Interviewed July 2011
Bob Fu was a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He later converted to Christianity and became a house church pastor and a founder, along with his wife Heidi, of a Bible school. In 1996, he was arrested and jailed for running a secret bible school. After his release, he and his wife escaped to Hong Kong. They were admitted to the United States as refugees a few days before the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.
Fu founded the China Aid Association (CAA) in 2002. CAA monitors and reports on religious freedom in China, particularly focusing on the fate of believers who belong to banned or unofficial house churches, which encompass 60 to 80 million followers. CAA issues frequent news releases on cases of religious persecution involving Protestant house church congregations and assists victims to assert their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice in China.
CAA also provides a forum for discussion and information exchange among experts on religion, law, and human rights in China through its bilingual journal, the China Law & Religion Monitor, and a bilingual website. Its headquarters are in Midland, Texas, where Fu now lives and works.
Before the military crackdown, I organized our students from our university, went to the Tiananmen Square. And we held very deep hope and a good expectation that something good might happen.
And at least during the demonstration in the Beijing street, we saw really the citizen spirit for goodness and civil participation were so active. And I saw, even without police or traffic controller, the Chinese citizens and the Beijing residents, they themselves volunteered to direct the traffic. And even the thieves, actually, organized a volunteer boycott for stealing. And they declared, and people when they had a crash on the bicycles, and in the past, they usually will have a big argument and even curse each other. And during that time, people just, you know, rose up and said politely, "It doesn’t matter." And they just went ahead.
So there was a really a very unprecedented period of freedom of press and freedom of movement and freedom of speech. And people just stayed in the Tiananmen Square, and almost everywhere during that time were not afraid to speak up. You know, some spoke up even for the Communist Party. Some were against the Communist Party. Some criticizing the government, some for the government, some, you know, were even anarchist. So anybody’s opinion was fully respected.
And I left the Tiananmen Square three days before the massacre happened partially because my then girlfriend, now my wife, was very, very sick, actually hospitalized. And so I didn’t really witness the massacre.
But I already – during that time, close to the massacre, the atmosphere was very tense. Every night the loudspeaker in the Tiananmen Square called for people to block tanks from different corners of the street. And we already saw the troops were massed nearby the People’s Great Hall. So there – something going to happen, but none of us, none of us in the student leadership had expected that a military crackdown like the early morning of June 4, 1989, would happen that way.
After I went back to our university, there was a special investigation team formed already by the public security officers and the school officers. And I was not formally arrested. But sort of they have a special interrogation team just for me. And I was forced to cancel all the classes.
So every day has to stay in one location to make confessions. And at one time has to surrender to the police and write down what you have done, every detail during that time. So it was a very tough time. And I was honestly, really thinking I might be in jail for a long time. But, yeah, I was just treated like a criminal. And you have to -- even the grammar mistake -- you have to fingerprint, and it was a difficult time.
The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, after a decades-long civil war between communist and nationalist forces. The communist victory drove the nationalist government to the island of Taiwan. While tensions have eased in recent years, both the nationalist and communist forces still claim to rule all of China. China ranks as the world’s third largest country by area, and the largest by population, with over 1.3 billion people.
Since 1949, China has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong led the country until his death in 1976. Mao’s era was marked by dramatic swings in policy, massive crackdowns on perceived opponents of the regime, and harsh repression. Since 1976, the Chinese government has broken with Marxist economic orthodoxy by instituting limited market-based reforms, but the party has retained its monopoly on political 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 policy in which unauthorized pregnancies often result in forced abortion and sterilization. While technology has spread quickly in recent years, Freedom House ranks China as one of the three most repressive governments in the world in terms of Internet freedom.
While the rapid expansion of the private sector has dramatically changed the Chinese economy, fundamental principles of free market systems are lacking, including property rights and independent labor unions. Official corruption remains a major obstacle to developing a fully free economy.
In 1989, 100,000 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 with troops, 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 those who had sympathized with protestors from the party and the government.
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.
The most recent Freedom in the World report from Freedom House gave China scores of 6 for civil liberties and 7 for political rights, where 1 is the highest and 7 the lowest possible score. Freedom House categorizes China as a “Not Free” country.