Elderly people have staged several protests in the provinces of Shandong, Guizhou and Fujian over the past month calling for the leadership to reassess its verdict on the June 4 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square 23 years ago, though experts are pessimistic a reversal is near.
Sun Wenguang, a 77-year-old retired professor formerly with Shandong University, said about 20 rights activists gathered in the capital Jinan on May 6 to commemorate the students and residents who died in the square 23 years ago. Several in the Jinan gathering had been jailed for either taking direct part in the pro-democracy movement or demonstrating against the crackdown later on.
'We are a group of like-minded friends who have met for the fifth time since 2008 to commemorate those killed in Tiananmen Square,' Sun said.
The Jinan meeting was followed by a public memorial organised by a group of rights activists, largely in their 60s or 70s, in the heart of Guiyang , the capital of Guizhou province, on Sunday and Monday.
To the surprise of some domestic and foreign observers, police did not immediately interfere with the protesters, allowing them to chant slogans and hang banners calling for a reversal of the government's stance on the crackdown.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen activists marched to Yanping district court in Nanping , Fujian and unfurled banners calling for a reassessment of the June 4 verdict. 'We went there to vent our anger against the autocratic regime,' said Fan Yanqiong , a 52-year-old woman. 'But we also staunchly support the democratic reforms proposed by Premier Wen Jiabao.'
Fan said the protest lasted for about two hours and they disbanded after reading out a petition calling for support for Wen's position.
'I'm neither a relative of those killed, nor do I have any direct connection with the June 4 crackdown,' Fan said. 'But I simply can't help bursting into tears whenever I see pictures or read articles about the suppression of the movement over the years. Only when the leadership reassesses this part of history squarely can the country possibly have a bright future.'
Fan said the organisers in Fujian were not connected with those in Guiyang. 'I had not even heard of the protest in Guiyang, let alone had any communication with them before our march.'
She said about 100 police officers had monitored them closely, interfering occasionally in their activities.
Sun, the retired professor, voiced optimism that the government would reverse its position on the movement. 'We may not be far away from the day when the students are vindicated. Many middle-aged fellow countrymen in their 40s or 50s are well aware of the massacre and the effect it has had on the nation.
'At the top of the party leadership, those like Premier Wen Jiabao have recently been said to favour a reassessment of the incident.'
Beijing has so far been reluctant to reassess the position Deng Xiaoping and other party elders took on May 18, 1989, when they defined the incident as a counter-revolutionary riot. Two days later, the government declared martial law and the People's Liberation Army was deployed to clear the streets.
Despite the protests in Guizhou, Fujian and Shandong, Hong Kong-based veteran China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu doubted any vindication would occur soon. 'As far as I know, Wen's remarks about the so-called political reforms are nothing but empty talk aimed at comforting those who are desperately eager to see progress towards democracy.'
Lau said the Guiyang police appeared to be restrained merely because they did not want to trigger additional protests.
Three days after the demonstration in Guiyang, Mei Chongpiao, 73, one of the protest leaders, was taken away after local police had searched his residence, according to his son Mei Zuheng.