Clampdown on Memorials

China's annual grave-sweeping holiday takes a political turn.
2010-04-06
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Families place flowers as they mourn for quake victims during Qing Ming Festival in Sichuan province, April 4, 2009.
Families place flowers as they mourn for quake victims during Qing Ming Festival in Sichuan province, April 4, 2009.
AFP

HONG KONG—Chinese national security police sought to rein in activists at the weekend as they tried to mourn deaths regarded as politically sensitive, including those of schoolchildren who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and students who died in the military crackdown of 1989.

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang, beaten last year by unidentified men at a cemetery in Jinan, 230 miles (370 kms) south of Beijing, said he was under tight police surveillance on the traditional Chinese grave-sweeping festival of Qing Ming.

Sun, 76, said he had planned to make a trip to Heroes’ Mountain in Shandong with around 10 other people to hang banners commemorating those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared thousands of student-led pro-democracy protesters from the center of Beijing in 1989.

Hundreds died during the crackdown, which followed the ouster of reformist premier Zhao Ziyang by then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

“Today there were already a lot of [national security] police at our doorway, and they told us not to go to Heroes’ Mountain, not to perform memorial activities,” Sun said.

“We argued very forcefully that they had no right to prevent us from going. When we got to the summit, I tried to hang the first scroll, but no sooner had I done it than one of them took it down again.”

Sun said he wanted to commemorate Zhao, whose name has been edited out of official records and history books, along with those people who died during the military crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing.

“They refused to let us commemorate Zhao Ziyang and some of the martyrs that we wanted to commemorate,” he said.

Artist held

In Beijing, artist Yang Licai said he was detained in a police vehicle after he read out a public memorial for schoolchildren who died in the devastating 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.

“It was Qing Ming festival today, and I had the names of the 14 schoolchildren who died in the earthquake who would have had their birthday today,” Yang said.

“So I read out their names in front of the police car that was on detail to follow me, in front of the visitors to the 798 Artist District,” he said.

“I expect that a lot of people will go to the cemetery to sweep the graves, but I have bought a lot of white [mourning] flowers for my house, because I am being kept under house arrest,” he said.

“In mainland China, every day is grave-sweeping day.”

The authorities have restricted memorial activities for children who died when their schools collapsed on May 12, 2008, amid widespread calls for an inquiry into allegations of official corruption and shoddy construction.

Hong Kong remembrance

In Hong Kong, democratic politicians held a brief ceremony outside the Cultural Center in Tsimshatsui, laying wreaths to commemorate those who died in the 1989 bloodshed.

Szeto Wah, chairman of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said the group would continue to remember the victims of June 4, 1989.

“I will continue to attend the events organized by the Alliance,” Szeto, who is battling lung cancer, told reporters. “Even if I’m in a wheelchair.”

Szeto said the Alliance would stage a demonstration on April 18 to protest what he called continued surveillance and oppression by the Hong Kong police.

Under the terms of the 1997 return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, the territory was promised separate political and judicial systems, together with continuing freedoms of speech and association.

Many in the territory say those freedoms are slowly being eroded, as a powerful business elite with strong connections in China pulls the Special Administrative Region government closer and closer to Beijing.

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong-based group on social media site Facebook supporting the relatives of the victims of the 1989 crackdown said their group had been taken down from the Internet.

Activist Chen Shiyun said the group had been removed because it had received large numbers of complaints from other service users.

“We are guessing that these complaints must have come from people who didn’t agree with the purpose of the group,” Chen said.

“Facebook removed the site after it had received a set number of complaints, and it didn’t think to make a judgment about whether they were valid,” Chen added.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao, and in Cantonese by Lee Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Additional translation by Ping Chen. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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