Mother Courage

2 minute read
Susan Jakes | Hong Kong

Until the night of June 3, 1989, Ding Zilin and her associates considered themselves ordinary mothers. But that was the night the Chinese government ordered its military to fire on civilians in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Ding’s 17-year-old son, Jiang Jielian, was shot and killed while crouching behind a rosebush. After that night, motherhood and massacre became inseparable for Ding and others like her. They banded together and called themselves Tiananmen Mothers.

For 15 years, Ding has painstakingly gathered information about victims of Tiananmen. Despite police surveillance, dismissal from her job as a university tutor and expulsion from the Communist Party, she has become the symbolic leader for many people in China who want the government to account for its actions that night. She is a small woman with a strong voice. Her bereavement makes her powerful.

Last week Ding and two other Tiananmen Mothers (one is actually a Tiananmen widow) were detained. Associates say they were planning to submit information to the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and were also making preparations for the 15th anniversary of the massacre. By Friday night all three had been released. China’s official Xinhua news agency tersely stated that Ding had confessed that the women had “conspired with overseas forces to evade Chinese customs and import illegal goods to China … and engaged in other activities in violation of China’s State Security Law.” According to the New York-based watchdog Human Rights in China, which has supported Ding’s work, the illegal goods were T shirts from Hong Kong printed with a Tiananmen Mothers logo, which were to be distributed for the anniversary in June. By Saturday, Ding hadn’t made any public comment, but her husband, Jiang Peikun, told TIME that she denies having confessed anything.

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