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Human rights in China

Chinese Marxist student leader taken away by police on 125th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth

  • Witness says ‘seven or eight men in plain clothes’ forced Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, into a car
  • Mao anniversary was not marked in print editions of major Communist newspapers on Wednesday
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 5:18pm

Chinese police detained the chairman of a student Marxist society at a top university in Beijing on Wednesday, a witness said, on the 125th anniversary of the birth of the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong, whose legacy remains deeply contested.

Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, was grabbed and forced into a waiting car outside the college’s east gate by a group of heavy set men who identified themselves as police, a student said.

“I saw a black car parked by the gate and seven or eight men in plain clothes lifting him by his arms and legs and forcing him into the car,” said the student, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.

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Qiu had been on his way to attend an event to mark the Mao anniversary, that not only had he organised but had also been warned about the day before by a school adviser, the person said.

“What’s wrong with remembering Chairman Mao? What law does it break? How can they publicly kidnap a Peking University student?” the student said.

The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to a request for comment.

Students at Peking University, which is set on a sprawling, leafy campus in northwest Beijing, played a central role in launching the anti-imperialist May Fourth Movement in 1919 and the pro-democracy Tiananmen protests in 1989.

But campus activism has been increasingly marginalised in the era of President Xi Jinping, with Peking University in particular taking steps to quash dissent and strengthen Communist Party control.

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A movement that saw students and recent graduates of universities including Peking University team up with labour activists to support factory workers fighting for the right to set up their own union has been dealt with harshly by authorities, attracting international media coverage.

China has an awkward relationship with the legacy of Mao, who died in 1976, and his birthday, which was not marked in the print editions of major Communist Party newspapers on Wednesday.

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Song Yangbiao, a Beijing-based neo-Maoist freelance journalist, sai d that this year “the leftists have gone quiet” and with no signs of any major activities to mark the birthday.

“I think the backdrop is the atmosphere around the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up,” Song said, referring to official events celebrating the start of China’s landmark economic reforms, with Xi giving a big speech last week.

“Remembering Chairman Mao will lead to a major clash between the two streams of thought.”