Calgarian protester remembers Tiananmen Square

For the record from Calgary Herald (emphasis added),

20 Years Later: Calgarian protester remembers Tiananmen Square

By Gwendolyn Richards, Calgary Herald

CALGARY – It was a simple act of defiance meant to shatter illusions about the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.

The decision of three young men to lob paint-filled eggs at the massive portrait of Mao Zedong as tension built and more protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square would profoundly change their lives.

Now, as the world looks back to this day 20 years ago when tanks filed into the square, setting off a massacre that put an end to the seven-week protest, the three friends are united again in Washington, D.C.

For Lu Decheng, who has quietly made a life for himself, his wife and three children in Calgary, the reunion was an “exciting moment.”

But it was also marked by their shared history, of prison time when they were worked to the bone, and the psychological torture they all suffered.

“We really escaped the death,”he said through an interpreter.

Lu Decheng has been settled in Calgary since 2006.With help from the Canadian government, his wife and two children joined him last year.

A baby born six months ago was a happy addition to the family.

“I am very happy to live in Calgary,” he said. “This is actually what I was always longing for.”

How he came to the city, though, is a tale of sacrifice and pain borne from the need to protest against the totalitarian Chinese regime.

It is a tale, said author Denise Chong–whose book Egg on Mao will be released in September–that highlights the issue of human rights through the actions and consequences of Lu Decheng.

“We take for granted when you live in a place that’s safe, (that) you can speak out without fear or reprisal or you hold your beliefs and are free to hold them strongly.To see somebody who recognizes the value of rights and see them denied, repressed or taken away . . . it made me realize the loss of human rights somewhere else, it diminishes us all.”

Lu Decheng grew up under the rule of Mao: forced by teachers to make bricks in the schoolyard, yelled at for not shedding real tears when Mao died.

For him and his friends, Yu Zijian and Yu Dongyue, defacing the former leader’s portrait was a simple, quick way to tell people not to have illusions with Mao and the party.

It was a call for the regime to come to an end, he said.

The trio mixed the egg whites with paint colour and then put the liquid back into the eggs.

They divided their duties:Yu Zijian kept people out of the way, as Yu Dongyue and Lu Decheng lobbed the eggs. Black, red and blue paint splattered the portrait.

“We thought it would achieve(our) goal to deface the portrait and it wouldn’t hurt anybody,” he said.

The three were not caught immediately, but student protesters eventually came to the three, grabbed them and delivered them to police.

Lu Decheng said he does not blame the students for what they did.

“The first thing what we thought was is that we have done this thing and we should take responsibility,” he said.

Lu Decheng was sentenced to 16 years in prison, Yu Dongyue 20 years and Yu Zijian was handed a life sentence. The three were in prison together until 1990,when authorities decided they should be separated.

Since they were political prisoners, they were given the same physical work other criminals, but they also suffered from psychological torture, Lu Decheng said.

For Lu Decheng, that meant things like the government putting his wife under pressure to leave him.

Yu Dongyue, meanwhile, now suffers from mental illness from the torture he endured.

“He is a shadow of the person who went originally to Tiananmen Square with them,” Chong said.

Lu Decheng was released in 1998. It took him six years to decide–with persuasion from human rights organizations– to leave his home country, escaping to Burma, then Thailand and, finally, coming to Canada.

Yu Zijian and Yu Dongyue fled China in April 2008, with Yu Zijian’s wife and Yu Dongyue’s younger sister in tow. They have been given asylum in the United States.

While some call the three men heroes, Lu Decheng shrugs it off.

“That was 20 years ago. I never thought I am a hero. Today, I still think the same. I am a normal worker and I’m very happy I can work in Canada,” he said.

Still, his final words echo his beliefs from 20 years ago.

“I wish, I hope that everybody should stop having fear from this dictatorship in China,” he said.

grichards@theherald.canwest.com
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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Additional materials:

Times Online – “Mao portrait saboteurs Yu Dongyue and Yu Zhijian granted asylum in America

Radio Free Asia – “Paint-Throwing Born of Frustration

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