INTERVIEW – Fengsuo Zhou: 1989 Student Leader & Once China’s Fifth Most Wanted


Earlier this month, HongWrong spoke to Chinese dissident Fengsuo Zhou who flew in from the US to visit the main Occupy site in Admiralty. Once China’s fifth ‘most wanted’, Zhou was a student leader during the 1989 protests which led to the Tiananmen massacre. He is now working to raise awareness of the issue of political prisoners in the mainland.

Fengsuo Zhou in his tent

HongWrong: What was your role in Tiananmen and what has happened since?

Zhou: I was a student. I was on most wanted list, number five of twenty-one most wanted nationwide. I was a member of Beijing’s Independence Student Association. I spent one year in prison. I went to United States in January ‘95. I stayed there since.

My recent activity mostly is as co-founder and director of Humanitarian China. We focus on providing humanitarian support for the prisoners of China. That’s one reason why I came here – to speak up for these people who are jailed for their roles in supporting Hong Kong. There are about 100 of them so far.

HongWrong: In what ways are you supporting the dissidents?

Zhou: First we get to know them and their situation, what they want, where they are, what they need, and their families. We provide some money and we’ll listen to their case. And most importantly, we’ll let the world know what’s happening, because most people tend to ignore the human rights situation in China. In particular, those who are less famous.

China has, as you know, over 1,000 prisoners, and we only know a handful of them. So we give them support, let them know we care for them, that we respect them. That means a lot.

Fengsuo Zhou at Occupy Central

HongWrong: Why do you think the matter of political prisoners in the mainland is so rarely discussed?

Zhou: That’s probably a result of the economic power of the Communist Party in Communist China. They basically hijacked China’s people and its economy to expand the reach of its ideology. So that’s one reason why I think that this fight in Hong Kong is so important. 25 years ago we were hoping that globalization and the development of technology would transform China, but now the other side is showing up. China is exporting its own values.

HongWrong: But do you feel the 1989 student uprising had some success in encouraging the government to get out of people’s lives and develop economically as it has?

Zhou: That’s definitely true. Thank you for mentioning that. Economic freedom was a major goal of 1989 protesters. And immediately after the crackdown, the Chinese Communists basically went the other way. For three years, the Chinese economy was stagnant. And it’s only later, when they resumed economic reforms that the protesters were asking for that they began to develop quickly.

Fengsuo Zhou in Hong Kong

HongWrong: So how does it feel now coming to Hong Kong, and why are you visiting the umbrella movement main site here?

Zhou: To me, we were driven out of Tiananmen Square by tanks. My wish is that they will resume the fight that they started. And when I saw that here they were using tear gas… I felt like I must be here with the freedom fighters of Hong Kong.

HongWrong: How have you been following what’s been happening?

Zhou: Primarily through Twitter. Particularly when there’s breaking news, Twitter is the best source for me.

HongWrong: Hong Kong’s democracy movement has been ongoing on for almost 30 years. Are we now seeing a new generation of democracy activists coming together?

Zhou: Definitely… There is such overwhelming grassroots participation that it’s very inspiring to see how the younger generation can take their future in their own hands with passion, emotion, and responsibility. So that’s where we see great hope in the future.

HongWrong: Youu see some parallels, but do you see any differences with the young people here and with those back in 1989?

Zhou: We were educated under Communist rule, which is mainly brainwashing. Although at that time, the Communist Party was a little more open than today, there was no free press or independent organisations. So, for Hong Kong, this younger generation, they grew up from the memories of Tiananmen and they know the protesters of history very well.

They identify with the students there… For example, Joshua Wong, who I followed on Twitter for three years, is much better in mobilising political movements. 25 years ago it was more grassroots and sudden – we came out of nowhere. The organisations that I served as leader for fell within a week after the big demonstration. So this is very different now in Hong Kong… Hong Kong Student’s Federation has a history of over 15 years.

HongWrong: Have you any concerns about what the end game may be in Hong Kong as you leave the city?

Zhou: Yeah, of course. I leave with hope and also a heavy heart. That’s why I got very emotional when I had to talk and say goodbye. A lot of people see the parallels of today and Tiananmen. So the natural question is how it will end. So far, I don’t think that a Tiananmen Massacre will happen here. But whether the movement will succeed is a different question. That’s where there’s a lot of work has to be done, they’re very motivated to do it.

I encourage the protesters to reach out to a broader spectrum of society… But that being said, I’m very hopeful.

Fengsuo Zhou