Mao Portrait Protester Tortured to Mental Breakdown in Chinese Jail


2004.11.19
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HONG KONG—A 1989 protester who helped splatter Mao Zedong’s portrait with red paint during the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement has been tortured to the point of mental collapse in jail, a fellow activist has told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

Former newspaper editor Yu Dongyue was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 1989 for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement” after he and two friends defaced a major Communist Partyicon—the portrait of Chairman Mao that still hangs above the main arch of the Tiananmen gateway at the heart of Beijing.

“In 2001, a group of five of us went to the Hunan No.1 Prison to visit him,” fellow protester Lu Decheng told RFA’s Cantonese service in an exclusive interview. “He was almost unrecognizable.”

Appeal for help

“He had a totally dull look in his eyes, and he kept repeating words over and over again as if he were chanting a mantra. He didn’t recognize anyone,” said Lu, who has recently escaped from China after years of harassment by the authorities after his release from prison.

Lu, who spoke from an undisclosed location, along with fellow pro-democracy activist Yu Zhijian, have appealed for help from the international community with Yu Dongyue’s plight.

He had a totally dull look in his eyes, and he kept repeating words over and over again as if he were chanting a mantra. He didn’t recognize anyone.

“There was a big scar on the right hand side of his head. I asked his mother if Yu had ever received a head injury, but she said he never had,” Lu said. “Another inmate at the prison told me that they had tied Yu to a power line post and left him in the sun for several days. After that they locked him in solitary for two years, and that’s when he got like that.”

Childhood friends

“He had been tortured to the point of psychosis,” Lu said. “Even a tough guy like Yu Zhijian was weeping when he saw him. Before we had thought it was all rumors, but now we really knew for sure how things had turned out for him.”

The three men came from Hunan Province, 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.

‘They hated us more than the others’

Lu and Yu Zhijian have been the constant targets of official persecution since their release from jail, Lu said. They have written repeatedly to central government officials in Beijing calling for the release of Yu Dongyue on medical grounds and for their rehabilitation, but with no result.

“I think that what the three of us did back in 1989 showed the Party’s authoritarianism, its totalitarianism, most clearly. And they hated us three more than any of the others for it. To this day, they haven’t left us alone,” Lu said.

I think that what the three of us did back in 1989 showed the Party’s authoritarianism, its totalitarianism, most clearly.

Lu’s house was demolished, his wife received threats from the authorities forcing her to divorce him, and Lu’s minibus was confiscated, depriving him of a means to earn his living as a taxi driver.

Phone tapping, mail interception and surveillance became a regular part of his life. Yu Zhijian has reported similar persecution by the Chinese authorities and has been unable to find work since his release.

‘A tough journey’

“They persecuted my first wife, torturing her mentally, you could call it. In 1995, they threatened her with the loss of her job if she didn’t get a divorce from me. After that, I borrowed some money and invested it in a small minibus to drive as a taxi, but they confiscated it.”

Lu said he had escaped in order to tell the world what had happened to Yu Dongyue. Yu Zhijian had remained behind in the hope of continuing to further the cause of democracy in China, he said.

“I set out three months ago. It’s been a tough journey, getting here…But my problems are nothing compared with what happened to Yu Dongyue,” Lu said.

“He has been crippled by his treatment in jail and has no sort of medical assistance. His condition is likely to get worse. Yu Zhijian and I are not strong enough alone, and we are in great pain over this. We hope others will be able to do something to help him.”

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