Beating Up Old Men

The New York Times reported today about a human rights activist who was beaten in a cemetery on tomb-sweeping day. Sun Wenguang, who is 75 years old, went to the cemetery to pay his respects to Zhao Ziyang. Apparently, that was enough to get him brutally beaten by “four or five men”.

Zhao Ziyang was the Premier of the PRC for seven years, and the General Secretary of the CCP for another two after that, but his political career died with the protests in Beijing on June 4th, 1989. Among pro-democracy activists, Zhao is famous for his tearful speech to the students in the Square (“We came too late. We are sorry…”). Following the crackdown, he spent 15 years under house arrest and died in early 2005.

According the Times, the beating of Sun Wenguang was not an accident, nor was it the work of fenqing. Rather, they cite the China Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong group, who said that

the attack on Mr. Sun was part of a concerted effort by the Chinese government to head off any efforts to memorialize the deaths of hundreds of Tiananmen Square protestors on June 4, the 20th anniversary of the government’s crackdown.”

“Chinese authorities are staging a campaign of terror to intimidate and suppress expressions of commemoration for the 1989 Tiananmen massacre,” the group said in a statement. The attack on Mr. Sun “is part of the overall campaign,” it said.

Forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical, but I don’t see what the Chinese government gets out of beating an old man who went to the cemetery — alone — to visit a grave. If it was really the government behind the beating, why didn’t they just have the police prevent Sun from leaving his home in the first place? According to the article, some officers did “try to stop” him from leaving the apartment that day, but how hard can “a public security officer and about 20 plainclothes officers” really be trying if they fail to hold a 75 year old man?

If it was indeed the government that had Sun beaten, what have they gained from it? Leaving him alone would, at worst, have resulted in another blog post (he had posted the day before to note his plans to visit the cemetery). Beating a 75 year old man just makes a news story where there was nothing. I find it hard to believe the Party is really that stupid.

Although the Times doesn’t present any alternative theories (“Evil authoritarian government beats up grandfather!” is too good a story to muddle up with subtleties, I guess), the government being behind Sun’s beating simply doesn’t make sense. Not because the CCP doesn’t do that sort of thing sometimes, but because, as far as I can tell from the information the Times provides, they stand to gain absolutely nothing from it.

[Apologies for the relative infrequency of posts recently, things have been busy]

0 thoughts on “Beating Up Old Men”

  1. I think you underestimate the fears of those in power – and just how easy it is to assign people to do things. Keeping everything moving smoothly on the surface is of overwhelming importance.

    Also – what were their other options?
    Welding his steel security door shut? = blog entry
    Massive intimidation attempt at bottom of stairwell? = blog entry
    Physically forcing him back into his home? = blog entry
    Forcing him into an unmarked police vehicle? = blog entry

    Shutting down his blog won’t stop him from comminicating. Imprisoning him will only stir up trouble later. Fear is effective – it’s cheap, and it’s deniable.


  2. Honestly I think you’re giving too much credit to the cops. I think history shows, throughout the world but also in China in particular, that “making sense” will rarely stop police from doing something stupid.


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