PASADENA, Calif.—To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the formation of sister cities between Xicheng District, Beijing and Pasadena, a 31-person delegation led by the Xicheng District governor Zhang Jiandong recently came to Southern California. On Apr. 5, governor Jiandong signed a cultural and educational exchange agreement with Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard at the Huntington Library. Chinese Consul General Zhang Yun also attended the signing ceremony. At the signing, a number of human rights groups held a protest outside the building, adding some tension to the meeting.
Included among the human rights groups were the Hong Kong Forum, Visual Artists Guild, Asia-Pacific Human Rights Foundation, Chinese Democratic Alliance, Social Democratic Party of China, and the Anti-Political-Persecution Alliance of China.
Ann Lau, the chairman of Los Angeles Visual Artists Guild, said “The sister cities should carry real communication and the Pasadena sister city committee should tell China to release eight prisoners of conscience including Huang Qi, Hu Jia, and Chen Guangcheng.
William Mei, executive director of the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Foundation, and participated in the protest said: "When Chinese and U.S. cities become sister cities, they should supervise and urge each other. Being sister cities does not nullify the fact that China is still a totalitarian regime, and the Chinese government is still arresting dissidents, including many who live in Beijing. We would like to express the concern of the people of Pasadena about China’s human rights… if we can help Chinese people on politics and human rights, it will greatly benefit China.” He also said that “No matter how big or small, any kind of protest and demonstration would have an impact on the Chinese officials. It will allow them to see that dictatorship is not welcomed anywhere, and that people everywhere want freedom and democracy.”
Liu Yinquan is the Secretary-General of the Social Democratic Party of China. He brought his two young sons along with him to the Huntington Library. He said their protest is to convey a clear message: “The Chinese Communist party must immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, prisoners of belief and prisoners of conscience. Arresting these people for some unaccountable reasons is a great violation of human rights. The Chinese communist party is doing this for the sake of its own interest and one-party rule. But it caused great damage to China’s image in the world and to the stability, fair and normal development of Chinese society. Therefore, the Chinese communist party’s behavior has become the main obstacle to China's development. "
The meeting took place at the Friends’ Hall of the Huntington Library. It was restricted to people with an RSVP. Cathy Wei, the Chairman of the China Sub-Committee of Pasadena Sister Cities said to the reporters before the meeting started: “I think the protest is appropriate. If the purpose of forming sister cities is about the communication of culture, economics and education, like the Mayor said, then allowing the students and the cultural sector on both sides understand what is true democracy will help people learn more about each other, and find the point of support to achieve the most balance.”
Bill Bogaard told reporters that as mayor of Pasadena, he had not given high priority to solving human rights abuses either in this country or other countries, "We have a lots of issues to face in Pasadena, and the question of human rights is important to me but I haven’t put it on the agenda for my discussion with sister cities," he said.
The protest drew attention from people passing by, including Mr. Yang, a banker, who lives in the neighborhood. He listened to Ann Lau who explained the stories of the prisoners of conscience on display and asked what he could do to help.
He said as a Chinese American, he cares about what’s happening in China, "Everything is interconnected now because we are in a global economy. What happens in China impacts America. If they (prisoners of conscience) are put in prison unfairly, then it does impact America because as Americans we need to stand for justice and equality when there is inequality in the world.”
An Open Letter to the City of Pasadena’s Sister Cities Committee is on the Visual Artists website at: