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An encounter with a long-admired foreign visitor

July 24, 2000

Tiananmen Mother Su Bingxian describes her meeting with Lois Snow in Beijing in April and what happened to her as a result.

 


 

 

In March 31, 2000, I heard on a Radio France International program that Lois Snow was going to People’s University to see Professor Ding Zilin…. I was very excited. When I was young, I learned of an American journalist named Edgar Snow. He and his wife Lois were good friends of the Chinese people. Snow’s Journey to the West was read by just about everybody in my generation, leaving a very deep impression on us. So I felt a special warmth towards this American couple. And as for Ding Zilin, she was a friend that I’ve gotten to know well in recent years; we are friends who share the same fate. Both of our sons were brutally murdered by government troops in the June Fourth massacre. I saw Lois Snow’s visit to Ding Zilin as an act of concern and comfort for all Tiananmen Mothers. For this reason, I too hoped to meet with the respected Mrs. Snow.

I decided to go to Ding’s house on April 1. On that day, I arrived at the People’s University main gate before 10:00am and saw an unusual commotion. An elementary school band was playing songs of the Young Pioneers in the small square just outside the gate… I entered the campus, and as I approached Ding’s home, I noticed a group of people gathered on the sidewalk across from her apartment. I guessed that they were plainclothes police….At this time, Zilin and her husband Professor Jiang Peikun were getting ready to go to the main gate to welcome Mrs. Snow. Everything appeared to be going smoothly. But when Ding saw me, she very unexpectedly said, “Bingxian, why did you come at this time? You should quickly return home.” Only then did I realize that the atmosphere was rather tense. I immediately turned around to leave. When I got to the courtyard gate, I saw that the number of plainclothes police surrounding the complex had suddenly increased. At the same time, I saw that there were many foreign journalists with cameras waiting on the sidewalk just outside the building. I was so anxious that I turned back. I said, “Zilin, it’s almost ten forty, you should hurry up to go and welcome Mrs. Snow!” Exactly at this time, two officers from the Beijing State Security Bureau entered the yard of Ding Zilin’s home….

One officer said to her, “You must cooperate with us!”

Ding replied, “I know how you want me to cooperate. Isn’t this just a way of preventing me from meeting Mrs. Snow?”

“You all wait inside!” said the officer as his mobile phone rang. He took the call outside. At this point I told Jiang Peikun, “I’m leaving.” I took my bag from the coat rack and walked out.

 

 

 

 

 

I MEET MRS SNOW

 

When I got to the main gate of People’s University, I no longer found the elementary school band…. Now there was a gathering of many people, including a significant number of individuals who looked like plainclothes police. There was a group of foreigners close to the gate, so I guessed that Mrs. Snow had arrived. I quickly went to look for her…. I turned to a younger foreign woman who stood relatively close to me. Pointing to the older foreign woman a short distance away, I asked, “Is that Mrs. Snow?”

“Yes,” she replied and then led me to the side of the warm, kind-faced woman.

“Hello, Mrs. Snow!” I said. Hearing my greeting, she reached out and took my hand, squeezing it very tightly.

“Are you Ding Zilin?” Mrs. Snow asked expectantly.

“No, I’m not Ding Zilin. I am Ding’s friend Su,” I replied with regret.

I was very reluctant to tell Mrs. Snow about the what was going on at Ding Zilin’s house, and even less willing to speculate on how the discussion between the state security officer and Ding had concluded…. I was deeply moved by Mrs. Snow’s sincerity, and to express my affection to this foreign friend, I embraced her. Many foreign journalists snapped a picture of this scene....

With great confidence I said, “Let’s go! Let’s go in!” I pulled Mrs. Snow’s arm and a group of journalists followed us to the school gate. There were five or six people lined up close to the gate, forming something like a human wall…. A smiling, middle-aged man wearing a colorful jacket stood directly in our way. In a very professional manner, he showed his ID and said, “Who are you? Please show me your employee card or identification card!”

“I’m sorry, I forgot to bring it with me,” I said very politely, also smiling. I gave him my telephone number, asking him to inquire with my work unit. Holding Mrs. Snow’s hand, still very friendly and smiling, I said to the man, “Look, this is Mrs. Snow. She and her husband are old friends of China. She is here to see Professor Ding. Let us go in!” But the man, who was the chief of the People’s University security force, said, “Foreigners cannot enter the campus as they please. You must register to enter.”

“Mrs. Snow has a passport. That serves as her identification. Just let her in!”

“Who are you?” he asked me.

“I am a family member of a June Fourth victim. My son was shot dead in the June Fourth massacre. I am friends with Ding Zilin. I worked at the China Central Translation and Editing Bureau. I’ve already retired,” I told him very calmly….

I continued, “Security Chief, you’ve received orders to bar Mrs. Snow from entering the campus, but you can let Ding Zilin come out! Give her a call and have her come out to the main gate to meet with Mrs. Snow. You can certainly do that much.”

“No, I can’t,” the security chief said.

Since there was no way to enter the gate, Mrs. Snow delivered a statement on the spot. The foreign journalists rushed to document it…. A journalist turned to me and asked, “Do you have any thoughts on meeting Mrs. Snow today?”

I replied: “I am very happy to meet Mrs. Snow. I feel extremely honored…. As a family member of a June Fourth victim, I am very grateful to Mrs. Snow [for her visit]. When friends come we must show them hospitality….Yet surprisingly, we refuse this old friend at the door! This is too disgraceful.”

....Mrs. Snow asked if she could give me a book and a letter she had written to give to Ding Zilin…. From her bag, Mrs. Snow took out a very thick, cloth-bound book and handed it to me. I took the book, Edgar Snow’s China, and held it up. Holding the precious book, I gave Mrs. Snow another hug. My heart was extremely heavy, and I think Mrs. Snow felt the same way. I wanted to use my embrace to comfort her.

Having no alternative, Mrs. Snow handed me a contribution she had brought for June Fourth victims and their families. I received the contribution in Ding Zilin’s place.

We had been in front of the school gate for about 50 minutes…. I was just thinking I should say farewell to Mrs. Snow when she turned to me and asked where I was going. I said, “I’m going to Xidan; that’s where my home is.” Mrs. Snow was going to Jianguomenwai. She asked me to get in her car, and we talked the whole way back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DETAINED FOR 24 HOURS

 

On April 3, I decided to deliver Mrs. Snow’s gifts to Ding Zilin. At 12:40 in the afternoon, I arrived at Ding’s door. I was suddenly surrounded by a group of plainclothes police even before I had the chance to knock. I held a small cloth bag carrying Snow’s book for Ding Zilin and some food that I had brought for her granddaughter. A plainclothes policeman ordered me, “Let’s go to the People’s University security office to have a talk. You’ll be able to return in a little while.”

“No! If there’s anything to discuss, we can talk about it in Ding Zilin’s apartment!” I replied resolutely. At this time, a man, S., who looked as if he was in charge, appeared. He shouted his order: “Take her away!” In that split-second, a group of more that 20 people appeared out of nowhere. I yelled out, “Ding Zilin! Ding Zilin!” I turned to S. and his gang, “Wait for me to give these things to Ding Zilin, and then I’ll go with you.”

“No! You must take it all with you!” he said. At this point, I saw Ding and her husband rush outside from their home. She loudly protested, “She is my friend. You can’t take her away! If you want to take someone, take me!” I saw someone shove Ding Zilin, almost causing her to fall to the ground….

I was pushed into a small car, but they did not drive me towards the security office of the University. Instead, they took me to a place in Haidian District…. They brought me to an interrogation room in the basement, where I was body-searched by two women. They confiscated everything I was holding, including my house keys, mobile phone, etc. They searched my underwear, ordering me to take off my pants, shoes, socks… When the women were done, the men came back into the room….

 

 

 

 

 

 

I BECOME A “CRIMINAL”

 

They asked me to sign a detention warrant which stated that I was held because I was suspected of endangering state security. I calmly signed my name. Then the interrogation began, and went on from 1:00 in the afternoon to 2:30 the next morning.

S. roared, “Explain! What did you discuss with Mrs. Snow?”….

I told my interrogators: “Mrs. Snow is open and above board. She has nothing to hide….”

“How much money did Mrs. Snow give you?” S. asked.

“None. She still wants to visit Ding Zilin. She will personally hand the donation to Ding.” I said. I couldn’t tell them that Mrs. Snow had given me the donation to give to Ding. I was afraid that they would force me to give it to them, and they would confiscate it.

“You were all in the car together for so long. What did you talk about?”

“We chatted about our families. Mrs. Snow asked me if I had any other children. I said, ‘I have two others, an older son and a younger daughter… They’re already working….My son works for a Web site; My daughter and her husband are chemists.’ Mrs. Snow seemed pleased to hear about my family. She took out a few photographs from her bag to show me. There was one family portrait, with Edgar Snow, Lois Snow, their son and their beautiful daughter….”

“How much money did Mrs. Snow give you?” S. asked again.

“Since you don’t believe what I’ve said, you should ask Mrs. Snow to come here so you can compare figures.”

“Look at the document you’ve signed. We can search your house. We can get things from your home; we don’t care if you don’t explain now.”

In the middle of the night, just after 1:00am, S. had someone bring in a table, and had me write a statement, accounting for what I did between March 31 to April 3…. I very quickly wrote 12 pages. But when they saw them, they were not satisfied. S. said, “Your memory is pretty good! But you’ve cleverly concealed the most important matter.”

I replied, “What do you really want to know?”

"How much money do you have? What kinds of currency? Where did it come from? What do you use it for?… When you explain everything clearly, you will be allowed to go home.”

S. also accused me of granting interviews to the international media. I said, “I want a reporter from the Xinhua News Agency to come and interview me, is this something you could arrange?”

S. accused us families of June Fourth victims of accepting donations from overseas.

I said, “Do you not know the hardship that this group has suffered? The children left orphaned from the June Fourth massacre need to go to school. Having lost a father or mother, their families have fallen on hard economic times. Many relatives have been severely traumatized, some are ill and need treatment. They are in urgent need of help… When we have funds, we distribute them to provide assistance. When we don’t have funds, we give victims’ families emotional support. You accuse us of accepting contributions from overseas, but can you contact China’s Red Cross or the China Charities Federation and ask them to give us support?… The government shows no concern for us, but our friends do. We have the right to accept help.”

S. gave me the lecture on how the June Fourth suppression was necessary…. Finally he said, “There has already been an assessment of June Fourth. It cannot be rehabilitated.” He then added, “Deng Xiaoping said, ‘Let history judge June Fourth’.”

“Why do we have to wait for history for a conclusion?” I asked. “We family members of the June Fourth victims are all witnesses to the massacre. We want justice for the dead. You say the assessment of June Fourth cannot be changed?… In 1956, my father was almost labeled a counterrevolutionary in the Hu Feng case; in 1957 he was branded a rightist. My mother… was called an extreme rightist. She was fired from her job and sent to a labor camp in Dabieshan. During the Cultural Revolution, she was called a traitor and spy. During the time of Mao, wasn’t this all set in stone? But after the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CCP, weren’t all these assessments changed? China is in constant flux. The rehabilitation of June Fourth must come. For those who want to protect their own vested interests, they too will be dealt with justly by history! Didn’t we already name Li Peng in our legal petition to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate? The day will come when he will be brought to trial.”

S. changed the subject saying, “Do you know how many organizations want to use the group of June Fourth victims’ families? The June Fourth victims group is an unstable element. Society today needs stability!”

“We understand the importance of social stability, but our group is certainly not an unstable element. We are a victims’ group. As a group we are not under the control of any organization. We don’t even accept contributions that come with political conditions. We’d rather do without….”

I said that we have a 20 person dialogue delegation that wants to talk about June Fourth with China’s leaders.

S. scornfully said, “Jiang Zemin and China’s other leaders attend to numerous affairs of state every day. How can they have the time to talk about this?!”

“A matter involving human life is of supreme importance,” I replied. “When three Chinese people were killed in Yugoslavia, the government mobilized the whole country to mourn them, and sought the highest reparations on their behalf. Our relatives were killed ten years ago, soon it will be 11 years. The government doesn’t pay attention to us, but rather sees us as a hostile force….”

In the middle of the night, at 2:30am, the interrogators were tired and went to bed. The guest room had three beds. I slept in the middle one, with a woman watching me in each of the beds to my left and right…

Just before dawn on April 4, which was Qingming (Grave Sweeping Day), when I was still in a sleepy daze… I thought I saw my son, Zhao Long. Smiling, he walked toward me. But his hair was in clumps of uneven lengths, and there were bloodstains on his face. I said, “Longlong, come here. Mama will fix your hair. Why is there so much blood on your face?” It was only when I woke that I realized it was another nightmare. On that frenzied night of June Fourth, my son was shot in the chest three times. He died on Chang’an Boulevard. This part wasn’t a nightmare; it was reality.

At nine o’clock in the morning on April 4, I walked back into the interrogation room….

I really didn’t understand why they kept asking how much money I had. Could it be that there is only money in this world and nothing else?

When it was almost one o’clock, S. said, “I see that you’re tired. Go home now, we can talk more later.” S. agreed with my request, and had me dropped off back at Ding Zilin’s house, because I had to deliver Mrs. Snow’s book to Ding Zilin, as well as my gift for her granddaughter. I knew that the three of them, Ding, her husband and her granddaughter, were going to leave Beijing for Wuxi that evening, and I didn’t want to miss them. It was only when I got to Ding’s house that I knew that Mrs. Snow and my fellow June Fourth victims had been the ones who saved me. It was through their efforts that I was released after only 24 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

When fellow June Fourth victims learned that I had returned home, they all let out a sigh of relief. Although the authorities had barred Mrs. Snow from seeing Ding Zilin, June Fourth victims’ families were deeply moved and heartened by the visit. Many of my old classmates also heard about this matter and called to ask about it. Like me, they have great respect for this old friend of the Chinese people. But some people raised this question: “Why didn’t the newspapers or television stations report on Mrs. Snow’s visit to Beijing? This is a good friend who is respected by several generations of the Chinese people!” I could only respond with a wry smile, for nothing could be said in response.

May 31, 2000

Translated by Judy M. Chen

 

 

 

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