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Hardship years

July 30, 2000

Tiananmen mothers operate in ever-more circumscribed space

The woman at the forefront of the Tiananmen Mothers' campaign against impunity, Ding Zilin, describes the difficulties they face in their work, the reasons behind their focus on humanitarian assistance for victims' families and the internal dynamics of their network.

Yet another anniversary of the Tiananmen movement and the June Fourth massacre is approaching. For those of us who have suffered personally as a result of the massacre, this marks the eleventh year of hardship. In terms of my personal experience and that of others who lost family members in the massacre, this past year has been the most difficult so far.

In the period from the second half of 1998 until now, political dissidents and associations of ordinary citizens have suffered the harshest persecution since the June Fourth massacre. Even those Westerners who previously favored appeasing the Chinese government can no longer deny this fact. The Chinese government's signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in October 1998 was viewed with optimism. However, before the ink of the signature was even dry, the government turned its back on this positive spirit and began a nationwide crackdown on the Chinese Democracy Party's organizing efforts, as well as on the activities of dissidents and labor rights activists. This was followed by a large-scale crackdown on Falungong practitioners, religious believers and associations of ordinary citizens, which began last year and continues to this day. The kind-hearted people have been deceived once again; the reality they face is the opposite of all they had hoped for. China's human rights record is now once again deteriorating. The facts are so obvious that even those who once spoke in support of the Chinese government now find it difficult to do so.

As the government harshly suppresses dissent, what has been the experience of the June Fourth victims' network which has slowly coalesced over ten years of tears and mutual support? Will the government authorities show us more tolerance because we are the victims of misfortune or because they feel some sense of guilt? The facts have already proven the answer to be no.

It is true that the authorities have not taken the same steps to outlaw our group of June Fourth victims in the way they have done with Falungong. Among the members of our group, no one has yet been sent to prison. However, this is not an indication of the government?s leniency, it is merely because our group has always used a peaceful, rational and restrained approach in response to the suffering and injustices imposed on us. Our appeal actions are simply an attempt to find justice for the dead and to fight for the human dignity of the living. If they were to eradicate a whole group like ours, that would just be too inhumane. Nevertheless, the authorities have not let us off the hook. Every member of our group can feel the pressure of a giant boulder bearing down on us; we sense the presence of an invisible net waiting to entrap us. The goal of the government?s policy toward us is clear: to engineer our network?s disintegration, to cause our collapse and obliteration in order to appease the leadership?s innermost anxieties.

Below I present a brief record of the incidents that I and other June Fourth families have experienced over the past two years:

On October 8, 1998, three days after the government signed the ICCPR, in the name of the Beijing State Security Bureau, the government froze 11,620 German Marks in humanitarian assistance funds entrusted to me by Chinese students in Germany. These funds have now been refrozen four times and have still not been released.

From March 3 until April 7, the PSB put my husband and myself under house arrest in People?s University. For a total of 34 days, we were not permitted to leave the university compound.

On April Fifth, the Qingming Festival [Grave Sweeping Day], I wanted to accompany my husband to buy offerings for our deceased son, but we were stopped by more than ten plainclothes police at the gates of the school. We were informed that if we so much as set one foot outside the school gates, they would arrest us. As we argued with the officers, they cursed me as a ?traitor to the country.?

From May 4 through June 23 of that year, we were placed under house arrest within People?s University for 50 days, and were not permitted to set foot outside the school gates.
On the morning of May 4, my husband tried to take our six-year-old granddaughter to a park outside the school, but as soon as they reached the gates of the university, plainclothes officers blocked their way. They were informed that if they left campus, the officers could immediately take action. My husband protested that their brutal tactics would frighten and harm the small child, but the officers were unreasonable and still forced them to return home.

On May 18, Beijing dissident Jiang Qisheng, who has assisted victims of June Fourth in the past, was arrested. The public security authorities? investigation of him concentrated on one thing only, and that was his relationship with me and my activities.

On June 1, at the request of the June Fourth victims, Human Rights in China (HRIC) and the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) held a press conference announcing our request for legal action against Li Peng. Two days later, the number of plainclothes officers who were guarding my house suddenly increased, and, for the first time in ten years, the officers set up their post within my building, outside the door of my apartment. Because of this, my heart problem immediately began to flare up. In the evening, our home phone lines were cut, but in the middle of the night, crank phone calls started coming in non-stop to our cell phone, subjecting me and my husband to a relentless barrage of abuse, threats and intimidation. These anonymous calls continued for three days, until late into the night. From the return telephone number which appeared on our cell phone, we could verify that the calls were coming from the Public Security Bureau.

On June 4, the 10th anniversary of the massacre, from 7:30pm until midnight, two representatives from the Public Security Bureau came to our house and separately held extensive ?discussions? with me and my husband. They prevented me from delivering a statement by phone to the June Fourth commemorative gathering in Hong Kong, and warned my husband to drop his ?hostile political attitude.? They also threatened me by saying that my activities had already gone beyond what could be considered humanitarian assistance, and so at any time they could take action against me. It was only because they had carefully considered all aspects of the situation that they had not yet done so.

That fall, humanitarian assistance funds and correspondence for June Fourth victims sent by the IFCSS were confiscated by the Public Security Bureau in Beijing. But at the time, we did not know anything about it.

In late December, when US-based activist Lu Wenhe returned to China to visit his family, he brought a check for humanitarian assistance from IFCSS, HRIC and the Minnesota Chinese Democracy Foundation that he was planning to deliver to me, together with a letter to me from Lois Snow, the widow of Edgar Snow. On December 28, without any reason, the Beijing State Security Bureau detained Lu when he approached People?s University, where I live. They confiscated the letter from Lois Snow. On December 30, the police escorted Lu to Shanghai, where his family lives. There, the Shanghai State Security Bureau first tried to force Lu to write out the check to me, Ding Zilin, so that they could withdraw the money from the US bank. Then they decided it was better to force Lu to sign over the funds to a public security officer. They also forced Lu?s father to act as a guarantor, making him sign an agreement containing conditions dictated by the authorities. They said that if Lu blocked payment of the funds once he returned to the United States, his father would be held responsible. If Lu did not agree with this arrangement, he would not be permitted to leave the country. When the officers found out that the US bank had issued a stop payment on the check, they repeatedly threatened Lu?s father, saying he would have to sign over his own property as security. Finally, without giving a reason, they confiscated the deed to his house and said it would act as collateral for the funds. The Shanghai Public Security Bureau has still not returned the deed to Lu?s father.

During Lu Wenhe?s detention, as they were interrogating him, the Shanghai Public Security officers accused me of endangering state security and said they could arrest me whenever they pleased. This was their way of intimidating and threatening Lu.

On February 29, 2000, when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited China, my husband and I again came under the surveillance of plainclothes police from the Beijing State Security Bureau.

From March 1 to 16, my husband and I took a trip to Sichuan and Hubei to visit friends, and to call on relatives of June Fourth victims there. But whereever we went, plainclothes officers from the local Public Security Bureau began to monitor us. They kept watch over the homes of friends where we stayed and followed us in small cars and on motorcycles, not even letting up when we went sightseeing. Throughout the 15 day period, this surveillance not only severely limited our freedom of movement, but also brought fear and anxiety to the friends with whom we stayed, as well as to the families of June Fourth victims.

On March 31, Lois Snow, the widow of renowned American journalist Edgar Snow, came to Beijing to visit her husband?s grave as well as to see me. She hoped in that way to express her sympathy and support for the families of victims of the June Fourth massacre. On April 1, when she came to People?s University, she was stopped by undercover public security officers. At the same time, my apartment was under the surveillance of a large group of officers who prevented me from going to meet Mrs. Snow. On April 3, officers near the door to my building detained Su Bingxian, whose son was killed in the June Fourth massacre and who had gone to meet Mrs. Snow two days before. They also conducted an illegal strip search of Su. She was not released until the afternoon of April 4, when Mrs. Snow had left Beijing. During the conflict of April 3, the officers again cursed me as a ?traitor for America.?

On May 11, the State Security Bureau cut the phone line of my home in Jiangsu Province in order to prevent me from speaking with Mrs. Snow. The next day, for the same reason, authorities also cut Su Bingxian?s home phone. At the same time, they put Su under house arrest, not allowing her to set foot outside her home.

The examples above are the main events that have happened just over the short period of the last two years. They show that the authorities have not relaxed their repression of June Fourth victims; on the contrary, it has become increasingly severe. From the freezing of humanitarian funds to the detention of Lu Wenhe, until this April when Mrs. Snow was prevented from meeting with me, and Su Bingxian was detained, I feel that the space available to our group of survivors has been severely diminished, and our situation is becoming more and more difficult.

The government?s actions described above are part of an attempt to cut off our contacts with the outside world, especially contacts concerning humanitarian aid for June Fourth victims. The sympathy and support for June Fourth victims from people of conscience around the world, as well as humanitarian assistance from non-governmental organizations, human rights groups and individuals, are portrayed by the authorities as bribes from hostile overseas forces. The authorities believe that if they cut off the overseas sources of humanitarian assistance, then our group will voluntarily disband. This is the reason why they have focused their attention on the issue of financial donations for the past few years.

In the beginning, their attack on the problem of donations was focused entirely on me as an individual. Overseas and domestically, even among the June Fourth survivors and families of victims, they spread the lie that, ?Ding Zilin embezzled from humanitarian donations to build a house in the south.? When they put my husband and me under house arrest for 43 days in 1995, it was also because they wanted to charge me for ?embezzling donations.? But after their slander and frame-up failed, they chose a new tactic. From monitoring my phone calls and letters, they picked up news concerning the donations, and then they were able to confiscate donation checks and to order banks to refuse services for transferring donations and to freeze related accounts. They also confiscated letters between me and overseas donors and used other similar methods to cut off the channels of funding. A short time after this, when they learned that an overseas supporter was going to deliver funds directly to me to pass on to families of June Fourth victims, they shifted their focus to blockading and detaining people returning to China whom they viewed as suspicious. During the two years from 1998-1999, this type of incident occurred more than five times. Last year?s detention of Lu Wenhe was the most egregious example; their behavior was no different to that of criminal thugs. Even though they did not make an issue of the donations when Mrs. Snow visited in April, during the consequent interrogation of Su Bingxian, they tried to force her to reveal the monetary amount of the donations that Mrs. Snow had brought.

Regarding all of the above, I can only feel an indescribable sorrow. How could these Communist Party officials, these self-proclaimed Marxists seeking no personal gain, all of a sudden turn into the money worshippers that they used to oppose?

They seem to think that in today?s world, there is nothing more precious than money. They maintain that the bond between the June Fourth survivors and families of victims is solely dependent on the extraordinary power of money. I do not want to undertake a thorough critique of Communist Party officials here, but in terms of their despicable handling of the June Fourth humanitarian assistance, I cannot help but make a general judgment: This bureaucratic clique is already in thrall to money and has sunk to the lowest level.

Our June Fourth victims? network was formed only in 1993, but we have already been in existence now for eight years. Throughout these eight years, all of our words and actions have proven that we are not a group in pursuit of financial benefits, nor are we political actors seeking power. We are, however, a moral group demanding fair and impartial treatment. We are a group of common citizens brought together by a shared fate and suffering. If kind-hearted people around the world had not, out of sympathy, voluntarily given us humanitarian assistance, we would never have thought to ask for this help ourselves, because there is no precedent for such assistance in China, especially in the last 50 years of Communist rule.

Of course, over several years of assistance activities, I have come to believe strongly that receiving this assistance is important, especially for aging parents who lost children, or young orphans who lost their mothers or fathers, as well as those families who are living in remote, poverty-stricken regions, because it can help relieve their financial pressures a little. Yet despite this, for the victims? relatives who receive assistance from faraway places, the most important benefit is the feeling of compassion they get from the people of the world. This compassion gives them the courage and strength to live. Over these past years, I have felt deeply the significance of this humanitarian assistance for the families of victims. If the day came when funds were cut off and we had to stop our activities, I think that the greatest blow to the victims? families would be emotional. Moreover, the reason that I am able to overcome the barriers the authorities put in our way and persist in finding means to continue the humanitarian assistance work is because I do not want the victims? families to be hurt in this way yet again.

Since the freezing of donated funds last year, the victims? families have realized that persisting in our humanitarian assistance activities is becoming more and more difficult. Yet they have never retreated, even in the face of these difficult circumstances. I have more than once heard fellow June Fourth victims say: Since we were not brought together by money, we should not split up because of money. This gives me much comfort, and it helps to relieve some of the emotional pressure I feel.

People say money is all-powerful, but I say that the power of love and morality is also great, especially when they converge. The authorities can no longer deny the existence of our group of families of June Fourth victims; moreover, to use their words, our group has already been ?internationalized.? I understand the implication of their words, they mean that in their view we have become a tool of international counterrevolutionary forces. I also know what it means when the plainclothes police curse me as a ?traitor to the country?; now they just curse me as a ?traitor for America.? This is not the officers? own attempts to be clever, they are simply the messengers for their superiors.

I do not need to defend myself, because it is clear that in this ancient Asian nation, where the people have bravely stood up, although our bodies are covered in bruises and our steps are painful and difficult, we will never be alone again. For we have already joined the global family of a free humanity. We devote our efforts to the unyielding struggle for the dignity of humanity and the peace and stability of the world. I see this as a repayment to the global family, which has already given us so much.

May 2000

Translated by Sophie Bearch




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