Protesters fill Guangzhou’s Haizhou Plaza on June 5, 1989. Photo credit: Guangzhou Yearbook 1990
Nationwide 1,602 individuals were imprisoned as a result of the unrest and counterrevolutionary rioting that occurred across China in the spring and summer of 1989, according to judicial records released in 2003 by the Hunan provincial government.[*] Hunan said it imprisoned the most people, accounting for 133, or 8.3 percent, of the “two disturbances” prisoners.
Most other provinces and municipalities have remained silent about these numbers, but in 2005 Shandong made public that its courts sentenced 81 people in 1989 for counterrevolution and “beating, smashing, and looting” during the political turmoil. Of these 81 people, 46 were sentenced to imprisonment of five years or more, two to death with two-year reprieve, and one to death with immediate execution.
This data in conjunction with data in Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) indicate that Shandong took a more hardline stance against two-disturbances prisoners than other provinces. The PPDB includes records of 20 such Shandong prisoners; 15 of whom were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison. In comparison, the PPDB shows that these lengthy sentences were handed down to only five of 11 two-disturbances prisoners in Guangdong.
External pressures, not the scale of the disturbances may be the key to this discrepancy. Protests were smaller in Shandong, but economic crisis and international pressure track with early releases in both places. Counterrevolutionary and violent cases in Shandong mostly occurred in the provincial capital of Jinan and the port city of Qingdao, but even in these cities protests stayed relatively small, according to available official information. While protests in the smaller cities of Harbin, Heilongjiang, and Yinchuan, Ningxia, saw demonstrations of 40,000 to 50,000 people in the spring and summer of 1989, Jinan’s largest demonstration peaked on May 21 at 9,000 people spread across several train stations throughout the city. On June 4, an average of 2,000 students protested across five cities: Jinan, Qingdao, Dongying, Taian and Liaocheng.
In Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, 20,000 people joined May protests that were reportedly sparked by the 70th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement—a series of patriotic demonstrations triggered by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that transferred Germany’s concessions in Shandong to Japan. After the killings in Beijing on June 4, 1989, tens of thousands of demonstrators blocked the Haizhu Bridge that crosses the Pearl River in Guangzhou, and “beating, smashing, and looting” ensued.
Some foreign governments responded to the killings and detentions with demands for greater human rights protections and clemency; some foreign businesses scaled back their investments. Having grown tremendously since the reform and opening in 1978, Guangdong felt keenly the loss of foreign investment. In this context, leaders in Guangdong eventually found it pragmatic to yield to demands for clemency. As early as 1992, three Hong Kong residents imprisoned in Guangdong were released on medical parole (see table). Within the first five years after 1989, at least four more prisoners received sentence reductions, parole, or medical parole.
Shandong avoided these pressures until the 1997 Asian financial crisis led to an exodus of the Korean firms, the largest investors in the province. After 1997, as Shandong attempted to appease western investors and stimulate economic recovery, at least eight prisoners were released early (see table).
Guangdong may have opted to serve less severe sentences because it was paying closer attention to its foreign friends from the start. Although the entire nation takes directives from the central party and government, regional differences cannot be ignored, then or now. Twenty-five years later June Fourth remains taboo for the state, but awareness about universal human rights is more widespread on the ground. Making interventions on behalf of human rights may seem like an endless and arduous journey, but there is evidence that these interventions make a difference when we narrow our focus, and seek to help individual prisoners.
June Fourth Prisoners in Shandong and Guangdong
|Chen Lantao |
|18 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement, gathering a crowd to disturb social order||Released 7 yrs early||2000|
|Hao Fuyuan |
|10 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Released ~3 yrs early||Jul 18, 1996|
|Hao Jinguang |
|11 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Released ~4 yrs early||1996|
|Jie Jinyu |
|6 yrs||Unknown||Jun 6, 1995|
|Li Haiyun |
|12 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Released ~2 yrs early||1999|
|Liu Yubin |
|3 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Jun 1992|
|Meng Qingqin |
|10 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Paroled||Apr 26, 1997|
|Niu Shengchang |
|12 yrs||Conspiring to overthrow the government||2001|
|Shan Zhenheng |
|3 yrs (RTL)||Disturbing social order||1991|
|Shao Liangchen |
|Death with 2- yr reprieve||Sabotaging transport and infrastructure||Commuted to life (1992); reduced to 17 yrs (1994); reduced 42 mos (1998, 2000); reduced 1 yr (2002); medical parole (2004)||2004|
|Sun Baohe |
|Sun Weibang |
|12 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Released early||1999|
|Wang Furong (女) |
|Wang Lixin |
|10 yrs||Sabotaging transport and infrastructure||1999|
|Wang Yong |
|10 yrs||Sabotaging transport and infrastructure||1999|
|Zhang Jie |
|18 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement, gathering a crowd to disrupt traffic||Released early||2001|
|Zhang Xiaoxu |
|15 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Reduced 4 yrs (1994, 1996); paroled||1998|
|Zhang Xinchao |
|3 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||1992|
|Zhang Yafei |
|11 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||2001|
|Zheng Quanli |
|15 yrs||Organizing/leading/actively participating in CR group||Reduced 3 yrs (1994, 1997)||2001|
|Chen Pokong |
|3 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Jul 1992|
|Chen Zhixiang |
|10 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Sentence reduced 24 mos (1995)||Nov 1995|
|Lo Hoi-sing |
|5 yrs||Giving harbor and protection to criminals||Medical parole||1991|
|Li Jiaoming |
|18 yrs||Hooliganism, robbery||Reduced 1 yr (1994), 1 yr (1998); commuted||Sep 2004|
|Li Lung-hing |
|4 yrs||Giving harbor and protection to criminals||Medical parole||1992|
|Lin Songlin |
|8 yrs||CR propaganda and incitement||Deceased|
|Lai Pui-sing |
|5 yrs||Giving harbor and protection to criminals||Medical parole||1992|
|Liu Baiqiang |
|10 yrs||Robbery||Released 5 yrs early||Jun 2001|
|Wu Jiandong |
|10 yrs||Espionage||Reduced 20 mos (1993), 24 mos (1995)||Aug 1995|
|Yi Danxian |
|3yrs||Robbery||Released 11 mos early||Aug 1991|
|Zhang Yi |
|13 yrs||Espionage||Reduced 15 mos (1992), 1 yr (1995), 1 yr (1996); commuted||May 1998|
* Hunan Records: Judicial and Administration Records, 1978-2002 湖南省志：司法行政志.