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Tiananmen at 30: Examining the Evolution of Repression in China
Congressional-Executive Commission on China and
the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
June 4, 2019
Testimony of Mi Ling Tsui
Communications Director, Human Rights in China
Chairman McGovern, Cochairman Rubio, Cochairman Smith, and members of Congress:
Thank you for this opportunity to testify at this important and timely hearing.
On the 30th anniversary of the June Fourth massacre of unarmed civilians in Tiananmen Square and many other locations in Beijing, we are honored to be able to give voice to the extraordinary efforts of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group of family members of June Fourth victims as well as survivors. For three decades, they have fought against state-enforced amnesia to engage in systematic efforts to gather evidence for an inevitable accounting of the killing. Defying harassment, surveillance, and threats of retaliation, they have collectively identified and documented 202 individuals killed and, through exhaustive interviews with the families and eyewitnesses where possible, accumulated a large body of facts of the crimes committed against the victims.
Since 1999, HRIC has worked to support the Tiananmen Mothers’ demand for justice by disseminating their annual open letters and information they have accumulated to the international community. This year, for the 30th anniversary of June Fourth, in addition to publishing their essay (which I attach and request permission to be entered into the record), we have focused our advocacy contribution on our “Unforgotten” project. The project draws on the extensive documentation compiled by the Tiananmen Mothers—including interviews, essays, videos, and photos—to tell the individual stories of some of the victims, about how they lived and died, and how their deaths have affected their families. The project seeks to highlight the enormous human cost that resulted from Chinese government brutality, and the group’s refusal to accept enforced amnesia about a tragic episode not only for the Chinese people, but also for all of humanity.
They have accomplished this work by force of their moral outrage, mutual support, and tenacity in their pursuit of justice for their loved ones. The group began with Ding Zilin (丁子霖), the mother of Jiang Jielian (蒋捷连), a 17-year-old high-school student who was shot dead on the evening of June 3rd. She reached out to Zhang Xianling (张先玲), another mother whose 19-year-old son, Wang Nan (王楠), was killed in the early morning of June 4th. Several months later, a note was left at the grave of Wang Nan by a third woman, You Weijie (尤维洁), who lost her husband, Yang Minghu (杨明湖), in the massacre.
But identifying the dead has not been easy—often names of the dead were whispered to the
early members of the group, or delivered on slips of paper, some by university staff members. Sometimes the people who provided information on the victims and their families did not even dare to identify themselves. And there were times when families of victims simply refused to be found—perhaps out of a sense of shame. Even when the group managed to track down families of victims, it could take two or three years before the families felt secure enough to agree to establish contact and speak with the group.
While some families live in Beijing, many others are far from the capital, some in the remote farming hinterland, where roads don’t reach. Some parents could not read or write, scratching out a living from farming. A heartbreaking fact quickly emerged: a victim from a poor family was almost always the most promising among the children—the only child that the family could afford to send to university in Beijing, whose death dashed the prospect of a better economic future for the family.
It is from this material that the world can know about how the victims were killed: they were killed by martial law troops firing indiscriminately into crowds; they were shot in the back by troops who chased them into alleys; they were stabbed with bayonets after being shot; they were crushed by tanks coming from behind them after they had left Tiananmen Square; they were run over by military trucks while standing at the roadside waiting to cross the street. While many died instantly, others who made it to the hospital still breathing were met by doctors ordered to treat soldiers only; family members who went to hospitals to claim the bodies of their loved ones were told to hurry before troops came to remove evidence; and bodies were hidden by soldiers in a shallow grave in the front lawn of a high school—also to remove evidence. Cruelty was inflicted upon even the ashes of the dead: many families were told by the places where they kept the ashes of their loved ones that they couldn’t extend the storage period after three years—on order from the local authorities.
Since 1995, the Tiananmen Mothers have appealed to Chinese leaders for open dialogue with them as a group to respond to their three basic demands: the truth of what happened, accountability for the killing, and compensation to survivors and families of victims. Never once has the Chinese government responded to the request. Instead, the authorities tried to splinter the group by the lure of compensation to individual families in efforts to splinter the group. They have also treated members of the group as criminal suspects: every year around so called “sensitive” periods, such as the lead up to the anniversary of June Fourth, they are put under surveillance, with their phones tapped; they are followed; they are forced to leave Beijing on “vacation.”
We received a message a few days ago from a group member who managed to see our project website, which gave her a sense of how the people outside China remember June Fourth. She said: “Seeing the stories about the victims and families made me feel so sad—because I imagine that in the outside world there must be all sorts of commemorative activities marking the 30th anniversary of June Fourth. But inside China, it is like a stagnant pool. We are being monitored.” (看了里面的内容，难属的故事，心里真的很难过。想想国外纪念六四惨案三十周年的有各种各样形式的纪念活动，在国内一片死水一般，我们被监控着.)
How is it that the Chinese government has been able to get away with murder? Not without the complicity of the international community. Too many foreign governments accepted the bargain post-Tiananmen to look the other way—to accept what is unacceptable in a civilized world—in exchange for entry into China’s vast consumer and labor markets. And governments and foreign companies conveniently believed that China’s increased integration into the international community would help it democratize and play by international rules. But as we have seen and continue to see: the opposite is true.
Impunity for June Fourth has emboldened the Chinese leaders to perpetuate and refine the crackdown model—to use it to obliterate diverse voices that the government doesn’t want to hear. The examples from recent years are all too clear: the destruction of an entire rank of rights defense lawyers and activists by imprisonment, physical and psychological torture, and threats to their families; the imprisonment and tragic death-in-custody of Liu Xiaobo, the reform advocate and Nobel Peace laureate; the outright kidnapping of foreign nationals, even on foreign soil; the silencing of intellectuals; the continued suppression of the culture and religion of the Tibetan people; and the internment of more than one million ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang in a campaign to erase their culture and religion. In short, China’s impunity for egregious past human rights violations has enabled and continues to enable the ongoing trampling on rights in China today.
And as it amasses enormous economic and political clout, the Chinese government is aggressively trying to export its own models of development and human rights—so-called human rights with Chinese characteristics—that are at odds with universal values. And indeed, it is stepping up efforts not only to rewrite international human rights principles and norms—born of the lessons the world learned from the horrors of the Second World War—but also to militarize, flout trade decisions made by international authorities that it does not like, and appropriate technology in the service of surveillance and control over cyberspace.
The courage demonstrated by the Tiananmen Mothers acts as a guiding force for the international community, and for all of us to do more to stand up to the authoritarian regime and demand justice.
On this anniversary, we are encouraged by the introduction of House Resolution 393 by Chairman McGovern, and by the solidarity message sent by this hearing—that the U.S. government will not allow enforced amnesia to silence the truth, and that you stand with the Tiananmen Mothers in their struggle to press for truth, accountability, and compensation.
The message that we received last week from a member of the Tiananmen Mothers ended with this note that highlights a force that we should not overlook. She said “I heard that more than 100 people are being forced to leave Beijing—you can see from this how the government is afraid of the power among civil society to lift the lid on the case of the June Fourth massacre.” (听说北京就有一百多人在此期间必须离开北京，可见政府有多怕民间揭开六四惨案盖子的力量。)
The international community has an important role to play in supporting Chinese civil society actors under assault. One immediate action that everyone can take is to leave a message for the Tiananmen Mothers in the “What You Can Do” section of our “Unforgotten” project site—https://truth30.hrichina.org—which we will translate and channel to the Tiananmen Mothers. To those trapped inside the prison of authoritarian China, every single message from the outside, either to them as a group, to individual members, or about individual victims—will be a source of strength.
I’d like to end with this note. On October 10, 2010, Liu Xia, wife of Liu Xiaobo, visited him in prison and delivered the news that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She later told the press: He cried, and said that this Nobel Peace Prize belonged to all the lost souls of June Fourth.
HRIC testified on the significance of the work of the Tiananmen Mothers in defying state-enforced amnesia about June Fourth.
“Mourning Our Families and Compatriots Killed in the June Fourth Massacre: A Letter to China’s Leaders,” the Tiananmen Mothers, March 15, 2019