'The People They Killed Were Citizens'

china-gao-yu-305.jpg Gao Yu speaks at an International PEN conference in Hong Kong, Feb. 5, 2007.

Veteran journalist Gao Yu is currently serving a seven-year jail term handed down by the Beijing No. 3 Intermediate People's Court in April for "leaking state secrets overseas,” although she has repeatedly denied breaking Chinese law and continues to appeal. During a trip to the United States in 2006, Gao spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about her life story spanning the history of modern China, including the June 4, 1989 military crackdown on the student-led democracy movement on Tiananmen Square:

On Aug. 28, 1990, they had kept me locked up for 13 or 14 months by then, the police took me back home in their car at about 8.00 p.m. I had already been detained for so long that I demanded an explanation. "You need to tell me what this was about," I told them. "No, we don't," they said.

They hadn't told my family when they detained me, not until they'd held me for three-and-a-half months. Then they issued a notice of "residential surveillance" which was in effect until my release.

I still remember what it was like to come home that day, the neighbors were all there to welcome me. As soon as I got back, the next-door neighbor, who worked as a lecturer at the science and technology university, told the police off, saying "I had a heart attack because you took Gao away, and I had to stay in hospital for two months."

Another old department chief from the culture ministry told me I was a hero. I was only locked up for a year and a half, and I was a hero.

They disappeared me suddenly in 1989, and my husband thought I'd probably been beaten to death. He started looking for me in the morgues of major hospitals, when they had laid out the bodies and started taking photos of them. He would go to the hospitals and look through the photos. If he found one that looked like me, he would have the body wheeled out.

Husband's diabetes, mother's death

Then he started asking at all of the detention centers in Beijing to see if I was there, but I wasn't. He had a pretty hard time of it, by all accounts, and wound up with diabetes. He was 54 in 1989, five years older than me, and he got diabetes as a result of all the stress and grief.

Somebody who lived upstairs from me also disappeared very suddenly. During the June 4 crackdown they were firing at our apartment building and [my husband] told the kids to get under the bed because they were firing on the upper floors of the building, on the fourth floor, the highest floor in our building. He was afraid the kids would be hit; he was so scared.

As soon as I got home [from detention], my mother, who had been through a lot of [political] campaigns since 1949, including the Cultural Revolution, when our house was searched and there were a lot of problems because my father was a high-ranking official. But this was to be the last political campaign that my mother experienced.

About 20 days after I got back, in September, she just collapsed to the floor, and we tried to set her upright. We didn't know what to do, so we called an ambulance. They told us it was a heart attack, and took her to the Anzhen hospital.

There wasn't as much equipment in the hospitals back in those days. When we got there, my mother ... needed a CT scan, and those were only available in the Sino-Japanese Hospital next door. We didn't find out that it was a stroke until we got there. When she woke up, she couldn't speak, because the stroke had impaired her language function.

A year and two months later, my mother was in a coma ... she was thin, just skin and bones, and then she died. I don't think she would have died so soon if it hadn't been for June 4.

Now, so many years later, I think that the [democracy] movement would have been the best way of achieving harmony between the people and the government. We hear so much about a harmonious society today. But what if you're not harmonious?

Maybe they don't want to reappraise the movement for now, but they could at least go after those who were responsible; that would be enough. They should admit that the people they killed were ordinary citizens, and not violent rebels.

[Late ousted premier] Zhao Ziyang was very clear about that. He wouldn't go against his conscience, even if it meant going to hell. He didn't want to give the order to the troops to fire. If he had agreed to do that, he'd still be the general secretary today.

He had always wanted to solve China's problems on the basis of democracy and the rule of law. If the Chinese Communist Party had been able to accept his views, if the gerontocracy hadn't been carrying on its machinations behind the scenes ... he would have got enough support within the central committee and the standing committee; after
all, he was the general secretary. If he had succeeded, I really think that China would be in a great place right now.

Reported by Zhang Min for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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