Tuesday, April 28, 2009

People of 1989: Zhou Yongjun (周勇军)

In the very early days of the 1989 student movement, the tiny and conservative University of Political Science and Law became the first school to march into Tiananmen Square and lay a wreath for Hu Yaobang. Zhou Yongjun, an undergraduate student from the school, participated in the march. He soon became a visible leader in the emerging movement. At the end of Hu Yaobang's funeral, he was one of the three students who staged an emotional kneeling petition on the stairs of the Great Hall of People.

When Liu Gang called a clandestine meeting to form the Beijing Students Autonomous Federation, the school sent the largest group of students in attendance. Largely based on that strength, Zhou Yongjun narrowly beat out Wuer Kaixi to become the first president for this new organization.

Zhou Yongjun's reign did not last long. He was immediately thrown under the unbelievable pressure on whether to persist on with the demonstration on April 27, when he finally succumbed and canceled the event in the wee hours of April 27. It did not matter. The most glorious demonstration happened anyway. Zhou Yongjun was left behind and lost his position as the president of Beijing Autonomous Federation.

He continued to work for the organization and helped organize another big demonstration on May 4. However, he made another mistake that day when he announced the end of class strike without a clear resolution within the leadership. In that aftermath, he was expelled from the organization altogether. But he stayed involved in the movement and participated in the student hunger strike.

In the latter stages of the movement, Zhou Yongjun drifted away from students and helped to establish the Workers Autonomous Federation in which he played a significant role in its propaganda work and media operation. During the night of the massacre, he was at Tiananmen Square and helped organize what resistance they could manage.

Zhou Yongjun was arrested in mid-June and stayed in jail for almost two years. After his release, he escaped the country and made his way to exile in Hong Kong and then the US. In 1998, he went back to China apparently for underground activities and was jailed for another three years.

In 2002, Zhou Yongjun managed to return to US. He then became deeply involved in a cult-ish sect practicing Qigong (中功), perhaps attempting to forge an unusual alliance.

There had been persistent rumors that he had disappeared during a personal trip to Hong Kong in late 2008. Most recently, the China Support Network reported that they had confirmed Zhou Yongjun's arrest for "financial fraud" by the Chinese government. The details of his current situation is however still lacking.

Update: on May 13, 2009, Reuters confirmed Zhou Yongjun's arrest in China.

Update: on January19, 2010, Zhou Yongjun was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Update: in January, 2011, Hong Kong Journal described Zhou Yongjun's legal case in detail.

Update: on December 6, 2015, Zhou Yongjun was released from prison early. He returned to his hometown in Sichuan.

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