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Tan Zuoren: A Chronology

November 16, 2011

May 15, 1954

Born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.


Sent to the countryside in Shimian County, Sichuan Province, as an educated youth.


Studied at Sichuan Medical College.


Worked as a surgeon at a hospital affiliated with the West China University of Medical Sciences.


Publically criticized by the Sichuan provincial government for participating in the 1989 Democracy Movement in Chengdu and Beijing.

1998–June 5, 1999

Co-founded the first civil society environmental protection group in Western China: the Sichuan Green Rivers Association for the Promotion of Environmental Protection (“Green Rivers”). Proposed the “Erect a Monument to the Yangtze River to Aid Our Mother River” campaign, setting off a “Yangtze Fever” and a surge of environmental protection awareness nationwide.


Initiated opposition to the Pei Partnership Architects’ design for Tianfu Square (concept design by two sons of architect I. M. Pei) already approved by the Chengdu government, on the ground that it would destroy the city’s culture and history. The government accepted his “Ten Objections” and permanently shelved the project.


His proposed legislation to protect the giant panda was accepted by the Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress.


Co-founded the influential magazine Wenhuaren, a civil society platform for the free expression of views.


Used empirical research data to successfully oppose a 100 million-yuan, 10-year provincial hydroelectric project on the Botiao River in Chengdu.

May 2007

Published “1989: Bearing Witness to the Ultimate Beauty—Diary of an Eyewitness from the Square.”

June 4, 2008

Participated in a blood donation drive at Chengdu’s Tianfu Square to commemorate June Fourth.

October 2008

Initiated the “City of Peace” citizens’ action against the Pengzhou petrochemical project which was damaging the environment and submitted “Citizens’ Recommendations” for the project to the government.

February 2009

Issued the “Proposal to Found the May 12 Students Archive,” calling for a citizens’ investigation into the construction standards of the schools where students had died in the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

March 25, 2009

Published online “Citizens’ Independent Investigative Report” into the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the first such investigation by citizens.

March 28, 2009

Criminally detained by the Chengdu Municipal Public Security Bureau on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

August 12, 2009

Tried by the Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People’s Court. Artist and rights defender Ai Weiwei, who had traveled from Beijing to testify for Tan, was beaten and detained by the Chengdu police and therefore unable to testify in court.

February 9, 2010

Convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to five years in prison and three years of deprivation of political rights. Declared in court, “I am not guilty; I don’t accept [the verdict]; I protest; I appeal.”

May 31, 2010

Sichuan Provincial Higher People’s Court ruled, in a closed hearing, to uphold the trial verdict.

June 9, 2010

Appeal ruling announced by the Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on June 9. Transferred to Ya’an Prison, Sichuan Province. Projected release date: March 27, 2014.