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Third "International Alexander Langer Award" 1999 to Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun (China)

Ding Zilin, a Chinese lady near sixty (like her husband Jiang Peikun), was - till a short time ago - a quite unknown person internationally speaking - and above all in Italy - because of the silent and underground nature, little “mediatic”, of her activity. But in the last months, along with the growing interest towards the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Spring in 1989 and of the Massacre of Tienanmen on the 4th of June of the same year, we have witnessed a real “discovery” of the person, considered today the most original and meaningful figure of the Chinese “dissent”.
Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun were Professors of Philosophy at the University of Beijing and members of the Chinese Communist Party. They had only one 17 years old son, Jang Jelian, a high school student. Jelian took actively part, in spite of his parents’ worries, to the big Spring Movement. On the evening of June 3rd he went out and was shot by a soldier at 11 o’clock near Tienanmen Square. He was one of the first victims of that dreadful night. We don’t even know the number of the victims: maybe hundreds (and thousands of wounded) in Beijing and in other big cities, not to speak about the arrests and the hard sentences – even capital sencences - perpetrated during the following months and years. According to the Human Rights Organizations the victims are many more, thousands. A derisory number - and above all among the soldiers! - according to the official version of the Government, who has always denied the massacre and imputed the “disorders” to a small group of “counter-revolutionary elements”.
Ten years ago, shortly after the loss of their son, Ding Zilin and Jang Peikun decided to devote themselves to a pitiful and tenacious work of reconstructing what had happened. They resolved on drawing patiently a list of the dead (name, surname, origin, ways and circumstances of their death), and another one of the most unlucky survivors, because crippled, invalid and helpless. A certain number of other victims’ parents met by chance or discovered after long and tenacious inquiries, helped them in this work.
It was - it is - a very difficult activity. First of all, because of the immediate hostility of the Government, that didn’t consider convenient to imprison Zilin (due to the prestige she was gaining), but subjected periodically both husband and wife to long periods of house arrest and to judicial inquiries (at this moment, too, Zilin and her husband are placed under house arrest). Besides, Zilin lost her job as a teacher and was excluded from the Party (officially because she hadn’t renewed the membership card in time).
It was also hard to find out the news and the people and persuade them to speak. It was actually necessary to overcome a wall of silence, built by the humiliation of a denied mourning, by the fear of retorts, by the will of forgetting. In spite of this, little by little, Ding Zilin was able to reconstruct, at least partially, and to document 155 stories of people died in the big Massacre, and a few stories of living who are still suffering in their flesh and in their daily unlucky the sign of that night.

We can summarize in this way what struck us of the human, ethical and political vicissitude of Ding Zilin.
First of all, this extraordinary woman claims the right to memory. We can’t express it better than in her own words: “A person can make many different choices. I made the choice of documenting death”. “I have scaled a mountain of corpses and I have floated in the tears of the victims’ families”. “Life is sacred. But death is also sacred. [...] As Chinese people, we may have many goals and dreams, but I think we must put a priority on establishing a moral system in which the reckless disregard for human life is put behind us. If someone were to ask me, Why did you choose to document death? I think this would be my answer: I don’t want that these victims have died of an anonymous death, in unknown circumstances”.
The search of Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun starts from the will to give a face and a name to the victims, and also - in a certain way - a meaning to their death. Beside this, a desire to look for and give consolation and solidarity to people who - the massacre being officially denied – didn’t even have the right to mourn. We can’t forget - among other things - that Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun built a network of aid to families and disabled in heavy financial straits and without any kind of assistance.
Priestess of the memory more than political militant, Ding Zilin isn’t however less conscious of her belonging to a great non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in China. Recently, on behalf of a group of victims’ families, Ding has officially denounced the persons in charge of the massacre, asking the highest State Authorities to open a judicial inquiry and to make justice. And not by chance, the most famous among the Chinese dissidents, Wei Jingsheng (exiled today by necessity in the United States), has pointed to Ding Zilin as the person who best embodies the big break between government and population sanctioned by the Tienanmen Massacre. And in the words of the executive director of Human Rights in China (an organisation to which Ding belongs since 1993): “Ding Zilin is the most active and respected activist for human rights in China for the unrelenting and brave work she did in the last ten years in extremely hard and hostile circumstances”.
The International Alexander Langer Award 1999 wants therefore to be a tribute above all to the respect for life, a value of which Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun are brave and untiring witnesses. But also to the struggle for democracy, civil and political freedom, human rights, in a difficult context like that one represented not so much by the Asiatic “cultures” as by the political governments which rule that side of the world so wide and important.


Members of the Guarantee Committee of the Association Pro Europa: Peter Kammerer (President), Gianni Sofri, Birgit Daiber, Lisa Foa, Renzo Imbeni, Simonetta Nardin, Anna Segre, Gianni Tamino, Massimo Tesei