Crackdown on Memorials

Chinese authorities keep a wary eye ahead of the grave-sweeping festival.

A Chinese family visit the grave of a loved one at the Babaoshan cemetery in Beijing, March 26, 2011.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan have placed under house arrest an activist who tried to go to Beijing to pay homage to victims of the 1989 military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy demonstrations.

Chengdu-based activist Chen Yunfei said he was unable to travel to pay his respects ahead of the traditional grave-sweeping festival, which falls this year on April 5.

"I had planned to take the train this evening," Chen said on Friday. "I had already bought my ticket but I couldn't leave the house, so I gave it to them to help me get a refund."

Chen said he was visited by four police officers on Thursday who were to be his 24-hour escorts.

"They summoned me at around 10 p.m. yesterday evening and took me to the police station," he said.

"They have assigned four people to keep watch on me by rotation."

Low profile

Chen said he had planned to visit graves of late disgraced premier Zhao Ziyang and those who died in the Tiananmen military crackdown. Zhao was openly sympathetic to the student protesters. 

"I had been planning to keep a low profile and just sweep their graves," Chen said. "They know that I like to do this."

Zhao's name has been edited out of official records and history books, along with those people who died during the military crackdown.

"In particular, they didn't want me sweeping the graves of the June 4 victims, nor of Zhao Ziyang," Chen said.
The crackdown had climaxed on June 4 when Chinese military tanks and troops moved into the streets of Beijing, using live fire while proceeding to Tiananmen Square to clear the area of protestors.

No form of public memorial has ever been held for those who died when the People’s Liberation Army cleared the thousands of student-led pro-democracy protesters from the center of Beijing.

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

Focal point

Zhao spent nearly two decades under house arrest there before his death on Jan. 17, 2005, which went unnoticed by many in China.

While his name is seldom spoken in political circles, Zhao's death became a focal point for those who are increasingly disgruntled with the current government.

His posthumous memoir, titled in English "Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang", went on sale in 2009 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the military crackdown—which Zhao opposed at the cost of his political career and personal freedom.

Beijing-based dissident Qi Zhiyong, who was paralyzed in the crackdown, said he had also received a visit from national security police in recent days.

"They told me a couple of days ago that I wasn't to meet up with anyone," Qi said.

"They said I shouldn't go out, and that if I wanted to see anyone that I should clear it with the police first."

Zhang Xianling, whose son died in the crackdown, said she would find a private way to honor his memory.

"My son's birthday was on April 3," Zhang said. "For the relatives of the victims of June 4, there are never any collective activities on Qingming Festival."

"We each find our own way to remember our children."

'Jasmine' rallies

Zhang said she expected to be followed by police when she left the house at this time of the year.

"They don't stop me...but if anyone else tries to join me, they stop them from going," she said.

In the southwestern province of Guizhou, police were also moving to prevent any activities by local political activists ahead of the weekend and a proposed seventh round of "Jasmine" rallies against Communist Party rule inspired by the recent uprisings in the Middle East.

Guizhou-based activist Li Renke said two fellow activists had been detained on Thursday.

"I got the news yesterday evening that Chen Xi and Liao Shuangyuan had been taken away," Li said.

"Wu Yuqin was taken away today...and Du Heping as well," he said in an interview on Friday.

Chen Xi's wife confirmed the report. "The national security police took him away last night," she said. "There was no explanation given."

Li said police hadn't specified the reason, but said it was likely linked to recent online calls for a Jasmine rallies on successive Sundays in major Chinese cities, which have so far attracted huge media interest and a large security presence, but few actual protesters.

Li said he expected the detained activists to return after Qingming.

"Qingming is also a sensitive date," he added.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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