One of Tiananmen's 'most wanted' returns to
Due to his student activism, Xiong has not been allowed to return to mainland China
He is making his first return trip with a visit to
Xiong met with
He is now a
Thu June 4, 2009
By Miranda Leitsinger
Xiong Yan (third from right) was one of the government's "most-wanted."
As a student leader, he rallied other youths to attend a memorial for a reform-minded leader that snowballed into the political movement, he joined an ensuing hunger strike, participated in student negotiations with the Chinese leadership and spent 19 months in prison after being named by authorities as one of the government's "most wanted" for his activities.
Because of his student activism in 1989, Xiong has never been allowed to return to mainland
But after some 17 years in the United States, Xiong -- now a U.S. Army chaplain in Alabama -- made his first return trip with a visit to Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, to mark the 20th anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen crackdown that led to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
"It's amazing. About two days before I took off in the plane, all the memories of 20 years ago flash back to my brain, I didn't sleep for many nights," he told CNN. Now, "I feel like I have returned home. I am joyful, happy."
Xiong was invited to the southern Chinese enclave by the Hong Kong Alliance, which for years has been holding annual candlelight vigils on the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. He joined a protest held over the weekend.
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"Gradually we are singing for democracy, saying 'hey, we need political reform, we need freedom, we need freedom of expression,'" he said, noting, "We are full of energy and we want to change
At the peak of the movement, the exhilarated students demanded dialogue with
In the end, Xiong said, the leaders denied most of their demands, including public recognition that they were heading a patriotic movement -- not a "turmoil" by a bunch of "ruffians," as some critics charged.
In mid-May, the students went on a hunger strike in the square to publicize their cause.
Martial law was declared one week later by Premier Li. Students responded by calling for him to step down. Clashes between soldiers and civilians broke out on the western and southern outskirts of
Xiong and his friends rushed to
"I witness the soldiers open fire. A lot of students and citizens were killed," Xiong said.
A group of students took a young man bleeding from the chest to a local hospital, where they saw bodies on the floor.
"We get absolutely mad. It was a tragedy, we will never forget that," he said.
After the crackdown, Xiong said he returned to the university and put up posters saying he wanted to quit the Communist party.
"The communists say, 'We are a great party, we are serving the people and we love the people. However, all of the sudden in the reality, they kill the people so we cannot imagine what they taught us and what the reality is right now, so we are really confused. We did nothing wrong, especially we are not a criminal, we never use violence. They killed a lot of people who are weaponless, armless."
Xiong was soon arrested and jailed as one of the 21 "most wanted" student leaders of the protests. He spent 19 months there with a few hundred other students but never stood trial. See Xiong talk about his time being locked up »
After he got out, he had a hard time finding work and was kicked out of university. He eventually fled to the
He keeps in touch with Tiananmen activists and participates in pro-democracy events. Though their paths have diverged, they have one thing in common.
"We have one identity. We all were Tiananmen Square demonstrators and we still have that spirit and ideal, and that valid dream in our hearts: we want to change
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs