Interviewed July 2010
Fang Zheng was a college student in Beijing in 1989 when he participated in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. As the military moved to suppress the demonstrations on June 4, 1989, he was run over by a tank and both of his legs were crushed and had to be amputated.
Fang refused to sign a government-written statement that he had lost his legs in an ordinary road accident. He was denied a college degree. Once a champion runner, he now devoted himself to wheelchair athletics, breaking two Asian records at the 1992 All-China Disabled Athletic Games. However, the government refused to allow him to participate in international competitions or in further competition within China.
Fang spoke frequently to international news media about the human rights situation, and particularly about the government’s refusal to acknowledge what it had done at Tiananmen Square. He was repeatedly denied the right to travel overseas, but he was finally allowed to leave China in 2008 amid widespread interest in his case among international news media covering the Beijing Olympics.
My name is Fang Zheng. I was a college student in Beijing in 1989. I was a senior student of Physical Education at Beijing Institute.
In 1989, I participated in a student campaign that originated in Beijing, then it developed to a democracy movement to protest against the government.
On June 4th, I was at Tiananmen Square the whole day. During the evacuation in the evening on that day, when the military troops suppressed the demonstration when I was leaving the square, I was attacked by a Liberation Army tank, was attacked by the tank, which caused serious injuries. The tank was chasing behind us. Finally it ran over me and cut off both my legs.
I know, at that time, on June 4, 1989, from June 3rd to June 4th, in the entire city of Beijing, there were many people who were suppressed by the military troops. They lost their lives. There were more people like me, who got injured and maimed.
I experienced that suppression, and I am also a witness and a survivor of it.
The People’s Republic of China is a country of 1.2 billion people governed by the Chinese Communist Party. Since the death of Mao Tse-Tung in 1976, the Chinese government has modified the Marxist economic system instituted by Mao by instituting limited market-based reforms, but the party has retained its monopoly on power. Freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion are severely restricted, and the people of China are denied the right to change their government. The courts are controlled by the Communist Party and do not provide due process of law. Government control extends into every aspect of people’s lives, most notably in the one-child-per-couple program in which unauthorized pregnancies often result in forced abortion and sterilization.
In 1989, a hundred thousand people gathered in a peaceful demonstration in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest human rights violations and demand democratic reforms. The protest lasted several weeks and inspired similar nonviolent demonstrations in other cities throughout China. On June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army converged on the area surrounding the square with hundreds of thousands of troops as well as tanks and other advanced military weapons. Estimates of the death toll ranged from several hundred to several thousand. The army used similar tactics to suppress demonstrations in other cities and subsequently rounded up and imprisoned many thousands of protestors. The government vigorously defended these actions and instituted a campaign to purge from the party and the government those who had sympathized with protestors.
Although the Tiananmen Square massacre put an end to hopes for a speedy transition to democracy, courageous Chinese citizens have continued to risk imprisonment and worse to demand freedom. These human rights activists have included students, workers, lawyers, artists and writers; Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims who demand respect for their cultures, traditions, and religious practices; members of the spiritual discipline known as Falun Gong; Catholics who insist that their church is headed by the Pope rather than by government-appointed religious officials; and members of the “house church” movement, representing millions of Protestant Christians who are forced to worship in secret because their churches are not authorized by the government. China’s many prisoners of conscience include members of each of these groups.
In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo. His wife was arrested in order to prevent her from attending the award ceremony, and the government employed a range of coercive techniques to prevent other human rights activists from attending. China’s leading human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared in early 2009 and is presumed to be in government custody.