Chinese general who refused orders to attack Tiananmen protesters dies at 86

Published (HKT): 2021.01.09 06:34

A Chinese general who refused a military order to crack down against pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, in 1989, has died in Hebei province, prompting condolences from Chinese democracy activists.

Xu Qinxian, 86, was a general in the 38th Grand Army when the student protesters occupied the enormous square in Beijing. At the height of the demonstrations, Xu was ordered to lead his division into Beijing to crush the student movement, in what became the bloody crackdown of June 4.

At least several hundred people were killed as Chinese troops attacked the protesters, although some estimates put the death toll at more than 1,000.

Xu was one of the few military leaders who refused to obey his commander’s order to attack. He was subsequently court-martialed and imprisoned for five years before being exiled to the city of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

The news of Xu’s death circulated on social media on Friday, and pro-democracy supporters sent condolences to his family from around the globe. They included Wang Dan, one of the protest leaders at the time, who sent “tributes” to General Xu. Wang currently lives in exile in the United States.

According to acquaintances quoted by Apple Daily, Xu’s health had deteriorated in recent years, and he was hospitalised with pneumonia for a long period in 2016. In his final days, Xu received care at his Shijiazhuang home, where he had lived in exile under 24-hour surveillance by government agents.

Apple Daily learned that Xu never regretted disobeying the military order to attack civilians. His biggest regret was that he was never able to publish his own first-person account of what happened during the Tiananmen crackdown, the newspaper learned.

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