Tan Zuoren Sentenced to 5 Years, Ai Weiwei’s Thoughts

[Last updated Feb 10 1:03 AM Beijing time]

Note: You can follow up to the minute tweets on Tan Zuoren’s sentencing here, but most of them are in Chinese.

Tan Zuoren, like Ai Weiwei, was conducting a citizen’s investigation into the deaths of students in the Sichuan earthquake last year. On March 28th, he was arrested, supposedly because of some comments he made via email about the June 4th, 1989 crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square, and a long trial followed that Ai Weiwei, among others, went to testify in (this was when Ai was attacked by police and beaten, causing his brain injury).

Today is the day the verdict was announced: Tan Zuoren is now sentenced to five years, according to early tweets from those present in the courtroom. Some reports say that the session lasted as little as five minutes before the verdict was announced, one of Tan’s lawyers wrote in a note to Ai Weiwei that it lasted “no longer than ten minutes.”

According to Tan’s lawyer, the results of this can be appealed, but only within ten days, and since the Spring Festival holiday is fast approaching, Tan Zuoren’s lawyers only have two or three days to prepare. This is clearly no accident. Mr. Xia (one of Tan’s lawyers) called the trial’s planning “Very damaging.”

Mr. Xia also tweeted:

Right now I’m going back to the hotel for a rest, in the afternoon I’ll go to the Wenjiang Prison [to see Tan Zuoren]. I am extremely disappointed and angry.

And then later he described the sentencing in a bit more detail:

Tan Zuoren was wearing a gray fleece, and as the sentence was handed down he wore a tranquil expression. [When] the presiding judge Liu Han [read] his opinion, Tan Zuoren stated in court that he was dissatisfied, and that there was a discrepancy between his understanding of the law and the judge’s, and firmly demanded an appeal. As he was led out of court by the bailiff, he raised his voice and said “Being imprisoned for the sake of my people is my honor.”

Another of Tan Zuoren’s lawyers, Pu Zhiqiang, wrote this note to Ai Weiwei following the trial (Ai Weiwei then tweeted it in pieces, I am translating only part of it now but mouseover for the whole text in Chinese):

Teacher/Brigand Ai: The result of Tan Zuoren’s case has come down. The sentencing process lasted no longer than ten minutes. Tan’s wife, Ai Nanshan, etc. were not allowed into the courtroom […] On the first count, of inciting to subvert state power, he was found guilty […] on the first count, he was sentenced to a fixed term of five years imprisonment, and a loss of political rights for three years. When the judge asked him for his opinion, Zuoren mentioned on the spot that he would appeal, saying: ‘My understanding of the law is too different from yours, these things I did do not constitute a crime. Soon afterward, Liu Han shouted an order that the defendant Tan Zuoren be detained and the bench hurriedly left the courtroom. From our perspective, from start to finish the presiding judge and the other two judges didn’t ever appear to have mixed feelings […] the sentencing was directed against Tan’s speech, and given that [the things he said] aside from those about June 4th were not specified, it shows that the Chengdu court doesn’t want to touch on the earthquake topic. He [Tan Zuoren] is different from Liu Xiaobo, unlike the latter he didn’t take a stand against autocracy or dictatorship and was mostly collecting things about the environment and people’s lives. This is also decided, in the second trial we can only use the topic of June 4th as grounds for our defense.

Ai Weiwei Tweets Before the Verdict Was Announced

Ai Weiwei has been constantly tweeting about Tan Zuoren in the past twenty four hours. Here are some of his posts, in chronological order (newest at the bottom):

Tomorrow morning conscience, courage, and honesty will be teased and put on trial in China.

There’s nothing special about Tan Zuoren, he just doesn’t believe lies, and at the same time, he doesn’t want his descendants to live in darkness.

In Sichuan, saying ‘buildings made of tofu dregs will collapse and students shouldn’t study in buildings that will collapse’ is illegal. In China, saying ‘you shouldn’t put melamine in milk or children will get painful kidneystones’ is illegal.

In four hours, when the clock strikes 9:30, freedom will shed a tear [Tan Zuoren’s verdict was announced at 9:30]

In this crowded mass of people, those who don’t tell lies are solitary, Tan Zuoren at least proves that point.

Not clearing Tan Zuoren’s name is an insult to freedom and justice.

Today, someone will suffer for your sake.

Today, Sichuan says the children who have died have no names; they never existed.

The Sichuan government refuses to make sense, refuses the facts, refuses to assume the resposibility for 5000 children who died in tofu-dreg buildings. They thing they can just judge Tan Zuoren and it’s all decided, [they’re] dreaming.

What the Sichuan government doesn’t realize is that Tan Zuoren is a part of us; the best part of him is still with us, and we will not surrender him.

In keeping with his tradition, Ai then posted the names and details of the Sichuan students who died that were born on February 9th: Cao Ziwei (girl, 9); Du Yuhan (boy, 7); Huang Shasha (girl, 14); Liu Hengguang (boy, 10); Xia Guiying (girl, 16); Yang Ronghao (boy, 13); Yang Zhonghua (boy, 12); Tan Yong (boy, 17); Chen Yang (boy, 16); Yang Ting (girl, 12). He then continued:

Tan Zuoren, today 5000 wandering souls are all your children, calling out to you together

Tweets About the Verdict and Responses

After that and a few retweets, the news began to come in over twitter in the form of a single message being repeatedly re-tweeted:

News from the scene: five years.

Ai Weiwei himself tweeted this a few minutes later:

Reuters reports: five years.

Then, more tweets from Ai:

Grass mud horse [i.e., “Fuck!”] grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse grass mud horse

Amoiist tweeted:

After sixty years, where are human rights?

Ai Weiwei again:

This country has no hope, it has no past, and today, even moreso it has no future.

Sixty years have gone by, and on ideological issues and freedom of speech there has been no change. Fuck!

Two of Tan Zuoren’s lawyers can be found on Twitter here and here. One has already commented on the verdict, saying he was “extremely disappointed and angry”. Additionally, in light of the verdict, Ai Weiwei has promised to end all of his future tweets with “Grass Mud Horse” [i.e., “Fuck!” or “Fuck your mother!”].

Some images also being passed around on Twitter (via Amoiist):

Your mother is calling you home for dinner...

Many people are also tweeting something Tan Zuoren said:

Wherever there is a mistake, there will be dissenters. If there are no dissenters, then there’s no civil society.

And, of course, just as with Liu Xiaobo a clever pun emerged to show support [“随波逐刘”], so too has a pun emerged for Tan Zuoren. Several people have re-tweeted a message that ends thusly:

Conscience and courage are the soul of civil society, I am not afraid! I don’t want to be a wandering spirit, I don’t want to be a living tombstone, I want to be a person! [“be a person” here is written with the same characters as Tan Zuoren’s given name, so it also reads “I want Zuoren”]

Show Your Support

This netizen has promised to post a bank account that can be used to wire transfer donations to Tan Zuoren. People interested in donating to Tan Zuoren can send money via PayPal to pearlher@gmail.com, according to that person’s twitter account. In terms of their connection to Tan Zuoren and guarantees of how the money would be spent, they said this (via Twitter):

I have no relation to Tan Zuoren and cannot guarantee the money will be used for his case. After collecting it, it will be given to his family to use. [I am] announcing every cent that is donated, and on a definite day [or] when the donations reach a set amount I will stop accepting donations. Then I will give all the money to Tan Zuoren’s wife. Then Tan’s wife will have someone she trusts post to Twitter that she received this amount of money from me.

So there you have it.

In case anyone is interested, I have also made some t-shirts expressing covert support for Liu Xiaobo and Tan Zuoren that can be found here. Lest I be accused of attempting to profit off of someone else’s misfortune, please be aware that I have set the markup on all of these items to 0% so that they are cheap, so all of the money you pay goes directly to CafePress, I get nothing. If you are interested, be aware that there are TONS of style and color choices, so browse thoroughly before buying. Note also that the pricing varies by style, the cheapest shirts are the $8.99 value tees. A couple examples are below (again note that I make no profit off this whatsoever, just trying to help people show support if they want):

0 thoughts on “Tan Zuoren Sentenced to 5 Years, Ai Weiwei’s Thoughts”

  1. “Still think 5 and 11 years is unjustified, from China’s POV?”

    It’s not about “China’s POV”. From the gov’t POV, killing all those people in Tiananmen was justified, too. What it’s about is whether or not it is right, and yes, I still think 5 or 11 years is extremely unjustified, regardless of what has happened in the US. The US has done many bad things, and I don’t approve of them, but this is a blog about China.

    I’m not sure why this point is so hard for you 五毛党 to understand. BLOG ABOUT CHINA. Just because we criticize China’s human rights record (or whatever) doesn’t mean we think the US is better. BUT THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT CHINA.

    One more time: BLOG ABOUT CHINA.


  2. Ah, there’s that “50 cent party” McCarthyist accusation. Do you have any proof? I’m in Seattle come get me. Just an FYI I drive a German sports car that sucks down premium gas @ $4 a gallon, so there better be a “5000 dollar party” otherwise it’s not worth it.

    The point of compare and contrast is never about exhonorating China’s action, but to understand rationally why countries protect their domestic affairs from foreign influence. China’s action is in light of pressure exerted by the most powerful hegemony in the world (yes that’s how I see my own country).

    The NED is throwing out millions to buy this “string of pearl” to contain China, not only in terms of geopolitics (China had to respond by expanding it’s military), but also ideological struggle in sponsoring these “human rights heros”, “Tibet independent activists” (while forgetting where we got our land).

    And China is responding by enforcing it’s law on preserving sovereign independence, quite naturally. Because from my vantage point we’d do the same thing as the Chinese.


  3. “China” doesn’t have a POV. It is a nation, filled with many different people and different points of view. You mean the CCP’s POV (although even within the CCP, not everyone agrees with what happened to TZR and LXB), and in this case, yes, I do reject their perspective. Not wholesale though. I agree with the CCP on some, perhaps many issues. But Tan Zuoren isn’t one of them.

    @ ChasL: That article is about how no one died on the Square itself. Even that says that hundreds were killed, just in other places like sidestreets around the Square. We use “Tiananmen” as shorthand because “Beijing massacre” makes it sound like the CCP killed a whole city (obviously not true) and “streets in the general vicinity of tiananmen massacre” is awkward.

    Also, I find it amusing that me calling you a 50 cent party member is McCarthyist, when you did the exact same thing the post before it. Hypocritical much?


  4. C, OTR questioned my motives and I said ” please try to come up with something more than a mere 50 cent okay?”. Well, did you?

    The people died violating curfew and killing the troops DESERVED IT. What country doesn’t have right to impose domestic order? Have you heard of this thing called “Bonus Army Massacre” in US history? Probably not because we don’t refere to the suppression of the Bonus Army protesters in DC as “massacre”.

    So, if we do the same thing, why can’t the Chinese? Again, the comparison and contrast is in the hope to rationally understand China’s action, beyond some veceral, simplistic slogan fabricated to indoctrinate our “official narrative” of TAM.


  5. Trust me. I spent months studying Tiananmen and the protests that led up to it. I have read internal Chinese govt documents, tons and tons of interviews, more than you would probably think even exists. I understand the government’s motivation in intervening militarily, and how the student leaders sort of forced them into that situation by making vague demands that would have been impossible for the gov’t to comply with even if they wanted to. But NOTHING excuses the killing of unarmed civilians. Not in the US, not in China, not anywhere.

    That said, the Bonus Army comparison is ridiculous. For one, the number of casualties is not comparable. Two, that happened in the 1930s, whereas people involved in Tiananmen 1989 are still in the CCP leadership. Three, most of the killing and wounding occurred when General MacArthur took matters into his own hands and invaded the bonus army camps even though the President had ordered him not to, so he was acting illegally and his army’s actions, while reprehensible, were not ordered by the US government. In fact, the President expressly ordered him not to invade the camp.

    People deserved to be killed for violating curfew? Jesus, you aren’t 五毛党,you’re not even human. Do you have no ability whatsoever for empathy? I agree that if you attack soldiers, you’re asking for trouble, but we both know that plenty of people died that night who didn’t attack anyone violently. Even if you think their cause was totally unjustified, you think it’s right for them to be killed? No charges, no trial, no chance to explain, just summarily executed in the street? It doesn’t just affect them, you know. It affects their families, their friends…so because of one night’s mistake, if you believe it was that, one night choosing to go outside instead of staying in doors, these mothers deserved to lose their sons and daughters?

    If you truly believe that, there is no point in you replying to this comment, as I will never agree with that, no matter how you justify it.


  6. As to the “collateral damage” of the riot, it is unfortunate. However given the circumstance (curfew, unarmed troops killed by the mob, approaching armed troops blasting megaphones) is it not fathomable that those who didn’t mean to be there, are simply caught in the cross-fire, and did not die from mallicious murder our “official narrative” seems to suggest?


  7. Yes, and again, no one is saying that the US is somehow better than China. THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT CHINA. That said, even though they did a terrible job of maintaining order, I don’t recall hearing of any major massacres.

    And how many troops were killed by the mob, exactly? Even if you believe the CCPs official narrative word for word, it isn’t many.

    Also, your last sentence doesn’t make sense. I mean grammatically, not logically (though it might also not make logical sense, I have no way of knowing).


  8. Custer, do you really believe the “thousands killed” propaganda? The Chinese government released casualty figure of 243 after their investigation, which is in-line with our own NSA estimate of 180-500, including soldiers.


  9. Again, not justifying China’s action, just trying to call to attention the rationality and standards of “reasonable use of force”, via compare and contrast.

    It was basically a mini civil war that night. In Iraq we’ve pulled trigger on less.


  10. Obviously, there’s no way to prove it, but my guess is that the truth lies somewhere between the official CCP estimate and the crazy estimates made by some left-wing groups who weren’t even there. (Or the Soviet Union, whose estimate is also pretty damn crazy.)

    If pressed, I’d probably go along with the NYT’s rough estimate of about 50 soldiers and police, 400-800 civilians (this estimate was based mostly on reports from Beijing hospitals and interviews with doctors at various hospitals). But there’s really no way of knowing at this point. (As a sidenote, I would say that’s precisely why Ai Weiwei and Tan Zuoren were so invested in collecting the names and information of the students who died in the Beichuan quake).


  11. Ok, C, that’s your opinion, I can accept that. Now compare your opinion with the “official narrative” we are exposed to – tanks rolling over students, indiscriminate slaughtering of citizens without justification. I for one can not reconcile the gap between facts and truth we’re told by our free media.

    Now, take a look at the Tan Zuoren case. Not one media report bothered to mentioned Tan’s association with Falun Gong, only he’s framed for trying to expose some state-sponsored consipracy in the quake.

    And there’s not one blog about this either. Can you find one? Your translation of the verdict document even left out “hostile foreign media”, did not link to SoH website, seemingly an attempt to downplay the Falun Gong angle.


  12. ChasL,

    You forgot a few more massacres by the U.S. and close allies of the U.S. in the past century: Bloody Mingo County (West Virginia), Kent State (Ohio), El Mozote (El Salvador), Mai Lai (Vietnam), etc. Plus, you alluded earlier to the genocide of Native Americans… if we went back to the 1800s we’d find even more atrocities. Governments have rationales for doing things, even crimes against humanity. Duh. Is your whole point that governments aren’t idiots?

    We can get WHY states do stuff. But our purpose is to keep them in check, not rush to their defence. Surely, they don’t need it!


  13. P.S. He had no “association” with FLG. He accepted an interview. If I am interviewed by Xinhua, do I become an employee of the Chinese govt?


  14. OTR, Xinhua is not an illegal organization under US law. Go ahead give phone interview to Al Qaeda, sent them suggestions on how to politicize 9/11, let’s see how well you do.


  15. My apologies, I do not know the name of Al Qaeda’s proaganda outlet. But go ahead, contact them, give them interviews, email them suggestion on coordinating some 9/11 demonstration, let’s see how well you do.


  16. Oh, I see, “Al Qaeda” is a news outlet funded by exiled U.S. dissidents or a religious cult overseas. Then the analogy is perfect! All this time I thought it was a terrorist group that flew planes into buildings and blew up subways…

    My bad!


  17. not at all. besides ur absurd super-strict semantics, there’s also the parallel AQ is illegal under US law, and association with groups like AQ is sanctioned under US law.


  18. ChasL: Given that even THE GOVERNMENT’S OFFICIAL VERDICT didn’t mention “Tan Zuoren’s connection with FLG”, can you really blame the media for not mentioning it? Call me crazy, but I suspect they left it out because IT ISN’T THERE.

    Also, I’m not sure what you’re smoking, but our translation DOES link to Sound of Hope. The translator left out the “敌” bit, by accident I assume, and I have already fixed that, but the Sound of Hope link has been there since the post originally went up.


  19. It is not semantics. Wang Dan and FLG may be objectionable to many in the CCP, as well as the Party’s supporters at home and abroad… and these dissidents may be considered enemies of the state in some formal, “legal” way, but they are NOT terrorists. It’s a stupid analogy.

    I suppose your response might be: but it is still “rational” for the CCP to wet it’s collective pants about them and do mean things to them, just like [insert country] has done to it citizens. Maybe, maybe not.

    But, again, the fact that states have their reasons for doing things is not a revelation. I ASSUME states have reasons for doing things. The question is: is what they do morally right? My answer to the TAM massacre, the bonus marchers massacre, El Mozote and all the rest is: no.


  20. As I’ve stated OTR, the parallel is they are illegal with respect to local laws. Wang Dan is wanted in China, and his assoication with Taiwanese intelligence agency is not a secret.


  21. OTR, do you think it is morally right to suspend the legality and standard for use of deadly force, when it comes to evaluating Chinese government’s handling of the riot, in order to force the “massacre” claim?


  22. So, you don’t care about right or wrong? You’re essentially apolitical and amoral? Or you actively support each and every massacre or arrest carried out by each and every government anywhere in the world? What is your point?


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