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Open Letter from Ding Zilin to Chai Ling

June 29, 2012

At the request of Ding Zilin, a spokesperson for the Tiananmen Mothers, Human Rights in China is releasing an open letter entitled “To Chai Ling—A Belated Open Letter Response.” HRIC has translated the letter into English (see below).

On June 4, 2012, Chai Ling posted online an op-ed piece in English, “I Forgive Them,” in which, citing her newly discovered Christian faith, she expressed forgiveness of the Chinese Communist leaders responsible for the 1989 military crackdown.  Her statements sparked an active controversy online, drawing criticism from exiled Chinese activists and former 1989 student leaders. On June 8, 2012, Chai Ling issued a clarification in her own defense, in a post in Chinese.

In light of the ongoing official impunity for the crackdown, lack of official response to the Tiananmen Mothers’ demands for “truth, compensation, and official accountability,” and because of intensifying persecution of Tiananmen Mothers’ group members, Ding writes that she could not remain silent after reading Chai’s statements. Ding expresses complete disappointment in Chai and criticizes her forgiveness as a betrayal of the spirit of the 1989 Democracy Movement, and an act that debases the heroes, victims, and survivors of June Fourth.

A Belated Open Letter Response to Chai Ling

Ding Zilin

June 28, 2012

[English translation by Human Rights in China]


Ms. Chai Ling,

I should have responded earlier to your recent open letter, “I Forgive Them.” However, due to a series of unexpected events around the June Fourth anniversary—the suicide of Mr. Ya Weilin (轧伟林), the father of a June Fourth victim, who hanged himself in despair; the purported suicide of Mr. Li Wangyang (李旺阳), a leader of the Tiananmen Square labor movement; and the controversy stemming from the publication of Conversations with Chen Xitong, one of the Tiananmen Square Massacre accomplices—my response to you has been delayed until now.

Though I was busy with other matters, I was always thinking of some of the things you said in your open letter. Every day that I did not respond was a day that I was not at ease. Having something to say and not speaking out made me feel that I was letting down the souls of those lost in June Fourth and their late family members.

Ms. Chai Ling, for more than 20 years now, you have taken on various personas politically and socially both in China and abroad, leaving everyone dumbfounded. This latest shift made me utterly disappointed in you.

Before the June Fourth Massacre, I hated politics because of the Cultural Revolution, and so I gave little interest to the 1989 student movement. Frankly, I did not pay much attention to what you said or did in the square back then, even though you had already taken the position as commander-in-chief of the Tiananmen Square hunger strike—a position I didn’t even know existed.

The first time you were brought to my attention was in the fall of 1990, in a conversation I had with a student of mine at Renmin University’s Language and Literature Department before the Cultural Revolution, Ms. Gao Yu (高瑜). Gao had learned after her release from Qincheng Prison that my son had been killed during June Fourth , so she came to visit me and tell me of her arrest and time in prison. That is when she mentioned you.

She said that in late May 1989, upon returning to Beijing from a work trip in Shenzhen and despite being ill, she—at the behest of Mr. Hu Jiwei (胡绩伟), a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress—went to Tiananmen Square to try to persuade the students to evacuate and return to school in order to avoid imminent peril. Gao said that, after going through layers of blockades formed by the student demonstrators to maintain order in Tiananmen Square, she found you, Wang Dan (王丹), Wu’erkaixi (吾尔开希) (?), and other leaders of the student movement. She expended a great deal of effort, speaking to you for seven or eight hours before she had convinced you to agree to evacuate the students, and even helped you draft an evacuation announcement before she left. The evacuation ultimately never happened, however, because you backed out and Li Lu (李禄) opposed the idea. Then, because of her “intervention,” Gao Yu was arrested on June 3, before the government unleashed the killing.

Immediately afterwards, martial law troops marched into Beijing on the night of June 3, beginning the June Fourth Massacre that would shock the entire world.

Did you know that it was precisely on that frightful, dark weekend night June 3 that my son, Jiang Jielian (蒋捷连)—because he kept thinking about the safety of the “older brothers and sisters” (these were his exact words) who stayed behind in the square—threw off my admonition and left our home to race toward danger and his death? And  it wasn’t only Jiang Jielian who did so that night! Graduate students Yuan Li (袁力) and Zhou Deping (周德平), university students Duan Changlong (段昌隆), Wu Guofeng (吴国锋), and Sun Hui (孙辉), high school students Wang Nan (王楠), Ye Weihang (叶伟航), Beijing residents Yang Minghu (杨明湖), Yang Yansheng (杨燕声), and many more—each and every one voluntarily left their family or school after the armies had opened fire in order to be with you in safety and in danger.

Gao Yu told me why her attempt to persuade you all failed, but at the time I held no grudges against those of you who insisted on staying in the square. And that was because of this one fact: on the night of June 3 when the massacre occurred, you stayed in the square the whole time, and in early the morning of June 4, you led the procession to evacuate the square in tears. So, when I later heard in the foreign media that you and Feng Congde (封从德) had escaped danger and managed to flee the country, I was happy for you—even though I myself was trapped deeply in the sorrow of losing my son and was finding it difficult to extricate myself from it.

Ms. Chai Ling, do you still remember how in 1994, not long after my first book, Ding Zilin: List of June Fourth Victims (丁子霖——“六四”受难者名册), was published abroad in Chinese, you called me at my Renmin University home? During our conversation, you began in a tone you probably had become accustomed to at the square, saying “Auntie Ding! This is Chai Ling! Chai Ling!” This was completely unexpected. Then you said, “I saw your son’s photograph in your book List of June Fourth Victims, and remembered that I had met him.” I thought this was absolutely impossible. Although my son had gone to Tiananmen Square several times and had been a member of the team maintaining order, how could he have entered the inner circle and approached the leaders at the time? But you were absolutely sure, and told me that your personal bodyguard was a student from the High School Affiliated to Renmin University, a schoolmate of my son. You said that my son had once gone to the square to look this schoolmate, and thus you had the opportunity to meet him. At the end, you asked, “I saw your book at a Chinese bookstore in Boston, and I bought the remaining dozen or so copies. Would you let me translate it into English?” I immediately agreed.

During that conversation, while you were expressing your condolences, you also told me about your own misfortune. You said, “Actually, it isn’t only your family’s misfortune. I am also very unfortunate. After I was forced into exile, my grandmother passed away, but I couldn’t return home for her funeral….”

Several days later, I went to Zhongguancun to visit Mr. Xu Liangying (许良英) and told him that we had spoken on the telephone and that you had requested to translate my book. Mr. Xu told me that at the end of May, prior to the massacre, you told a Western journalist in an interview that you were “waiting for blood to flow like a river through Tiananmen Square,” but that you yourself wanted “to seek to survive.” When I heard these cold-blooded words I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. When I thought of how my son ran to the square on the night of June 3, despite my forbidding him to do so, in order to share the older brothers and sisters’ sufferings, I felt an indescribable bitter agony in my heart.

It pains me that I was unable to get in contact with you. At that moment, I remembered that Mr. Zhang Yalai (张亚来) had recently returned from a trip to the United States, and immediately got in touch with him. I asked him to find a way to get in contact with you, to revoke my consent to your translating my book.

This is something that I, to this day, dare not forget, and it was the first time that I was disappointed in you.

After that, I remained silent although I heard all kinds of rumors about you. I always tell my friends that you student leaders were still young, and the journey ahead of you in life was still very long. Whether it is doing business, pursuing politics, or converting to a religion, I respect your choices. It was only after I had learned that your former husband, Feng Congde, had defended your remark that you were “waiting for blood to flow” that I asked Mr. Liu Qing (刘青) to convey my objection to Feng.

I remember in 1997, when Deng Xiaoping, the policymaker behind the June Fourth Massacre, passed away, the Bureau of State Security was monitoring me at home. One afternoon, two BBC reporters, a man and a woman, took advantage of the guards’ carelessness to slip inside my house and interviewed me about my views on Deng’s passing. They asked me two questions in those few short minutes. The first was whether I forgave Deng Xiaoping for the June Fourth Massacre, as people say that Deng really had helped China’s economic development. I unhesitatingly responded, “No!” The second was what I thought about your remark prior to the June Fourth Massacre about “waiting for the blood to flow.” My answer was that what Deng Xiaoping committed were sins; what the student leaders committed were mistakes. It was very clear in my mind—the two could not be talked about in the same terms.

This reaction probably stemmed from the love and respect my late son had for his older brothers and sisters in the square. Through all the endless nights of my misery, in my heart I was always hoping that the student leaders who commanded the stage at that time would stand up and clarify some facts, or genuinely acknowledge and apologize for their mistakes in words and actions. This would be not only for us families of June Fourth victims, but for all the people of this country and the international community who were concerned about you and cherished you at that time.

However, the fifth, 10th, 15th, and 20th  anniversaries of the June Fourth Massacre all passed by. Now it is already the 23rd anniversary. What has come from my waiting?

The outcome is your open letter: “I Forgive Them.” You “forgive” Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and the martial law troops and officials who forced their way into Tiananmen Square. From my perspective, you, as a student leader, should not say such things, especially not on the 23rd anniversary of the June Fourth tragedy.

I want to ask you, Ms. Chai Ling. You became a Christian more than two years ago, and, while calling yourself a Christian, decided to use Christian doctrines to forgive the butchers of June Fourth. Don’t you think you’re ignoring the facts? Every year for the past 20 years or so, the Communist Party of China government spokespersons have repeated the same old platitude again and again: that “a very clear conclusion had been drawn by the Party and the government long ago” regarding the June Fourth Incident. Not only have they never apologized for the crimes against humanity they committed, they have also intensified the already severe persecution of the families of June Fourth victims, rights defenders, and dissidents in order to “maintain stability.” After the machine guns and tanks of June Fourth, they have resorted to using torture, severe prison sentences, and even putting black hoods on people and brutally beating them. On the eve of June Fourth this year, Ya Weilin, a member of the Tiananmen Mothers, committed suicide by hanging himself because he was unable to bear the long, slow road of the reassessment of June Fourth. And Li Wangyang, a labor movement leader from Shaoyang, Hunan—who had lost sight in both eyes and hearing in both ears from being tortured during his 22 years of imprisonment, yet still said that he wouldn’t turn back from his cause, even if they beheaded him—was strangely made to “commit suicide” in a hospital. Why don’t you take a look at the facts of these cases of great suffering?

Ms. Chai Ling, the Tiananmen Mothers have struggled for 23 years, and have summarized the consensus that we have reached in the three demands for “truth, compensation, and accountability.” Should we abandon these three demands in light of Christian moral principles and just inexplicably “forgive” the executioners of that massacre? You should know, in these 23 years, not one single Party official from either Beijing or the local level except for those public security officers who monitor and restrict us has contacted any of us Tiananmen Mothers; not one single official has said even one thing to us, let alone expressed any trace of apology. And you want us to “pardon” or “forgive” them. Have you asked them whether they can accept your “pardon” or “forgiveness,” be it from the standpoint of some lofty religious creed or a common person’s everyday principles? Of course not! It is absolutely preposterous!

I am truly disappointed in you.

In some sense, I could just say that my son and all the lost souls of June Fourth have shed their blood in vain. You ought to know that every single one was a youthful, thriving life! The student leaders and the ordinary masses are all people, and all people’s lives are equally priceless. It is truly difficult for me to imagine that during that time you said you were “waiting for blood to flow,” yet now you go so far as to say that you “forgive them.” From the cold-bloodedness of then to the unprincipled forgiveness of today, what does this magnificent turnaround actually illustrate? To what extent is your judgment of right and wrong impaired?

True, in “The Words of Tiananmen Mothers” (2001), we the families of June Fourth victims wrote, “We are no longer helpless and numb with pain; we are no longer just tearful mourners railing against heaven and man. Since we have stood up, we will not lie down again. We are weighed down by tremendous pain and grief, but we no longer bear hatred and hostility in our hearts, we feel a sense of justice and responsibility.”

As a group, our social statuses and political and religious convictions are not identical, but we all possess the love of a mother. Our love for our own sons and daughters, our love for all children, our yearning for peace and tranquility, our hatred of might, violence, and bloodshed, and our sympathy for the socially disadvantaged and victims, they are all the same. We view this love as a kind of responsibility and hope that through this undertaking we can call upon the conscience of the people, dissolve the suspicion and hostility between them, and change the contempt for the value of life and people that has been left in our minds. We believe that that the love that comes from the source of life is mighty. It is a kind of responsibility that helps us become stronger and wiser, and makes our world more rational and humane, and thus more effective in stopping violence and bloodshed.

We have abandoned the eye-for-an-eye narrow-mindedness and hatred in exchange for a commitment to seek justice and accountability. We use love to dissolve hatred. We have a premise, a principle: to communicate with as many people as possible to more effectively stop violence and bloodshed.

“Our long suffering people have shed too many tears and accumulated hatred for too long. We have a responsibility to strive to end this history of adversity. Even though the environment we live in is still so grim, we have no reason to be pessimistic today, and even less of a reason to lose hope. This is because we firmly believe that the strength of justice, truth, and love is enough to vanquish might, lies, and tyranny.”[1]

This is the Tiananmen Mothers’ conclusion.

History really knows how to mock those who challenge it. Just in time for the 23rd anniversary of the June Fourth Incident and not a moment too early or too late came two different performances from people involved in June Fourth. The first was accomplice to the June Fourth Massacre Chen Xitong pushing the responsibility of the massacre onto the late Deng Xiaoping and Li Ximing (李锡铭) [Beijing Party secretary in 1989] in Conversations. The other was your open letter of “forgiveness” for Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng, and the soldiers enforcing martial law. You probably didn’t expect this kind of result when you published your open letter!

You only converted to Christianity a short two years ago, and now you’ve already shocked people everywhere. Whether or not this is in accordance with Christian doctrine is up to those believers to decide. Although I’m not a Christian, I went to Christian schools in Shanghai and Suzhou from my third year of primary school to my third year of secondary school, and next door to the secondary school was a church, so I have been influenced by the Christian spirit since I was a young girl. “Love others and take responsibility for yourself” was the concept that left the deepest impression on me. Every chapel has a confessional, and it is the space for worshippers to reflect on their improper thoughts and behavior with a minister each week. Chai Ling, have you as a Christian ever been to the confessional to reflect on your words and behavior during June Fourth?

Lastly, Ms. Chai Ling, I can tell you unequivocally that I think your open letter “I Forgive Them” betrays the spirit of the 1989 Tiananmen movement that Chinese people take pride in, and greatly profanes the brave souls of June Fourth. As one who mourns beside the coffin of a June Fourth victim, I cannot keep silent.


                                                            Ding Zilin

June 28, 2012

From the Suburbs of Beijing

[1] From a May 2002 interview with Ding Zilin and her letter to the people of Hong Kong. For the Chinese original. see “Letter and Recording from Ding Zilin to Hong Kong on the 13th Anniversary of June Fourth” [丁子霖"六四"十三周年给香港的信及访问录音], May 28, 2002. 

For more information on the Tiananmen Mothers’ activism, see:

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