Tiananmen Square crackdown

Justice for all: Chinese father's grief over Tiananmen crackdown fired campaign for victims

Jiang Peikun, who has died aged 81, was co-founder with his wife of the Tiananmen Mothers, which has fought for truth, accountability and compensation for the victims for 26 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2015, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 2015, 8:54am

Retired Chinese academic Jiang Peikun, who has died aged 81, used his grief and anger following the death of his only son during the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown to launch a group that saw him relentlessly campaign for justice for victims' families for the rest of his life.

He was co-founder of the Tiananmen Mothers – a name chosen, rather than the alternative suggestion of “Tiananmen Fathers”, because Jiang believed it would be more emotive with people on the mainland and abroad.

He was the spiritual leader of the Tiananmen Mothers
You Weijie, spokesperson of the Tiananmen Mothers

Jiang always shunned the limelight, but behind the scenes was the driving force of the group that has campaigned for truth, accountability and compensation for the victims for the past 26 years.

The former linguistics professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, who died on Sunday at his home in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, is survived by his wife, Ding Zilin.

“With heavy hearts, all members of Tiananmen Mothers will always remember Jiang Peikun, who was also a pioneer of aesthetic research in China,” said an obituary published by the group on the WeChat social media website on Thursday.

“We will turn grief into strength, and move forward unswervingly to achieve our three major demands that were established by him – truth, accountability and compensation [for victims of the crackdown].”

Jiang Peikun and Ding, a former philosophy professor at Beijing’s People’s University, set up the group shortly after their only son, Jiang Jielian, 17, was shot dead on the night of June 3, 1989, while taking part in the pro-democracy protests.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of students and citizens died in the June 3-4 crackdown by troops following weeks of street protests and sit-ins in Tiananmen Square.

You Weijie, the spokesperson of the Tiananmen Mothers, told the South China Morning Post: “Ding wants to tell all of their friends, that, for the rest of her life, she will work to complete her husband’s dying wish [for the group’s demands to be met],”

“He was the spiritual leader of the Tiananmen Mothers,” added You, who is the widow of a victim of the 1989 crackdown.

Jiang Peikun’s creativeness and the agility of his mind had led to him to become the backbone of the group, she added.

She and Jiang had been determined to prevent the families of the victims of the crackdown being silenced, and have painstakingly collected the names and testimonies of all relatives during the past 26 years.

Only last October, they sent four members to mainland provinces and municipalities to record the new testimonies of more than 20 families of victims.

Although Jiang had suffered a stroke, caused by a cerebral infarction, in 2008, he had insisted on taking part in the editing and post production work on all the new testimonies.

Ding said during an earlier interview with the Post that her husband had carried on working until all the work was done, even though he had been forced to breathe through an oxygen mask.

She also said that Jiang had drafted the group’s objectives and its many official statements over the years.

The couple’s determined campaigning led to them regularly being placed under house arrest during certain sensitive periods, such as the anniversaries of the June 4 crackdown.

They were also harassed for showing their support for the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel peace prize winner in October 2010.

Yet Jiang and Ding never gave into the pressure and remained committed to the group’s three aims.

This week, after news of Jiang’s death was announced, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and many overseas exiled political dissidents paid tribute to his selfless determination.

The alliance held the public service to mark Jiang’s death at 11am on Thursday – the first day of the seven-day National Day holiday – outside Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong. Members also called for redress from Beijing over the crackdown.

Report by Minnie Chan