Activists display a banner in Guizhou that reads 'stop political persecution'
In previous years, government officials have taken Mi Chongpiao on sightseeing tours around June 4, the same date Chinese troops finished clearing Tiananmen Square in 1989 following mass democracy protests. Or even place him under house arrest.
This year, however, the 73-year-old activist says things are different after leading a demonstration to mark the incident in Guizhou on May 28 and 29, a week before the 23rd anniversary of the turmoil.
Protestors held signs that read "stop political persecution" and shouted “long live democracy” and “down with dictatorship” without incurring the wrath of police or authorities.
“The Communist Party wants people to think that the government has changed and become more open, and that people have democracy and freedom to organize commemorative activities,” said Mi. “But this is not true.”
He believes that authorities allowed the events, which each attracted about 100 people as well as foreign media, because of split views among China’s leaders. Only two officials watched from a distance, he added.
“It is admirable that the people of Guizhou are able to spontaneously take their memorial activities to the streets but one should not make an overly optimistic interpretation,” said Wen Yunchao, a social activist from the mainland who currently resides in Hong Kong.
His interpretation of why these displays have suddenly been permitted is different to that of Mi. Wen argues that the authorities were simply unprepared for demonstrations that came so far ahead of June 4.
These were also just small public displays he said, adding that family commemorative events on and around June 4 have been permitted by the authorities since 1989. Only large displays have been barred, he argues.
The real test of whether the government has grown more tolerant of public demonstrations in remembrance of what happened in Tiananmen Square would come next week on June 4 itself, said Wen.
Chinese people were noticeably braver discussing the Tiananmen Square protests this year, he observed, “but these discussions remain confined to civilians and they are unrelated to what higher-up officials are doing.”
Or Yan Yan, project officer at the Hong Kong Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, described the protests in Guizhou as an “isolated incident for harmony.”
She said that events in the capital of Guiyang province contrasted sharply with the experiences of another activist, Fan Yanqiong in Fujian province, who found his home surrounded by police yesterday after he publicly mourned events in Tiananmen Square.
“It is impossible we could have real [political] relaxation,” says Or.
She called for caution from coming to hasty conclusions that the Chinese government had become more lenient in dealing with such incidents.
“[We should] not just listen to what the party says but also watch closely what it does,” she said.
Eased censorship an illusion, says analyst
China tightens control to maintain order
Tiananmen museum wants artifacts