China Clamps Down in Beijing Ahead of Tomb-Sweeping Festival

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china-qingming-festival-april-2019.jpg Visitors view a columbarium at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery during the Qingming festival in Beijing, April 5, 2019.
AP Photo

Authorities in the Chinese capital stepped up security and surveillance ahead of the traditional tomb-sweeping festival of Qingming this weekend, dissidents and their relatives told RFA.

"I didn't go out today," Beijing-based pro-democracy activist He Depu told RFA on Friday. "There are people watching me; there are police, security guards and residential committee officials out there."

He said this year's tomb-sweeping festival is more politically sensitive than in previous years, as this year will see the 30th anniversary of the 1989 student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, which ended on the night of June 4 with a massacre of civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"They told me that this year's Qingming is very important from the point of view of stability, and that I shouldn't go anywhere," He said. "If I want to go anywhere, I'd have to tell them first and get a ride in their car."

You Weijie, spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group, said she and other relatives of people who died in the massacre had paid their respects in advance of the traditional festival, when families visit ancestral tombs and pay respects, tidying up and making offerings to the dead, sometimes eating a communal meal at the grave site.

"This has been going on for 30 years now," You said of the heightened security around Qingming and June 4. "There has been no change."

"I don't really understand why the government has to do this; they needn't bother. They could just talk to me," she said. "I don't want to go and visit the grave in your car."

Fellow Tiananmen Mothers member Zhang Xianling, whose 19-year-old son died in the military assault on Beijing, said she had run into serious traffic jams in her attempt to visit his grave, and would pay her respects once Qingming was over.

Late premier

Meanwhile, well-wishers converged on the former Beijing home of late liberal premier Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted from power after showing sympathy for the students, spending the rest of his life under house arrest.

His daughter Wang Yanan said security around the family home was far tighter than in previous years.

"This year's security operation is much bigger in scope," Wang told RFA. "It used to begin at the entrance to our alleyway, but now it starts all the way back at the intersection on Dengshikou Street West.
So, yes, it's much tighter."

Wang said she still hopes for an official inquiry and reappraisal of the events of June 1989.

"I think that one day the truth will emerge about this injustice," she said. "One day, they will clear the names of all of those victims, their loved ones, all of those students, my father and the Chinese people. It's just a matter of time."

Li Sui, daughter of the ruling Chinese Communist party's late party secretary for Sichuan province Li Ziyuan, said she had visited the Zhao residence to pay her respects, as her father was a childhood friend of Zhao's.

She called for a re-evaluation of the official verdict of "counterrevolutionary rebellion" on the Tiananmen democracy movement, and the political rehabilitation of those associated with it.

"It's pretty clear in the hearts and minds of ordinary people what justice is," Li Sui said. "The government continues to suppress the issue and refuses to resolve it, but I think there will come a day when it is resolved."

Seeking rehabilitation

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has yet to approve the family's application for a burial plot for Zhao, a liberal-minded and well-loved leader who rose to the top of the ruling party at the 13th Party Congress in 1987.

Zhao's name rarely appears in the official record, although he has a loyal following of former officials seeking to rehabilitate him as a figurehead of the reform era that began in 1979.

In a conclusive break with the reformist thinking of the 1980s, China's current supreme leader Xi Jinping is now serving an indefinite term as president following constitutional changes nodded through in March 2018 by China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC).

The government styled the 1989 student-led democracy protests—sparked by Qingming memorials on Tiananmen Square in 1989 for much-loved liberal premier Hu Yaobang—a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."

Public memorials and discussions of the events of June 1989 are banned, with activists who seek to commemorate the bloodshed often detained, and veteran dissidents placed under police surveillance or detention during each anniversary.

Victims' families are permitted to make private memorial ceremonies at the graves of the victims, usually under escort by the state security police.

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


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