Human rights activists and friends from overseas have paid tribute to Xu Qinxian on social media, showing respect to the deceased general who refused to use force against pro-democracy demonstrators during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Xu, who died in Hebei province’s Shijiazhuang on Friday aged 85, was a commander of the 38th Group Army in 1989. 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. He refused to take the order and was later court-martialed, serving five years in prison.
The military has allowed his three children to go to Shijiazhuang where Xu spent his last years to discuss funeral arrangements, but banned his friends from attending, Radio Television Hong Kong reported citing unnamed sources.
Bao Tong, activist and policy secretary of the then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Zhao Ziyang, posted a poem dedicated to Xu on Twitter on Friday. He cited Confucius’ words to praise Xu as a brave man and noble person in the poem.
Bao, who had once been jailed in the same building as Xu in Beijing’s Qincheng Prison, said he wrote the poem a few years ago but has had no way to send it to Xu, so he posted it online as a tribute. Bao is the highest-ranking official jailed after the 1989 protest.
Wang Dan, one of the most visible student leaders in the Tiananmen Square demonstration, called Xu “a general of conscience” on Twitter. Wang wrote on Facebook that: “General Xu has followed his conscience and given up his official title and freedom. Those of us students will never forget about him. Mr. Xu, rest in peace.”
Wang told Radio Free Asia that Xu was a rare character in the People’s Liberation Army with a conscience, and he has set an example for the Chinese army. He added that the army should protect its people instead of killing them. Should Xu have obeyed the order to attack protesters, he would have become vice-president of the Central Military Commission — one of the highest military posts in China — according to Wang.
Chinese human rights activist and former student leader Zhou Fengsuo also wrote on Twitter: “May he rest in peace and my thoughts are with this family.” Zhou also said that “Xu will be remembered, for he would rather be killed than become a sinner in history.”
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