainland and a step back from confrontation and independence movements.

Although he is considered to be more moderate towards the government in mainland than his opponent, Ma YingJeou is also well-known for his steadfast stance regarding the Tiananmen Massacre.

Back in 1989, Ma was still a young and rising star in the then ruling Nationalist Party, affectionately known as the Little Ma Brother (小马哥). At the time of the massacre, he was in charge of the Mainland Affairs Council, through which he built and maintained personal relations with many Tiananmen leaders who managed to escape from China. He was known to be emotionally involved in the work.

During the summer of 2005, then leaders of the Nationalist Party broke the decades-long ice and visited mainland China for the first time. They created great media frenzy, fanned by the Chinese government. It was Ma YingJeou who publicly stated his belief that before the mainland government overturns its verdict on the Tiananmen Massacre, Taiwan could not start talking about any unification possibilities with mainland.

Now that Ma is in charge in Taiwan, it would be interesting to see if he could hold on to such a tough stance.

Friday, March 21, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Economics and Tibet

On March 21, 1989, Nicholas D. Kristof reported in New York Times that Premier Li Peng called on China "to increase its reliance on central planning rather than market economics." The report noted that the tone of the speech, delivered to the annual National People's Congress, was remarkably different from that of a year before, when Li Peng had called for putting reform at the center of all.

The reform of 1988 was largely a rush job of an attempt to breakthrough the rigid pricing structure. It was not going well. Growth and spending was out of control during the summer and inflation was rampant. Indeed, it was the first taste of significant inflation for the majority of Chinese who had lived their entire life under central planning. Inflation, plus official corruption and profiteering, was fast becoming the major source of social discontent.

The NYT report also noted that Li Peng received loud applauses from delegates when he warned Western countries not to support the independence movement in Tibet, a critical threat back in 1989 as it is today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wei Jingsheng Calls on IOC to Act on China

Wei Jingsheng published an op-ed piece in Washington Post today, calling that the International Olympic Committee's refusal to take a stand against the Beijing crackdown on Tibetan protesters is "wholly unacceptable". He went on to warn that "If the IOC doesn't move to put pressure on Beijing consistent with its obligations, it risks this Olympics being remembered like the 1936 Games in Berlin."

Among the dissidents currently in exile, Wei Jingsheng is often alone in holding on positions that may appear to be radical and controversial. He has been consistently against having the Olympics in China, in contrast with almost all other dissidents.

Wei's article is also the single public voice, so far, from the dissident-in-exile community on the current Tibet riot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hu Jia on Trial

The annual National People's Congress ended with the highlighted event of a press conference by the reelected Premier Wen Jiabao. When asked if the Chinese government was arresting dissidents to silence them ahead of the Olympic Games, Wen categorically claimed such accusations as totally unfounded.

Shortly after the press conference, dissident Hu Jia was on trial at the Beijing Number One Intermediate People's Court for charges of "inciting subversion of state power". According to his lawyer, the evidence of his charge consists several articles he had written and published overseas. Hu did not dispute his authorship of his articles, other than claiming that one of them was actually a private communication with a friend, which was published without his knowledge. His lawyer, Li Fangping, tried to defend his case on the ground of freedom of speech.

Hu's mother attended the trial. His wife and father were listed as prosecutor witnesses and therefore barred from observing, although none of them were called to testify. As it is usually the case, the trial proceeding is very short and a verdict/sentence is expected within the week.

Tibetan Students Held Campus Vigil in Beijing

Amid the riots and violence in Lhasa and other locations in and near Tibet, it is easy to overlook that a group of ethnic Tibetan students had staged a vigil in Beijing, at the campus of the Central University of Nationalities (中央民族学院), a college devoted to the education of China's ethnic minorities. In sharp contrast, this protest appeared to be low-profile, peaceful, and was eventually broken up by authorities without much disturbance.

Ever since 1989, it's been extremely rare to see any protests held on college campuses.

What is clear, however, is that the Tibetan students did not receive any support or even sympathy from their non-Tibetan compatriots. In China, even the best educated are not immune to nationalist pride and zeal, in which the nation's territorial integrity is held above all other values. Any thought of independence, be it Tibet or Taiwan, is automatically condemned, not only by the government in power, but also by the common mass. It is therefore unsurprising that the, as Washington Post had put it: Beijing's Crackdown Gets Strong Domestic Support. The violent nature of the current protest in Tibet certainly has not helped either.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Xu Liangying Awarded 2008 APS Sakharov Prize

Xu Liangying (许良英) is an outspoken scientist in China. He is best known in China for translating and publishing the entire set of Einstein's Works. He was profiled in the New York Times two years ago as "Einstein's Man in Beijing: A Rebel With a Cause".

This month, he was awarded the 2008 Andrei Sakharov Prize by the American Physical Society "For a lifetime’s advocacy of truth, democracy and human rights -- despite surveillance and house arrest, harassment and threats, even banishment -- through his writings, and publicly speaking his mind."

Xu Liangying first got himself in political trouble in 1957, when he was declared an "extreme rightist" for his outspokenness. It was not until late 1970s when he managed to publish his translations of Einstein's works and his own research of Einstein's philosophy.

In late 1986, Xu Liangying had teamed up with Professor Fang Lizhi (方励之) and Liu Binyan (刘宾雁) to organize a conference revisiting that "anti-rightists" campaign on its thirtieth anniversary. Deng Xiaoping did not appreciate that idea, since Deng himself had spearheaded the campaign. After the wide-spread student movements in South China that year, Deng decided to purge Fang Lizhi, Liu Binyan, and Wang Ruowang (王若望). It was widely believed that Deng had mistaken Wang for Xu Liangying.

Xu Liangying was not deterred. In 1988, he was an adviser and guest speaker in Liu Gang's "Democratic Salon" in Beida. In early 1989, when Fang Lizhi published the open letter to Deng Xiaoping appealing for the release of Wei Jingshen, it was Xu Liangying who first responded with a letter of his own, co-signed by more than forty prominent intellectuals, to support Fang.

According to the New York Times profile, Xu Liangying suffered a heart attack during the heated period of the 1989 student movement and therefore could not join any of the demonstrations.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

At the Cusp of the Great Reform

The Third Plenum of the Eleventh CCP Congress (十一届三中全会) was held on December 18, 1978. This meeting is widely regarded as the defining milestone that kicked off Deng Xiaoping's reform movement after the end of Culture. In China, preparations are already being made for the big 30 year anniversary celebration near the end of this year.

However, Bao Tong (鲍彤), a long time Policy Secretary of Zhao Ziyang, just published an article on his recollections of that historical meeting. According to the article, that meeting was planned as a routine meeting to discuss some economic policies in agriculture and central planning. Before the meeting, Deng Xiaoping and then Party Chairman Hua Guofeng had agreed that they should not discuss any issues left out from Culture Revolution, especially those that had been decided by Mao Zedong himself.

As it was common in such meetings, the actual agenda and decisions were determined in preparatory meetings in advance. In this case, the preparatory meeting was held in early November. Deng Xiaoping did not think it was important enough to attend. Rather he spent the first half of that November in Southeast Asia on a state visit.

But it was during that preparatory meeting, that Chen Yun and Hu Yaobang rose to the occasion and changed the course of the meeting. At the time, Chen Yun had just been "rehabilitated" but had not yet returned to the top leadership. Hu Yaobang was the "younger" generation who had just been put in charge of the Party's Internal Affairs. Together, they advocated that many of the wrongs during the Culture Revolution must be corrected before the nation could move forward.

By the time Deng Xiaoping returned to Beijing in mid-November, he found the agenda totally out of control. In a swift maneuver, he scratched his own planned speech and had a new one drafted. In which, he took hold the new momentum as his own and laid all blames of the previous conservative agenda to Hua Guofeng.

As a result, the Third Plenum meeting became something Deng had not envisioned. It established a new policy of "a liberation of thoughts" (解放思想). Hua Guofeng was forced to make a self-criticism.

For his handy work, Chen Yun was immediately elevated to the high position of Vice Chairman of the Party. In the 1980s, Chen Yun was the chief rival of Deng Xiaoping in the Party leadership.

In 1980, Hua Guofeng finally was purged from the leadership. With the position of Party Chairman abolished, Hu Yaobang became the General Secretary.

Seven years later, in 1987, Hu Yaobang himself would be purged by Deng Xiaoping for being too liberal and tolerant to student movements. His death in 1989 triggered the largest-scale student movement in the history of China.

Exiled Tiananmen Leaders Appeal for Rights to Citizenship

Nineteen years after the Tiananmen Massacre, most of the then student leaders and intellectuals have come abroad. Some of them had escaped China clandestinely. But most left China legally, either as private visitors after having served their sentences in China or were "sent out" by the Chinese government in one of her "humanitarian" gestures to the world.

But no matter how they got here, they all share the same fate: their citizenships are forever in a limbo state. Even if they came with valid Chinese passports, the Chinese embassies and consulates here refused to renew them. So their passports had expired years ago. They could still travel as UN refugees, but they are, quite literally, people without a country.

Today, some of these leaders, including Wang Dan, Hu Ping, Chen Yizi, Wuer Kaixi, Liu Gang, Chen Xiaoping, Wu Renhua, and Wang Juntao, published an open letter to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to demand their rights of citizenship. They also appeal to UN and the International Olympic Committee to help.

The letter also indicated that these leaders are ready to try various legal actions against the Chinese government if their demands are not answered within a month. It also hinted that they might try their own ways to return to China.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Political Spring Season in Beijing

It's March, which means a few political activities will be going on in Beijing:
  1. The annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, known simply as the "Two Meetings" (两会), are in town. Security will be tight.
  2. After two weeks of hyperbole surrounding the meetings, there will not be any significant decisions made, especially in the year of Olympics
  3. But we will be entertained by pictures of many delegates nodding off during the sessions.
  4. Tiananmen Mothers petition to probe the Tiananmen Massacre.
It's been eleven years, but they haven't given up.

In the dark night of June 3, 1989, with gunshots heard and flares seen in the dark sky, Professor Ding Zilin (丁子霖) thought she had finally managed to lock up her restless son in their bathroom. But the seventeen year old high schooler outsmarted his parents. He climbed out of a window and headed to the streets. He was shot near MuXiDi (木樨地), at the western skirt of Beijing where the most fighting and death had taken place that night.

Since then, under tremendous pressure and constant harassment by the government, Ding organized and led the loosely-knit organization known as the Tiananmen Mothers, consisting parents (yes, mostly mothers) of victims who had died during the massacre. They painstakingly collected and documented 155 cases of death. They also helped to channel humanitarian funds from abroad to the victims' families.

But year after year, they have also petitioned the "Two Meetings" for a dialog and reconciliation. They have yet to receive a response.