China Releases Mao Portrait Protester After 17 Years

May 1989. The portrait of China's late supreme leader Mao Zedong, defaced with ink. Photo: AFP

HONG KONG—The last of three protesters jailed by the Chinese authorities for defacing the portrait of Mao Zedong during the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square has been released after serving 17 years in jail.

Former newspaper editor Yu Dongyue left Chishan Prison, Yuanjiang city in the central province of Hunan, on Wednesday under police escort, his mother Wu Pinghua told RFA’s Cantonese service.

Asked about Yu Dongyue’s physical condition, his sister, Yu Rixia, told RFA's Mandarin service: “His health is not very good. He can not manage his own personal chores. The priority now is for him to adjust to the current situation and hope that his health can be gradually improved.”

I am very happy that Yu Dongyue has been released. But it’s a very sad sort of happy.

“He acts like a 3- or 4 year-old boy, and he can’t take interviews,” she said. “He has no logical thinking now."

Sharp downtown in health

She said she had visited her brother several times during his imprisonment and had been shocked to see his health deteriorate but was unable to help him.

Yu Dongyue was in a solitary confinement when she made a trip to visit him in 1994, she said, adding that she was therefore unable to visit with him.

“In 1998, when my sister-in-law and my mother went to see him, he was already abnormal,” she said.

Wu Pinghua said the family had been warned against spreading news of her son's release. “I am very happy today, but also very nervous,” Wu said. “We are cooking dinner right now, but officials told us not to tell other people, not to have friends and relatives come and visit him.”

He acts like a 3- or 4 year-old boy, and he can’t take interviews. He has no logical thinking now.

Wu said the family had kept Yu Dongyue’s release quiet following the detention of fellow Mao portrait protester Yu Zhijian after a visit to the family home Saturday.

The third protester, Lu Decheng, is awaiting a decision on refugee status at a detention center for illegal immigrants in Bangkok after arriving in Thailand in 2004 with no papers.

Since Lu’s escape, Lu and Yu Zhijian have called repeatedly on the central government in Beijing to release Yu Dongyue on medical grounds, and for their own rehabilitation, but with no result.

‘Several years too late’

Dozens of fellow Tiananmen veterans signed an online petition in support of Lu and Yu Dongyue, including former student leader Wang Dan, exiled China Democracy Party founders Xu Wenli and Wang Youcai, and Pittsburgh-based poet Huang Xiang.

“I am very happy that Yu Dongyue has been released,” Lu told RFA from the detention center in Bangkok. “But it’s a very sad sort of happy, because Yu Dongyue has already spent 17 years behind bars and been tortured to the point of psychological collapse.”

“It’s already several years too late for Yu Dongyue now. I only hope he will be able to receive appropriate medical care.”

The three men come from the same hometown, where Lu Decheng and Yu Zhijian were playmates as children, while Yu Zhijian and Yu Dongyue were classmates at school, Lu said.

Before they defaced the Mao portrait on May 23, 1989, all three had been active in the pro-democracy movement in the provincial capital Changsha, traveling to Beijing in mid-May that year to join thousands of demonstrators on Tiananmen Square.

Yu Dongyue, Lu, and Yu Zhijian were handed over to national security police after prolonged negotiations with the student command on the Square, a decision Lu and Yu Zhijian regard as having been made with the broader interests of the student movement in mind.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Lillian Cheung and in Mandarin by Lin Di. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Sarah Jackson-Han.


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