How many Li Wangyangs are there in the prisons of China?

Editor’s note

The theme of this special edition  issue  is the struggles of the labour movement under authoritarian regimes. In Hong Kong, we have been trying to gain the support of the larger society to demand the immediate release of all imprisoned labour activists in China. We also demand that the Chinese government stop the violent repression and arbitrary detention of workers who are fighting to safeguard their rights. To learn from the experience of other countries, we have asked Dr. Chan Kalok, scholar and Civil Party legislator, to write about Solidarity, the Polish independent labour movement that fought against the dictatorial regime of the Soviet Union in the last century.  


How many Li Wangyangs are there in the prisons of China?

Li Wangyang 

Known as the “iron man of June 4th” -  was a labour activist from Hunan. He was imprisoned for 22 years during which he lost his sight and hearing and was paralysed in the legs due to torture. When he was interviewed by Cable TV in May, 2012, he said he never regretted taking part in the democratic movement. “For the actualization of a multi-party system in China, even if I were beheaded, I would not regret it.”

On June 6, a few days after the interview was broadcast, Li was found dead in the hospital under strange circumstances. The Chinese authorities claimed that he had committed suicide. Li’s story drew publicattention to the situation of imprisoned labour activists in China. The CTU appealed to trade unions and civic societies around the world to write to the President and the Premier of China to strongly demand an investigation into Li’s death and to immediately cease persecuting labour activists.

This issue features the stories of three other labour activists; Liu Jian, Wang Miaogen and Zhu Fangming, all still in prison because of their participation in the June 4 democratic movement. Please continue to fight for their release and political rehabilitation.


Liu Jian

In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre, Liu Jian and Liu Zhihua (刘智华), workers at the Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Plant, Hunan Province, participated in a demonstration against the crackdown with some thousand other workers from the factory. A worker was seriously injured by a security guard in the action. The demonstrators then allegedly ransacked the home of the security section chief. Afterwards, Liu Jian and Liu Zhihua were sentenced to life imprisonment in either August or October 1989 on charges of “hooliganism” and “intentional injury.” No evidence of the alleged violence has been made public. Liu Jian is apparently the only one of the four detained Xiangtan Electrical Machinery Plant workers who has still not had his life prison term reduced to a fixed-term sentence.

In May 2009, Dui Hua noted that Liu was believed to be incarcerated but that he was no longer "imprisoned in Hunan Province." On June 1, 2009, Human Rights in China reported that Liu Jian is still in prison, but that his current detention location is unknown.

Wang Miaogen

The Shanghai Workers Autonomous Federation was formed in May, during the Democracy Movement in 1989,. Wang Miaogen, a manual worker in Shanghai, was a leading member of the independent union. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre, Wang spent two and a half years in police detention undergoing “re-education through labour” for his involvement in the banned workers’ group. In April 1993, after he committed an act of self-mutilation in front of a Shanghai police station in public protest against having recently been severely beaten up by the police, he was subsequently detained and then forcibly sent to the Shanghai Ankang Mental Hospital, a facility run by the Public Security Bureau to detain and treat mentally ill people.

Wang has been held incommunicado at the Shanghai Ankang now for more than 12 years and in custody for more than 16 years. Wang has no fixed release date.


Zhu Fangming

Zhu Fangming was a 28-year-old worker at Xihu Flour Factory in Hengyang City, Hunan Province during the 1989 Democracy Movement.  Zhu became the vice-chairman of the Hengyang City Workers Autonomous Federation. He organized demonstrations and took part in a sit-in in front of the municipal government offices. After the bloody crackdown, he allegedly led workers to the municipal Public Security Bureau to demand justice for the victims. He was sentenced in December 1989 by the Hengyang City Intermediate People’s Court to life imprisonment on a charge of “hooliganism”.

In October 2005, the Chinese government maintained that Zhu "was never punished" for his activities in 1989 and it stated that he is once again working at Xihu Flour Factory. However many groups continue to believe Zhu remains detained and is believed to be still held in Hengyang Prison (Hunan Provincial No.2 Prison).

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