Dozens Detained in Bid To Visit Grave of Chinese President's Father

2017-04-05
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Supporters of late Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang gather at his former residence on the 12th anniversary of his death, Jan. 17, 2017.
Supporters of late Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang gather at his former residence on the 12th anniversary of his death, Jan. 17, 2017.
Photo courtesy of an RFA listener.

Authorities in China have detained dozens of petitioners who tried to visit the graves of prominent former Chinese leaders, including the revolutionary war-hero father of current President Xi Jinping.

More than a dozen people who showed up in a town in the northern province of Shaanxi, hoping to pay their respects at the tomb of Xi's father Xi Zhongxun, said they were dragged away and held on a bus for two days instead.

"As soon as we got there with our floral wreaths, two minivans full of riot police pulled up, and 40 or 50 policemen got out and said they would take us into the cemetery, then dragged us aboard the prisoner van," Xi'an petitioner Chen Yumei told RFA on Wednesday.

"[Then] they put us all on a bus and drove us out to the mountains near Hancheng," she said. "I thought since when did they more Xi Zhongxun's remains out to Hancheng?"

Fellow detainee Wang Tuanfeng said the police had taken them instead to Xi's birthplace rather than his tomb in Shaanxi's Fuping county.

"They gathered up all of our ID cards, so we couldn't go anywhere; we had to follow around behind them wherever they went," Wang said. "To start with it looked as if they were taking us to Xi'an, but then they turned around and came back again, taking us to Hancheng."

"They just left the bus there and went away again. We spent the night on the bus, then they dragged us off the bus again; there were so many of them, all policemen," Wang said.

Liu Meiyan, Han Lifang, Zhou Yongqiang, Wang Huiling, Wang Huling, Wen Dingding, Xiao Huifang, Yang Hongbo and Ma Xirong were among those on the bus, sources told RFA.

Chen, who is complaining about her treatment to the Shaanxi provincial government, said the people who dragged them off the bus were "unofficial security guards."

"In all, we spent two days and a night on that bus," she said. "I was finally able to get a bus back to Xi'an yesterday."

"They deprived us of our liberty, they wouldn't let us eat or drink anything," she said. "They just kept us on that bus ... so that we couldn't even urinate."

Qing Ming activities

The Qing Ming grave-tending festival is often used by activists and petitioners to honor key figures in the political mythology of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, often as a way of highlighting current grievances.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, hundreds of people have been visiting the former home of late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, who is seldom mentioned in public owing to his sympathies with the student-led democracy protests of 1989.

Police were stationed around the Zhao family residence in Beijing's Goldfish Hutong, but didn't prevent people from entering the traditional courtyard dwelling, family members told reporters.

Talks are still ongoing between the Zhao family and the ruling Chinese Communist Party over a final resting place for the former premier's ashes, his son Zhao Erjun told Hong Kong media.

At issue is whether or not Zhao will be allowed a resting place in the Babaoshan revolutionary cemetery on the outskirts of Beijing, or whether he will have a regular memorial like any other citizen.

Zhao's former aide Bao Tong, who served seven years in jail after his boss' fall from power, and who has been under house arrest for much of the time since his release, called on the government to follow the family's wishes.

"I hope the government will help out and make life easier for the whole family, and support their choices," Bao said in a recent interview with RFA.

"They shouldn't impose anything on the family; they shouldn't do anything," he said. "This decision should really be made by Zhao's children."

Another politically sensitive time

China's annual grave-sweeping festival is a politically sensitive time in China, as memorials for the dead can often swell into broader popular protests.

The 1989 protests themselves were sparked by a spontaneous outpouring of public mourning on Tiananmen Square following the April 22 state funeral of ousted former premier Hu Yaobang, who was credited with overturning many of the injustices of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

You Weijie, spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers victims group, said some had declined to tend the graves of loved ones who perished when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) opened fire on unarmed civilians, ending weeks of mass protests at the heart of Beijing.

"It's not that they won't let us sweep the graves; it's that if we do, we have to go there in a police vehicle," You said. "They haven't exactly interfered, but we would have to do it with them watching us. It's to stop journalists from running into us there."

However, petitioners said they were prevented from paying their respects to late leaders at Babaoshan, however.

"There are police everywhere, many times more than usual," a petitioner surnamed Zhou told RFA. "You can see that all around Babaoshan, they are stopping people from going in there."

"Yesterday it was possible to get as far as the cemetery gates, but today they are stopping people as far as two kilometers away," Zhou said.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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