06/04/2007, 00.00
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With the West silent Tiananmen Square-like repression goes on in China, says Lu Decheng

The man who 18 years ago threw eggs and paint at the large portrait of Mao days before students and workers were mowed down in Tiananmen Square speaks out. For Lu Decheng the current situation in China is similar if not worse than that of 1989.

Rome (AsiaNews) – “You Westerners trade with China and don’t worry about its widespread slavery. You say that China has changed but are silent when it comes to the violence, the laogai and the lack of freedom. Because of this the country is experiencing greater unrest and tensions than in May-June 1989. You have forgotten Tiananmen,” said Lu Decheng, 44, who has been living in political exile in Calgary (Canada) after spending nine years in a Chinese camp. After escaping from the camp he was able to make his way to Thailand and then Canada.

For Lu it is impossible to forget Tiananmen, the 1989 protest movement made up of students and workers that left indelible marks on his being. On the night of June3-4, 1989, the so-called “People’s Liberation” Army attacked with tanks Tiananmen Square to “liberate” it from students and workers who had taken it over to demand more democracy and less corruption.

International sources like the Red Cross and Amnesty International put the number of killed in the square and nearby streets at over 2,600. But on the night of the massacre Lu was already in jail, arrested only a few weeks earlier, on May 23 to be exact, when with two friends he had thrown eggs and paint at the portrait of Mao Zedong that hangs over the entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing’s imperial compound.

Although Lu eventually found refuge in Canada, his wife and son are still held hostage by the government in Beijing which has so far refused to let them go.

The second man who defaced Mao’s portrait was named Yu Zhijian and is now 44-year-old. He was released in 2001 but never got his teaching job back. Now he survives making a living doing odd jobs.

The third man, Yu Dongyue, instead lost his mind. He was beaten and tortured in prison—his skull was cracked in one beating too many. Permanently disabled, his parents agreed to say nothing about what he endured in order to get him back home alive.

The action by the three men was the first public expression of contempt for Mao Zedong. “I wanted to show all my loathing for what Mao did, for the tens of millions of my fellow countrymen who died. I wanted to do something to criticise the Communist Party, which continued Mao’s despotism,” Lu told AsiaNews.

For Lu Decheng Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms were but “a smart way to preserve the [Communist] Party’s power.” Even the opening to the West and the involvement of foreign companies in China’s market were meant to blackmail the international community and force it into silence over China’s dismal human rights record. Some governments today even claim that the human rights situation has improved; something Lu does not believe. In fact, he is certain that things have gotten worse.

“I spent nine years in a Laogai (a ‘reform-through-labour’ forced labour camp) which built vehicles. We were forced to work 15-16 hours a day followed by ‘study sessions’. The forced indoctrination was designed to turn us into people confident about socialism. Today in many Chinese factories working conditions are like those in forced labour camps.”

”Some years ago I worked in a textile factory in Wenzhou (Zhejiang). Here, too, workers had to work 12-14 hours per day for 15 yuan (less than 20 US cents) a day. At night they had to sleep in dormitories that were locked up to prevent escape with guard dogs ready to attack patrolling the grounds outside.”

For Lu the list of arrests of human rights activists is long. It includes Chen Guangchen, sentenced a month ago to four years in jail; lawyers defending farmers and factory workers like Gao Zhisheng now under house arrest and round the clock surveillance; Christian, Muslim and Tibetan religious figures.

“The international community should come out against these violations. When it speaks up China listens. One example is enough. Honk Kong journalist Ching Cheong was charged with revealing state secrets but got only five years in jail because the whole world intervened on his behalf. University Professor Lu Jianhua was sentenced to 20 years because no one put pressure.”

For Lu Decheng trade unions in free countries should be concerned about the fate of Chinese workers and farmers and support their rights. But governments should act as well.

“Discussions about human rights between foreign governments and China generally take place in private, behind close doors. But they have little value. It is high time to involve non-governmental organisations and national human rights commissions to verify on the ground if any progress is made.”

Some Chinese sociologists believe that at present social tensions in China are higher than in period leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

“The party, through corruption and political protection, has created millions of rich people. It has done so by exploiting hundreds of millions of poor and tired people working in slave-like conditions. Today unrest expresses itself in hundreds of daily incidents in which people, as in 1989, demand more democracy and less corruption.”

As a sign of times, an unemployed man just a few weeks ago threw ink at Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square. For Lu this is a signal that history might very well repeat itself

* Tomorrow June 5, Lu Decheng will take part in a seminar at Rome’s LUMSA University (located in via Pompeo Magno 22) titled Il lavoro in Cina: i diritti della persona e i diritti collettivi (Working in China: human and collective rights). The meeting is organised by the Laogai Foundation and the Turin branch of the CISL Trade Union. AsiaNews’ own director, Fr Bernardo Cervellera, will take part in the event.

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