PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS IN THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE
Update, October 2010: Liu Xiaobo, one of China's most prominent intellectuals and a key participant in the events of 1989, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
Man Against the Tanks
The young man photographed and filmed facing a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, is perhaps the most recognizable image from the Tiananmen Square protests and their deadly aftermath. Nothing is known about him, and even his name is uncertain. In many accounts, his name is given as Wang Weilin, but he has not been seen since his appearance on Chang'an Boulevard. Neither Amnesty International nor Human Rights Watch have been able to uncover any information about the man or his family. Jiang Zemin, the Communist Party General Secretary, was asked about the fate of the young man in a 1992 interview with Barbara Walters. He replied in his stilted English: "I think never killed."
Pico Iyer, in "The Unknown Rebel" (Time Magazine, April 13, 1998), writes of the man against the tank as "the Unknown Soldier of a new Republic of the Image."
In "Icon of the Revolution," (The London Guardian, 4 June 1992), Patrick Wright says about the man against the tanks:
The image has been subject to much interpretation in the West.... The military historian John Keegan declares it a merely "poetic image", a story of "the impersonal armed might of the army lined up against the unvanquished human spirit." He then breaks to say, drily, "You can write the words yourself." Some newspapers have certainly done that. Tantalised by the image of this man who is universally known and yet almost completely obscure, newspapers have felt obliged to augment the story. One report confirmed Wang's status as a student by putting books in his bag, and there were diverse variations on the words he is said to have shouted at the tanks, from the simple "Go away" of the Sunday Express to "Go back, turn around, stop killing my people" elaborated by Today a week or so later.
Leaders all over the world hailed him. President Bush commended his courage, followed by senior rock stars like Neil Young. Neil Kinnock spoke for Parliament, remarking that: "The memory of one unarmed young man standing in front of a column of tanks . . . will remain . . . long after the present leadership in China and what they stand for has been forgotten." That claim has since been corroborated by Wim Wenders, whose new film Until The End of the World envisions Beijing, in 1999, when the old order has visibly fallen - and glimpses the man in front of the tank, by this time a gilded monument.
In Tiananmen on TV, Richard Gordon, co-director of THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, describes how the man against the tanks has become "one of the defining iconic images of the 20th century, like a monument in a vast public square created by television."
Born 1966. Chai graduated from Beijing University and was engaged in graduate studies at Beijing Normal University at the time of the protest movement. She became the Commander-in-Chief of the Hunger Strike Group on Tiananmen Square in mid-May 1989 and then Commander-in-Chief of the Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters from late May until June 4th, 1989. She fled China after ten months of hiding and presently resides in the United States, where she is Founder, President, and COO of Jenzabar, a software company.
More information about Chai Ling and the controversy that has followed her to Jenzabar is available here.
Chai Ling repeatedly turned down requests to be interviewed for THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, including a written plea by Robert L. Bernstein, the Chairman of Human Rights Watch. The film uses an interview that she gave to the American journalist Philip Cunningham on 28 May 1989, as a means of explicating her position on the 1989 protests. That interview was undertaken at Chai Ling's request. After it was filmed, she viewed it and asked Cunningham to release it internationally as her political statement on the student movement. The most explosive element of the interview (reported in the Hong Kong press in 1989 and commented on by a few journalists, but generally ignored in the past) was that Chai said: "I feel so sad, because how can I tell them [the students] that what we actually are hoping for is bloodshed, the moment when the government is ready to brazenly butcher the people."
For more about Chai Ling and the controversy over her portrayal in the film, see the section, "Reviews, Commentary and Controversy." Read the complete Chinese transcript of Chai Ling's interview with Philip Cunningham.
Born 1941. The daughter of a Communist Party martyr, Dai was raised in the family of Ye Jianying, one of the ten marshals of the People's Liberation Army and a major Chinese political figure. Trained as a missile engineer, she later became a journalist and writer. She achieved fame during the 1980s for a series of investigative journalist studies of important dissident figures persecuted by the Communist Party in the 1940s and 1950s. She also helped organize China's first environmental lobby group. Dai Qing publicly denounced the June 4th massacre and quit the Party on June 5th. She was jailed for 10 months shortly thereafter and is still not allowed to publish in China. Nonetheless, she has remained an active writer and commentator on Chinese politics. Among other things, she has continued her close involvement with Chinese environmental issues, an involvement that began with her organization of the first environmental lobby group in 1989 opposed to the building of the Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze River. (See links below.) In 1993, Dai Qing was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in opposing the Three Gorges dam.
Born 1936. Ding was a professor in the Philosophy Department of People's University in Beijing. Her son, Jiang Jielian, a 17-year-old middle school student, was killed on Chang'an Avenue on the night of June 3rd, 1989. Ding subsequently quit the Communist Party and began searching out the relatives of other victims, hoping to lobby the government to publish the number and names of those killed, as well as the truth of what happened on June 3-4. In 1991 she began speaking out in public and to foreign media. Ding Zilin was penalized by her university for her outspokenness. She is now a leading dissident figure in Beijing, under the constant surveillance of the Public Security Bureau. In the summer of 1995 she was detained on unspecified charges, just prior to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Born in 1967. Feng was a graduate student in the Physics Department at Beijing University. He was arrested briefly for his involvement in the student movement in 1986. During the 1989 student movement, he was at one time Chairman of the Coalition of Independent Student Unions of Beijing, the Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Hunger Strike Group on Tiananmen Square, and then the Vice Commander-in-Chief of the Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters. Married to Chai Ling at the time of the protest movement, he fled China after ten months of hiding and went to Paris for Ph.D. work in Anthropology. In May 2009, Feng wrote an "Open Letter" to the filmmakers, alleging "false reporting and editing" in regard to the film's coverage of Chai Ling. A detailed and point-by-point refutation of Feng's charges is available on this site (see also the Chinese version); this reply was sent to Feng in July 2009.
Born 1916. Ge Yang was a veteran Communist Party member and a reporter who was purged as a Rightist in 1957. After more than twenty years of political disgrace, she was formally rehabilitated by the Party in the late 1970s and became editor-in-chief of New Observer, a leading Beijing bimonthly. In April 1989, New Observer, then a prominent vehicle for reformist opinion, organized a special tribute to Hu Yaobang after his death. That particular issue was banned in late April 1989, contributing to calls for an end to press censorship in China. New Observer was closed down after June 4th and Ge Yang went into exile in the United States, where she remained an active commentator on Chinese politics for many years. She passed away in January 2009.
Born 1963. After serving in the People's Liberation Army and then becoming a worker, Han was a leading organizer of the Independent Workers' Union of Beijing. After June 4th, he turned himself in to the police but would not admit to any wrongdoing. He was in detention for nearly two years and became seriously ill. He was released when the authorities thought that he was about to die. In September 1993, he was allowed to travel to the U.S. to seek treatment for tuberculosis, which he had developed in jail. While overseas, he advocated for free trade unions and workers' rights in China. In November 1993, he attempted to return to China, but the Chinese authorities revoked his passport and sent him back to Hong Kong. He has remained in Hong Kong, where he has been active in workers' issues. In 1994, Han Dongfang founded the China Labour Bulletin.
For more about the participation of Han Dongfang and other workers in the 1989 protests, see "Workers in the Tiananmen Protests: The Politics of the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation," by Andrew G. Walder and Gong Xiaoxia.
- China Labour Bulletin, June 4, 2009: Keeping the Flame Alive
- "The Prospects for Legal Enforcement of Labor Rights in China Today - A Glass Half Full" - statement by Han Dongfang before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's hearing, "What Will Drive China's Future Legal Development? Reports from the Field," June 18, 2008.
- "Chinese Labour Struggles," interview in the New Left Review, July-August 2005.
- Interview with Human Rights First, 2000
Born in Taiwan in 1956. A singer-songwriter, Hou achieved fame with his 1979 song "Heirs of the Dragon." In 1983 Hou moved to the mainland in search of his roots. He became a very popular cultural figure and introduced a new, personal style of performance. During the protest movement, Hou took part in the four-man hunger strike of June 2nd. When troops surrounded Tiananmen Square early on the morning of June 4th, Hou and Zhou Duo, another of the four hunger strikers, negotiated with the army to allow the students to leave the Square. In June 1990, after Hou repeatedly refused to remain silent about his political views, the Chinese authorities put him on a Taiwan fishing boat which they had stopped, and ordered the crew to take Hou back to Taiwan. In Taiwan he was arraigned by the authorities for illegal entry and was given a seven-month prison sentence, subsequently commuted.
- Taipei Journal: "Castaway From China Lands in Trouble in Taiwan," The New York Times, July 19, 1990
- Songs you can't play on Beijing radio, from Danwei.org
- For an article on popular music in China, see "Official Bad Boys or True Rebels?" by Geremie Barmé.
- The Modern Chinese Literature and Culture's Resource Center contains an extensive bibliography of Chinese popular music.
Born 1957. Liang was a lecturer in world history at Beijing Foreign Studies University at the time of the protest movement. She supported the students' cause, while often debating with them about tactics and about the meaning of democracy. On the night of June 3rd, after hearing that the army had opened fire in the streets, she went to Tiananmen Square to be with her students and to help prevent bloodshed. At dawn on June 4th she left Tiananmen Square with the students at gunpoint. She is now one of the editors of Orient, a journal established in 1993, and one of the most important new forums for intellectual debate in China.
Born 1955. A literary critic
and lecturer at Beijing Normal University, Liu became one of the most prominent
and acerbic cultural figures in China in the late 1980s. He was a visiting
fellow at Columbia University in 1989 when he decided to return to China and
take part in the popular movement. He initiated the four-man hunger strike
on June 2nd, and called on both the government and the students to abandon
the ideology of class struggle and to adopt a new kind of political culture.
Liu was jailed for 21 months after June 4th and has not been allowed to publish
anything in China since 1989. In May 1995, he was detained by the Chinese
authorities for organizing a new petition campaign on the eve of the sixth
anniversary of June 4th, calling on the government to reassess the protest
movement and to initiate political reform. In October 1996, Liu Xiaobo was
sentenced to three years in a labor camp for co-authoring a petition critical
of the government.
In December 2008, Liu, along with over three hundred other Chinese intellectuals and activists, signed Charter 08, a document calling for political reform in China. The next day, Liu Xiaobo was detained by Chinese police and held under "residential surveillance". On June 23, 2009, Liu was formally arrested on charges of "suspicion of incitement to subvert state power." (See BBC News, Voice of America, and Human Rights in China for more information.) On December 25, 2009, following a trial that lasted under three hours (Human Rights Watch: "Liu Xiaobo's Trial a Travesty of Justice"), Liu was sentenced to eleven years in prison. (See "International outcry after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years," Times Online and "Leading China Dissident Gets 11-Year Term for Subversion," The New York Times.) Read Liu Xiaobo's "I Have No Enemies: My Final Statement" - written on December 23, 2009, the day of his trial.
Liu filed an appeal on January 28, 2010, charging the trial court with "an abuse of public power." (See Human Rights in China for the full defense statement.) In a New York Review of Books blog ("What Beijing Fears Most"), the China scholar Perry Link comments that "Liu's response to his sentence - and that of a number of Chinese intellectuals over the past few weeks - suggests that the Charter 08 movement continues to survive, despite extraordinary efforts by the Chinese government to repress it." Liu's appeal was denied. In October 2010, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for "his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." See the Nobel Prize site for more information.
Related links on The Gate of Heavenly Peace site:
- More readings about Liu Xiaobo.
- Liu Xiaobo's essay on the Chinese as "both victim and carrier" of That Holy Word, "Revolution".
- Video clips featuring Liu Xiaobo from the film, The Gate of Heavenly Peace.
- On Charter 08: In China, a Grass-Roots Rebellion, The Washington Post, Jan. 29, 2009
- Liu Xiaobo on Civil Rights and Ideology, interviews and press coverage
- Liu Xiaobo's battle against censorship, from Reporters without Borders
- March 2009: Liu Xiaobo is the recipient of an award presented by former Czech president Václav Havel
- April 2009: Liu Xiaobo receives the 2009 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award; Times Online: Arrested Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo to receive prestigious award
- December 2009: Liu Xiaobo is sentenced to eleven years in prison. For analysis, see "Liu Xiaobo case reveals a more assertive China" (Times Online), "Trial in China Signals New Limits on Dissent" (The New York Times).
- October 2010: Liu Xiaobo is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. See "Nobel Peace Prize Given to Jailed Chinese Dissident" (The New York Times, Oct. 8, 2010), Letter from China: Liu Xiaobo Wins the Nobel Peace Prize (The New Yorker, Oct. 8, 2010). "Liu Xiaobo Shocks Chinese Society by Winning the Nobel Peace Price" - novelist Ai Mi and others consider the impact of Liu's award on Chinese civil society and freedom of speech. See PEN American Center's page on Liu Xiaobo for more information and links.
Born 1960. A garment worker who became a small-scale private entrepreneur in Beijing, Lü was active in the Independent Workers' Union in Tiananmen Square in May of 1989. She escaped from the country after June 4th. Lü attempted to return to Beijing to visit her daughter and ailing mother in June 1993, but was stopped by the authorities at the airport, interrogated, and forced to return to Hong Kong. She now works for the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union in New York, where her daughter recently joined her.
For a short description of Lü Jinghua's experiences on Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989, see Black Hands of Beijing, by George Black and Robin Munro.
Born 1970. A history major at Beijing University in 1989, Wang helped organize seventeen "democracy salons"--discussion groups--at Beijing University to discuss controversial subjects in the year leading up to the protest movement. A key activist during the movement, Wang was arrested after June 4th and sentenced to four years. He was released in February 1993 and chose to remain in China. After his release he consistently called for an official reassessment of the events of 1989, and for democratic reform in China. Harassed and detained by the authorities on numerous occasions, he was taken into custody again in May 1995, shortly before the sixth anniversary of June 4th. In October 1996, Wang Dan was sentenced to eleven years in prison for his political activities. In April 1998, however, he was released and flown to the United States. He completed his Ph.D. studies in history at Harvard University. He is chairman of the Chinese Constitutional Reform Association and serves on the advisory board of Wikileaks.
- "Tiananmen: The Flame Burns On," guardian.co.uk | The Observer (May 3, 2009).
- "Tiananmen Twenty Years On" - Interview, Index on Censorship (April 15, 2009).
- The Exile and the Entrepreneur - Time Magazine (May 31, 2004).
Born 1957. After graduating from Beijing University in the early 1980s, Wu became an editorial writer for the People's Daily. In the late 1980s, Wu was a member of a reformist think-tank under Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang. He was involved in drafting many crucial Party documents championing reform, both for publication and for internal policy purposes. At the time of the protest movement in 1989 he was in the United States as a Nieman Fellow. He was expelled from the Party after he publicly denounced the June 4th massacre. In 1995, he completed a doctoral dissertation on the history of China's 1980s reforms. Wu Guoguang is currently Associate Professor at the University of Victoria, where he teaches in the Departments of Political Science and History, and is the China Program Chair at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives.
See "Lies in Ink, Truth in Blood": The Role and Impact of the Chinese Media During the Beijing Spring of '89, for more about Wu Guoguang and the inner workings of the Chinese news media.
Born 1968. An ethnic Uighur (an ethnic group from Xinjiang, Chinese Turkestan), Wu'er Kaixi was a student at Beijing Normal University in 1989. He emerged as a leading activist in April 1989, then fell from prominence during internecine struggles in the student movement after the imposition of martial law. Wu'er Kaixi escaped from China after June 4th. He studied at Harvard University and at Dominican College in San Rafael, California. He currently resides in Taiwan, where he has hosted a radio talk show and appears frequently in the local media as a political commentator. He maintains a blog at wuerkaixi.com.
In an interview from June 2009, Wu'er said, "I live in Taiwan, and I am very glad to be accepted as part of it. ... I became one of the more influential opinion leaders in Taiwan about domestic politics. That is something that I was very happy to achieve. ... [M]y friends in exile envy me for that because I have ground on which to stand. It is almost contradictory to the term exile. Exile means you don't have ground to stand on. ... We have gained an opportunity not to be imprisoned by being in exile. But the price to pay for that is not being able to see my parents for twenty years. Being humble [I'll] say, yes, we gained fame, we gained more opportunity to know people. Actually, what I highly appreciate is understanding democracy, to have a broader vision, to have the opportunity to meet with some great people in the world... Yes, this is something we have gained. These things have set us on a different course. But I would much rather be in China today." (A Lousy Deal, Guernica, June 2009)
On June 3, 2009, Wu'er Kaixi attempted to return to China through Macau but was turned away by Chinese immigration officers. In a statement, Wu'er said that he wanted to surrender to Chinese authorities in order to visit his aging parents, who are not allowed to leave China.
"When I turn myself in, I will use the platform of a Chinese courtroom to debate the Chinese government about this incident," he said. "My turning myself in should not be interpreted as my admission that my behavior 20 years ago is illegal and wrong. I want to reassert here the Chinese government bears complete and undeniable moral, political and legal responsibility for the tragedy that happened in China in 1989," his statement said. "I hope, 20 years later, the Chinese government can set a new position on the historical problem of the 'June 4 massacre,' admit its guilt and apologize to the Chinese people." (The Seattle Times, June 4, 2009: Key Tiananmen protester tries to return to China)
In June 2010, Wu'er Kaixi made another attempt to return to his homeland, this time by trying to enter the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, Japan, on the anniversary of the June 4 crackdown. He was arrested and later released by Japanese police; according to Wu'er, "This is the only way for me to try to return home. I want to go home and see my parents, even if it means they have to visit me in a jail." (Earth Times News, June 6, 2010) Wu'er also said, "Today, I take this action to go back to China to continue to press the Chinese government for dialogue -- even if this dialogue has to take place in a courtroom." (Taipei Times, June 6, 2010) He also vowed that "my attempt to come home will never be stopped. I'm trying to continue to fulfil my promise I have made to the Chinese government and to the world that our attempt will never stop." (The Straits Times, June 7, 2010)
- BBC News: Witnessing Tiananmen: Student Talks Fail (May 28, 2004) - Wu'er Kaixi recalls the May 18 meeting with Li Peng.
- guardian.co.uk | The Observer: Tiananmen: The Flame Burns On (May 3, 2009).
- The Daily Telegraph: Tiananmen Square 'ringleader' detained in Macau (June 4, 2009)
- The China Post: Tiananmen student leader vows to try again to return to China (June 4, 2009)
- Wu'er Kaixi, Wall Street Journal: Prosperity Can't Erase Tiananmen (June 4, 2009)
- Open letter to the Chinese government, dated June 20, 2009 and signed by former student leaders including Wang Dan, Feng Congde, and Chai Ling, asking that Wu'er Kaixi and his parents be allowed to reunite (note: the letter is in Chinese only)
Born 1957. After teaching college English for four years, Xiang became a graduate student at the Chinese Politics and Law University in Beijing. His master's thesis was on the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, and he had a special interest in the role of negotiation in international law. In 1989 Xiang was a leading organizer of the Dialogue Group in the early stages of the student movement. Xiang escaped to Hong Kong after June 4th and later moved to the United States, where he received his LLM degree from Columbia University in 1991. He is now the vice-chairman of the Chinese Alliance for Democracy, a dissident organization with branches all over the world.
See "Lies in Ink, Truth in Blood": The Role and Impact of the Chinese Media During the Beijing Spring of '89, for comments by Xiang Xiaoji about the Chinese media's influence on the 1989 movement.
Born 1962. Originally a bus conductor with the Beijing Bus Company, Zhao was active in worker protest before 1989 and became a member of the Independent Workers' Union during the movement of 1989. After June 4th he escaped from China, and he now lives in Canada.