Liu Shaoming: Courage from the Grassroots


After two years of his detention, Liu Shaoming, 59, a labour activist charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing his memoir of June Fourth Massacre, was tried at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on 7 July. A harsh sentence of 4.5 years imprisonment was then handed down, close to the highest possible sentence (5 years) for this “crime”.


Liu was a steel worker and a member of Beijing’s Workers Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. After the June Fourth Massacre, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. He then worked in Guangdong Province, taking grassroots jobs such as mover, factory worker, security guard, construction worker and etc. Thus, he has a deep sympathy for his fellow grassroots workers. In recent years, Liu participated in various labour actions, helped organizing workers who were involved in some major labour actions. His outspokenness led him to the detention centres for some dozen times.


In June 2014, Liu Shaoming escaped the authority’s surveillance and held a banner to publicly commemorate victims of June Fourth Massacre from 25 years ago. His action earned him 10 days of administrative detention. In May 2015, Liu released his “June Fourth Memoir”, with detailed documentation of his experience of the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. Shortly afterwards, he was detained by Guangzhou Police on 29 May and charged on 14 July 2015. Liu denied the subversion charge and was detained for another two years. His trial was deliberately delayed and the verdict came finally on 7 July 2017.


Coming from a grassroots background, Liu witnessed and encountered social injustice and political violence. He is neither a famous academic, nor a rights lawyer. He cannot either write academic papers with well-structured theories, or discuss legal interpretation with expertise. Yet, as a grassroots worker, he organized other workers to defend labour rights; as a witness of June Fourth Massacre, he published his memoir online to speak up. Paying the price of his freedom, Liu is fighting not only a class struggle with the regime, but a struggle to preserve memory. Last year, he defended himself in the courtroom, talking about his goal and motive in releasing his memoir, “for my fellow countrymen not to forget this history, to reflect on such a heartbreaking history.” The Chinese Government, in order to avoid responsibility for June Fourth Massacre and to cover up the deteriorating labour relations, handed him a harsh punishment, to eliminate the righteous voice.


In China, dissidents face imprisonment, forced disappearance, suspicious suicide, but one after one, they refuse to kowtow, they choose to show the world their insistence and courage to challenge social injustice. The more the government wants to eliminate names like Liu Xiaobo, Li Wangyang, Wang Quanzhang, Meng Han from the peoples’ memories, the more cowardly it looks. The Chinese Government might sentence Liu with almost the maximum imprisonment terms, but his moral courage, coming from the grassroots, has never been trapped within the tall jail walls. As he said in his statement,  “for people who long for freedom, there is no difference between a some 20 square meter prison cell and a 9.6 million square kilometer prison of mind.”

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