Chinese exiled dissident community stunned by loss of murdered New York lawyer

Pro-democracy activist and immigration attorney Li Jinjin dies after a stabbing attack at his Flushing law firm.
By Kai Di and Malik Wang
Chinese exiled dissident community stunned by loss of murdered New York lawyer Immigration lawyer Li Jinjin, 67, who played a key role while a student in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, in an undated photo.

Police in New York have arrested a 25-year-old woman in connection with the stabbing to death of a former 1989 Tiananmen Square protester, who worked as an immigration lawyer after fleeing China at the end of the two-year jail term for joining the pro-democracy protests.

Li Jinjin, 67, who played a key role while a student in the 1989 protests, was stabbed to death on March 14.

Police have arrested Zhang Xiaoning, who faces charges of homicide and unlawful possession of a weapon, they said in a statement. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz will lead the prosecution.

Zhao Yan, a current affairs commentator with knowledge of the case, said there are concerns in Chinese émigré and dissident circles in the U.S. that Zhang, a student who was very active in exile pro-democracy groups, wasn't everything she appeared.

While Zhang had arrived in the U.S. in August 2021 on an F-1 student visa, she hadn't enrolled at any school, instead spending most of her time in pro-democracy activities among exiled Chinese dissidents.

Zhao said the type of injuries Li sustained during the attack suggested his assailant had received "professional training."

He said Li would be sorely missed.

"Jinjin said he would help [a person] who was in a car accident for free, because they didn't have the financial resources to file a lawsuit," Zhao said. "Everyone knows that he would help people unconditionally."

"He would go to the police stations to bail people out if they got arrested; he did a lot of work like that," he said. "He was very kind, and a good friend, and what happened to him makes me very sad."

'An irreparable loss'

Exiled Chinese dissident Wang Juntao said he had known Li for more than three decades as both a colleague and a close friend.

"I really can't believe that there'll be no more Li Jinjin ... in the future," Wang said. "It really is an irreparable loss for all of us."

He said Li was a passionate political activist in the overseas pro-democracy movement, who would debate political issues with the same fierceness as someone still in college.

"His departure has left a huge hold in the democracy movement, because he was in leading roles in several different groups over a long period of time," Wang said. "He also handled all of their legal affairs."

Wang said people had raised questions about Zhang Xiaoning's identity after noting "paranoid and capricious" behavior on her part.

He said Li's murder took place shortly after he had told Zhang to stop coming to his office, and threatened to drop her political asylum case.

Lawyer Zhu Wei said he found Li's death "very hard to accept."

"He is a very kind, honest and professional lawyer who had helped many people who came from China ... much of it on a voluntary, pro bono basis," Zhu said.

Spirits of Tiananmen

Hu Ping, honorary editor-in-chief of the U.S.-based pro-democracy magazine Beijing Spring, tweeted his condolences, sharing a long essay penned by Li on the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre of civilians by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that put an end to weeks of protests on Tiananmen Square.

In it, Li says the CCP has continued to claim that the protests were the work of "counterrevolutionary" thugs.

"The position of the Chinese government since the massacre has prevented full disclosure about what really happened," Li wrote. "The victims are still referred to as thugs and their spirits have yet to be laid to rest."

"The injured ... have received no compensation to this day."

Writer Bei Ming said Li was a "treasure" of the exiled pro-democracy movement, describing him as a serious and open-minded person with a zest for life.

Dozens of other fellow exiled dissidents penned an obituary for Li, praising his belief in the democracy movement, and his personal generosity.

"Li Jinjin's greatest wish was to end the tyranny of the CCP," the obituary concluded.

Li served two years' imprisonment in the wake of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement, before going to the U.S. to study law in the 1990s.

He had practiced as an attorney in New York ever since.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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