The founder of a group honoring the victims of China's 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Ding Zilin, will carry on the group's work following the sudden death of her husband Jiang Peikun, relatives said on Tuesday.
Jiang, a former linguistics professor at Beijing's Renmin University, died of a heart attack at the age of 82 at the family home in the eastern city of Wuxi on Sunday.
Ding, who founded the Tiananmen Mothers group after the couple's 17-year-old son Jiang Jielan died in the massacre, was unreachable on her usual phone numbers on Tuesday, while fellow group members called for privacy and quiet.
"She didn't think that somebody who knew the situation would put it on the Internet, so I think Professor Ding has turned off her cell phone because she was getting too many calls from the media," group spokeswoman You Weijie told RFA on Tuesday.
"I don't think she can bear that right now."
You said Jiang's death was unexpected, and had come as a shock. "This all happened so fast; it has been extremely painful for her," she said.
Determined to continue
Jiang's granddaughter told Hong Kong media that Ding was "grief-stricken," yet determined to keep up the pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party over compensation for those who died when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) suppressed a weeks-long pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square on the night of June 3 and 4, 1989.
And fellow Tiananmen Mothers member Zhang Xianling, who lost her 19-year-old son during the crackdown, said Ding's own health is poor.
"She has had a huge shock, and she is in very poor health," Zhang told RFA. "I hope the media won't disturb her, because that will just add to her burden."
In the 26 years since the bloodshed, the group has repeatedly called for a reappraisal of the student-led democracy movement, which the government has styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
They want a public apology, compensation, the release of details of the crackdown held in secret by the government, and the political rehabilitation of victims and their families.
Zhang, who still doesn't know whether her son Wang Nan died instantly after being shot on a street to the south of the square, or whether soldiers prevented an ambulance from taking him for emergency treatment, as one account suggests, said the authorities have continued to cover up information surrounding the 1989 crackdown.
"Everyone in the Tiananmen Mothers is really depressed, all the families, because the authorities absolutely refuse to deal with this incident," she told RFA.
"We were all really sad at Mid-Autumn Festival just recently, which is a time when families get together, and we are all in poor health now. Of course we are going to die," Zhang said.
She said the roots of Jiang's illness lay in his persecution at the hands of the government a few years ago.
You, whose husband died in the crackdown, said she was extremely sad that Jiang had died in the absence of any response from the authorities, bar police harassment, surveillance, and periods of house arrest.
"After Professor Jiang died, just to think that in the past 26 years we haven't had a single response of any kind, made me really indignant," she said. "The loss of Jiang is an immeasurable one."
She added: "[He] used to say that his greatest hope was the rehabilitation of June 4, and justice [for the victims], so we will never stop trying to make his wish come true."
In a 1994 essay titled "We Cannot Allow the Victims to be Killed Again," Jiang wrote that if the events of June 1989 are forgotten, they will be repeated.
Former Tiananmen Square protest leaders and rights activists began to pay tributes to Jiang on Tuesday.
Avoiding a reckoning
Former 1989 student leader Wang Dan accused the government of waiting for the victims' families to die off, so as to avoid a reckoning with China's recent past.
"They want this generation to die off, so it can be forgotten about," Wang said. "I think that what they're doing is cruel and cold-hearted."
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia agreed. "It is sad enough that the older generation are dying, but even sadder that they never saw justice done while they were alive," he said.
He said he believed the authorities would refuse to allow a public memorial event marking Jiang's death.
"How can we mourn Jiang Peikun without also talking about the persecution, surveillance, and harassment that he went through in recent years?" Hu said.
"I'm sure they won't allow that to happen."
The deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Richard Choi, said he had the greatest admiration for Jiang's and Ding's perseverance.
"We are planning a special exhibition at the June 4th Museum which will include a display on the life of Mr. Jiang Peikun, and the situation of the Tiananmen Mothers," Choi told RFA.
"Mr. Jiang's passing highlights the urgent need for a reappraisal of June 4," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.