BEIJING — Last Saturday was tomb-sweeping day, when the Chinese traditionally honor the dead. Sun Wenguang, a 75-year-old retired professor, was one of many to visit the cemetery.
Apparently, though, he chose the wrong death to commemorate. He came to remember Zhao Ziyang, a former prime minister and Communist Party general secretary who lost his party position and his freedom after sympathizing with student-led, pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Mr. Zhao, who died in 2005, is a martyr to some democracy advocates.
As Mr. Sun entered the cemetery in Jinan, a city about 230 miles south of Beijing, he said, four or five men attacked him and beat him severely. He is now in a Jinan hospital with three broken ribs and injuries to his spine, head, back, arms and legs, according to China Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong-based group. The group said the attack on Mr. Sun was part of a concerted effort by the Chinese government to head off any efforts to memorialize the deaths of hundreds of Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, the 20th anniversary of the government’s crackdown.
“Chinese authorities are staging a campaign of terror to intimidate and suppress expressions of commemoration for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre,” the group said in a statement. The attack on Mr. Sun “is part of the overall campaign,” it said.
Public security officials in Jinan referred calls about the attack to the propaganda office of the city’s Communist Party. No one answered phone calls to that office on Tuesday night.
Mr. Sun said he had previously visited the cemetery on Qingming Day to honor Mr. Zhao’s death without serious incident. But this year, he said, he announced his forthcoming visit on the Internet.
“It is important for China to restore the memory of its history,” Mr. Sun said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed. “Zhao Ziyang is such an important person in Chinese history, and students today have no idea who he is. That is outrageous.”
As he left the teacher’s dormitory at Shandong University, he said, a public security officer and about 20 plainclothes officers tried to stop him. “They said, ‘Don’t go there today. So many people are going there. It is dangerous,’ ” he said.
When he got into a taxi, a car followed him, he said. He said he had started down a cemetery path, carrying a banner that read “Condolences for the heroes who died for freedom,” when four or five men jumped him from behind.
He said the attackers lifted him off the ground, threw him into a deep ditch, and kicked and beat him for more than 10 minutes. Other people came to the edge of the ditch, he said, “but nobody tried to help.” Finally, a uniformed officer showed up and called an ambulance, he said.
In the four days he has been in the hospital, the police have not shown up to investigate, he said.
“I still feel very weak. And I think probably my days are numbered. But I don’t feel regret. I am 75 years old and I would be very happy to sacrifice my life for my ideals,” he said.
Mr. Sun has a long history of activism. He was imprisoned for seven years in the 1970s for criticizing Mao and his successor, Hua Guofeng, and was among the first to sign Charter 08, a manifesto issued in December that calls for democratic reforms.
Still, he said: “I didn’t expect this. I was not trying to organize any group of people. It was just a personal visit to a cemetery. In order to fight for democracy, we need to make personal efforts.”
* via NY Times print edition!!!.