Former 1989 student leader stands trial over calls for massacre reappraisal

Xu Guang is ‘very weak’ after months of hunger strike and forced feeding to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre.
By Gao Feng for RFA Mandarin
Former 1989 student leader stands trial over calls for massacre reappraisal Former 1989 student leader Xu Guang [2nd from left] with fellow activists at the grave of Chinese dissident Wang Rongqing, in an undated photo.
Credit: Citizen journalist via RFA

A former student leader of the 1989 protest movement at Hangzhou University has stood trial in the eastern province of Zhejiang for “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble,” a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, after he refused food and drink in detention to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre.

Xu Guang appeared in poor health and was extremely weak as he stood trial by video link at the Xihu District People’s Court on April 3, following months of hunger striking and intermittent force-feeding while in a police-run detention center, fellow activist Li Qing told Radio Free Asia on Wednesday.

He told the court that he had refused food and drink in detention to remind the world to “never forget June 4th,” the date of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre that put an end to weeks of student-led protest in Beijing and other major Chinese cities.

“He was very weak,” Li said. “It wasn’t that cold ... but he was wearing a padded jacket, so I think he must be pretty thin – his face looked very thin.”

Li said the authorities had removed his nutritional IV drip, and that Xu had asked for it to be brought back before he would address the court.

“I need the nutrient drip if I’m to have the strength to speak,” Xu said, after which his doctor told the judge that he should be able to speak with no problem.

“I can’t talk with the nutrient drip,” Xu insisted, speaking slowly but clearly after it was wheeled over and put in again, according to Li.

Later, he told the court: “I had just one aim in pursuing this hunger strike, which was to remind the world not to forget June 4th.”

Public mourning for victims or discussion of the events of spring and summer 1989 are banned, and references to June 4, 1989, blocked, filtered or deleted by the Great Firewall of government internet censorship.

Tank-shaped ice cream

Beauty influencer Austin Li, part of a generation of younger Chinese people who consequently know little of the massacre, had his June 3, 2022, livestream interrupted after he displayed a tank-shaped ice cream dessert, prompting censors to pull the plug immediately.

Li said he was particularly moved by Xu’s closing statement.

“He said: ‘I love this country, and I love the Chinese people. I want the verdict on the 1989 protests to be overturned,’” Li said.

Xu friend and fellow activist Zou Wei said the prosecution had based its case on comments made by Xu on overseas social media platforms.

“The long arm of the Chinese Communist Party now extends overseas,” Zou said. “Xu Guang’s video comments on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram are being used as a basis for conviction.”

The prosecution requested a jail term of less than five years, sources told Radio Free Asia.

Xu, 54, had been approached by officers from the Xihu district police department and warned to keep a low profile during the 33rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre on June 4, 2022.

He was later detained after he held up a placard outside his local police station calling for the official verdict on the 1989 protest movement to be overturned.

‘Never publicly accounted for its actions’

Xu previously served a five-year jail term after trying to formally register the China Democracy Party as a political party in 1998, and has repeatedly called on the party leadership to overturn the official verdict of “counterrevolutionary rebellion” on the 1989 protests.

The New York-based Human Rights in China describes the June 3-4, 1989, massacre as a government-backed military crackdown that ended large-scale, peaceful protests in Beijing and other cities during that year.

But the government described the protests as “counterrevolutionary riots,” a term they later replaced with “political disturbances” which they say were suppressed by “decisive measures.”

“The Chinese government has never publicly accounted for its actions with an independent and open investigation, brought to justice those responsible for the killing of unarmed civilians, or compensated the survivors or families of those killed,” the group says on its website.

“In fact, it has never made public even the names and the number of people killed or wounded during the crackdown, or of those executed or imprisoned afterwards in connection with the protests,” it said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Matt Reed.


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