Zhang Zhongshun, a lecturer from Yantai University in eastern China's Shandong Province, was one of the participants in the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989, when many unarmed students who peacefully appealed for reform to their communist leaders were killed by the military.
In 2007, Zhang showed his class a video of the incident—a taboo topic in today’s China—and was subsequently arrested by the agents from the 610 Office, a Gestapo-like organization with sweeping extra-legal powers tasked primarily to repress Chinese citizens that practice a spiritual meditation discipline called Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is an ancient cultivation practice of mind and body that is practiced freely in over 65 countries worldwide but is banned in China. Even though Zhang is not a Falun Gong practitioner, he was subjected to a similar type of unjust treatment, charged with “using a cult organization to undermine law enforcement” and sentenced to three years in prison by Laishan City Court on Feb. 28, 2008.
Upon his recent release from detention, Zhang was interviewed by The Epoch Times to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the student-led appeal at Tiananmen Square.
Zhang had just graduated from Fudan University and commenced lecturing at Yantai University in 1989. At the time, he participated in some local student activities promoting a democratic rule in China.
“When the police ransacked my residence at midnight [on June 5], the atmosphere was very tense. After arriving in Beijing in the morning of June 5, we saw lots of bullet holes in the traffic control booth and on the streets surrounding The Supreme People's Court and The Supreme People's Procuratorate. Even the large trees on the side of street were torn down,” Zhang said, recalling the events surrounding the massacre.
He had never imagined that he would be arrested for teaching materials about the incident almost two decades after its occurrence, he said. In his view, the incident seemed to have gradually faded from the communist regime’s attention with the passing of time.
Although the topic is considered sensitive in China, it is an unavoidable, Zhang said. Since his students sometimes asked him for information about the event, he found a video documenting the incident on an overseas website and showed it to his class.
“I imagined that the worst case would just be that the university president would criticize me in front of my colleagues in a meeting. I would not have thought that the communist regime would imprison me,” Zhang said.
“Is it illegal even if I include a historical event into my lecture?” he asked.