Teaching June 4: The Cost of Taking Students to the “Dark Side”

For many in China, the events surroundin … 繼續閱讀 →...

For many in China, the events surrounding the June 4, 1989, crackdown on student demonstrations in Beijing have been either consciously or unconsciously forgotten or confined to an official version that justifies the bloodshed. Much of the responsibility for this rests with the way that history is taught in China. The education system emphasizes mastery of approved narratives that present an orthodox account and promote a collective memory of things that the authorities want remembered, and a collective amnesia of things they don’t. There is no room for critical thinking or a process of inquiry. Rather, more often than not, the “truth” of history is presented as a finished product, to be filed away and called upon, when necessary, to justify those in power (or their heirs).

Critical analysis of history and truth appears to have been part of the pedagogical motivation for Zhang Zhongshun (张忠顺), a former lecturer at Yantai University in Shandong Province who was sentenced in 2008 to three years’ imprisonment for “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” In his lectures, Zhang introduced controversial perspectives on subjects like June Fourth, the anti-Japanese War of Resistance, and the crackdown on Falun Gong in an effort to exercise students’ critical faculties of discernment and analysis.

Because these perspectives are not allowed to circulate freely in China, Zhang used technological means to evade the government’s Internet censors and was drawn to sources of information connected to Falun Gong, which the authorities have designated as an illegal cult. The transmission of viewpoints and anti-government slogans associated with Falun Gong then became the basis for the prosecution’s criminal charges against Zhang.

In some respects, this aspect of his offense seems rather incidental. Even after stripping away the “cult” references, however, it seems likely that Zhang’s manner of teaching would ultimately land him in trouble. Although Chinese academics have a degree of intellectual freedom to conduct research, this freedom is constrained in the classroom.

On this point, the testimony of Zhang’s former students (included in the translated verdict below) is instructive—however inauthentically scripted some of it might be. Their discomfort at being confronted with the “darker side” of history—subjects that would not otherwise appear in authorized accounts—is palpable. There is a sense that exposing students to such matters creates cognitive dissonance and raises questions, things that ultimately risk misleading younger generations and contributing to instability.

The American scholar Perry Link has noted that by imposing a particular type of memory and forgetting about the events of 1989, the Chinese authorities deflect deeper reflection on a number of serious questions: “What did it mean for China that a nationwide democracy movement was crushed? How did the massacre affect the psyche of the nation? Can there be a recovery, and if so how?” It is hard to imagine such questions being posed, let alone answered, by people who are taught to accept one particular “true” account of history and prevented from engaging in a process that involves grappling with some uncomfortable facts and reconciling dissonant perspectives.

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Yantai Laishan District People’s Court of Shandong Province
Criminal Verdict

(2008) Yan Lai Crim. 1st Inst. No. 6

The prosecuting organ is the Laishan District (Yantai) People’s Procuratorate.

Defendant Zhang Zhongshun, male, born August 19, 1967, in Penglai, Shandong, Han ethnicity, postgraduate education, resides at [redacted by the editor] Laishan District, Yantai, lecturer at Yantai University. On August 28, 2007, he was placed under criminal detention on suspicion of using a cult to undermine implementation of the law. On September 30 of that same year he was formally arrested. He is currently detained in the Yantai Detention Center.

Defense counsel is Cheng Xiaoming and Li Hongjun, lawyers with the Shandong Qianyuan Law Firm.

On December 20, 2007, the Laishan District People’s Procuratorate filed indictment Yan Lai Proc. Crim. Indict. (2007) No. 138 with this court, charging defendant Zhang Zhongshun in a case of using a cult to undermine implementation of the law. This court accepted the case on that same day, formed a collegiate bench in accordance with the law, and held a public hearing to try this case. The Laishan District People’s Procuratorate appointed prosecutor Feng Yonghua to appear in court on behalf of the prosecution. Since this is a major case, the deadline for trying this case was extended by one month with permission of the Shandong High People’s Court. Defendant Zhang Zhongshun and his defense counsel Li Hongjun appeared in court to participate in the proceedings. The trial has now concluded.

The Laishan District People’s Procuratorate alleged that: Between February and July 2007, defendant Zhang Zhongshun, while he was teaching second- and third-year students at Yantai University’s Wenjing College, showed Falun Gong videos on subjects such as the “Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party,” the “June Fourth” incident, and the “Tiananmen self-immolation incident” on multiple occasions, either using classroom multimedia equipment at the school to visit Falun Gong websites such as epochtimes.com or ntdtv.com or by first visiting the aforementioned websites from his home and then downloading relevant content that he saved to a portable hard drive or portable computer, which he then connected to the classroom multimedia equipment. In support of these charges, the prosecution presented evidence in court including: documentary evidence including an inventory of items and documents seized by the public security organ, with relevant photographs; a work record issued by the public security organ; a search record and record of searching electronic evidence from the public security organ; screenshots from Zhang Zhongshun’s portable computer and portable hard drive; and Zhang Zhongshun’s proof of residence; testimony of witnesses including Cai Chunhua, Lin Xiangyi, Liu Kai, and Yang Yuankun; defendant Zhang Zhongshun’s [confession] and a CD containing the contents of Zhang Zhongshun’s portable computer and portable hard drive. The prosecution maintained that the defendant’s [actions] constitute the offense of using a cult to undermine implementation of the law and requested that this court deliver punishment.

Defendant Zhang Zhongshun and his defense counsel did not dispute the basic facts of the crime as alleged by the prosecution, but defense counsel raised the following defense arguments with respect to whether the defendant’s [actions] constituted a crime: (1) The defendant did not have subjective intent to commit a crime and therefore does not meet the essential criteria for constituting the alleged crime; and (2) the defendant’s actions fall under the category of ordinary unlawful [behavior] and do not reach the level of criminality; therefore the defendant should be acquitted.

In the course of the trial it was ascertained that: Between February and July 2007, defendant Zhang Zhongshun was a lecturer at Yantai University who, while teaching second- and third-year students at Yantai University’s Wenjing College, showed Falun Gong videos on subjects such as the “June Fourth” incident or the “Tiananmen self-immolation incident” on multiple occasions, either using classroom multimedia equipment at the school to visit Falun Gong websites such as epochtimes.com or ntdtv.com by first visiting the aforementioned websites from his home and then downloading relevant content content [sic] that he saved to a portable hard drive or portable computer, which he then connected to the classroom multimedia equipment. In all, more than 200 students watched the Falun Gong videos shown on multiple occasions by defendant Zhang Zhongshun.

The aforementioned facts are confirmed by the following evidence, which was put forth and cross-examined in court:

1. Defendant Zhang Zhongshun’s confession to the public security organ, confirming: “From February 2007 until the end of the semester, while teaching two classes (course in public ethics) of third-year students (more than 100 people) at Yantai University’s Wenjing College, I showed Falun Gong videos on subjects such as the ‘June Fourth’ incident and the ‘Tiananmen self-immolation incident’ on multiple occasions, either using classroom multimedia equipment at the school to visit Falun Gong websites such as epochtimes.com or ntdtv.com or by first visiting the aforementioned websites from my home and then downloading relevant content that I saved to a portable hard drive or portable computer and then connected to the classroom multimedia equipment. Occasionally ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party’ and other Falun Gong titles would flash across the screen. That was an unavoidable part of using the ‘Freegate’ software to go online; it was part of the ‘Freegate’ software and did not involve any specific content. When playing [the videos], I never spoke and let students watch for themselves in order to allow them to improve their abilities of observation and discerning truth from fiction. I did not play each video for very long. I knew that Falun Gong websites like epochtimes.com and ntdtv.com were attached to the overseas ‘democracy movement’ or organizations opposed to the Chinese government, so I told the students that they must not circulate or fully believe [the videos]. I am not a Falun Gong practitioner and know that Falun Gong has been classified by the state and the government as a cult. I liked to combine real-world situations in my lectures, discussing problems of morality, the social system, and freedom. I have no anti-social or anti-government intentions.”

2. A work record issued by the public security organ, confirming that a parent of a student at Yantai University’s Wenjing College complained to the University Work Committee of the Shandong Party Committee that defendant Zhang Zhongshun was showing videos related to Falun Gong in the classroom and that the public security organ was requested to assist in an investigation after Yantai University received a notice to investigate and punish.

3. The public security organ’s search record, inventory of items and documents seized, and related photographs, confirming that a notebook computer, portable hard drive, desktop computer, and a copy of The Great Consummation Way of Falun Dafa were seized from the defendant’s home, and related characteristics.

4. An electronic evidence search record from the public security organ and an expert examination report issued by the Laishan District (Yantai) Party Committee 610 Office, confirming that the content captured from the defendant’s computer and portable hard drive (the Tiananmen self-immolation case, looking back at June Fourth, indict Jiang Zemin, Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party, etc.) were edited and produced by the illegal organizations “The Epoch Times” and “New Tang Dynasty” established overseas by the Falun Gong organization and were illegal Falun Gong propaganda.

5. Witness Cai Chunhua (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun showed [videos] ‘Tiananmen Self-Immolation Case’ and ‘June Fourth Incident’ in class and said that the ‘Tiananmen self-immolation case’ was a fabrication. Zhang Zhongshun mentioned Falun Gong and said that practicing Falun Gong had benefits and could cure illness, meaning that Falun Gong was not as evil as the government said it was.”

6. Witness Lin Xiangyi (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun began each class by visiting a website called ‘New Tang Dynasty.’ When you visited the site, you could see the phrase ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party.’ While viewing [the video] ‘June Fourth Incident,’ there was more relating to the ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party.’ Occasionally, headlines related to Falun Gong would appear, such as ‘Jiang Zemin’s Ban on Falun Gong was Illegal.’”

7. Witness Liu Kai (student) confirmed: “In class Zhang Zhongshun showed us a video called ‘June Fourth Incident.’ Each time he showed it, a banner with ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party’ would appear at the bottom of the screen.”

8. Witness Yang Yuankun (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun often showed videos in the classroom, such as the documentary ‘Nail House,’ the video ‘June Fourth Incident,’ and the Falun Gong video ‘Tiananmen Self-Immolation Incident’ (which said that government employees responding to the fire beat the self-immolators to death).”

9. Witness Yang Wei (student) confirmed: “In class Zhang Zhongshun used a notebook computer connected to the classroom multimedia equipment to show videos like ‘June Fourth Incident’ and ‘Tiananmen Self-Immolation Case.’ He said that that the ‘Tiananmen self-immolation case’ was a Communist Party plot and occasionally spoke about the darker side of the Communist Party. There were 110 students in our two third-year classes, and most of the students usually had an opportunity to view [the videos]. The last class of the first half of 2007 involved showing [videos] for the entire class. I felt this was inappropriate.”

10. Witness Cui Liang (student) confirmed: “Near the end of each class during the first half of 2007, defendant Zhang Zhongshun would show some videos, mainly related to ‘June Fourth.’ I felt he shouldn’t show this sort of thing.”

11. Witness Ren Fei (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun connected a portable computer to the multimedia equipment and showed us some videos on subjects like ‘June Fourth,’ the War against Japan, and the ‘Tiananmen self-immolations.’ Occasionally, phrases would appear such as ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party’ or ‘Judgment on Jiang Zemin.’ Most classes he would show some. He would have us look dialectically at the Falun Gong question, the tanks crushing students or soldiers firing at students during ‘June Fourth,’ or the ‘Tiananmen self-immolations.’ When showing videos on the War against Japan, he said that the Nationalists’ contribution to [winning] the war was 70 percent. He told us things about the darker side of society that we couldn’t find out through ordinary channels. I felt it was not good to show students these videos. There were more than 100 students in the two classes, and over half of them saw [the videos]. I heard he also showed videos to two second-year classes.”

12. Witness Zhao Fuxin (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun showed some videos in class, mostly related to ‘June Fourth.’ I felt that it was wrong to do this.”

13. Witness Shi Jin (student) confirmed: “I didn’t attend many of Zhang Zhongshun’s lectures. But when I was in class I saw the online videos that he had prepared to show us students. The videos were related to things like the 1989 turmoil and the ‘Tiananmen self-immolation case’ and dealt mainly with the darker side of politics and society. I didn’t experience these things personally and had questions after watching. It was wrong of him to do this.”

14. Witness Li Wei (student) confirmed: “Basically, during each class Zhang Zhongshun would show us videos like ‘June Fourth Turmoil’ or ‘Tiananmen Self-Immolation Case.’ After watching these, I felt that there was a dark side to society.”

15. Witness Liu Yungang (student) confirmed: “Generally, aside from lecturing in class Zhang Zhongshun would show us some videos like ‘June Fourth Turmoil’ and things from Falun Gong websites. The specific content involved the darker side of society. I felt that as a university lecturer, he should remain consistent with the party center and ought not use his lectures to show these things on the darker side of society—particularly things that affect the national image and stability. His doing this can only mislead those of us from the younger generation.”

16. Witness Guo Jingming (student) confirmed: “The content of Zhang Zhongshun’s classes was different and covered a wider set of issues. He expressed some personal views, mainly on political subjects. I thought he had personality. Sometimes he would go online in class to show some online things; I’m not sure what websites they were, but there were both domestic and foreign sites. It was good to hear these views, and learning about the darker side of society is also a kind of knowledge about society.”

17. Witness Lan Xia (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun once showed videos on the ‘June Fourth’ student movement in class. The content was rather jumbled and there was more concerning society’s darker side. He said these were some of his own feelings and that he showed them so that we could also experience those feelings.”

18. Witness Gong Guangzhi (student) confirmed: “Zhang Zhongshun connected a portable computer to the classroom multimedia equipment and often showed us videos during class. There were some about the ‘June Fourth’ student movement, the ‘Tiananmen self-immolation case’ and some things from Falun Gong websites. When he visited the websites, Falun Gong content was clearly visible on the page, such as ‘Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party,’ ‘Global Judgment on Jiang Zemin,’ and other eye-catching phrases. He gave the web addresses to students, but the students couldn’t access the sites. Most of the more than 100 students in the two classes saw [the videos]. I think he also taught second-year students, also more than 100 students. I reminded myself not to pay too much attention to those things and adopted a mental attitude of resistance because I knew those things were bad. From the beginning I was surprised that the university had truly realized ‘freedom of expression’; later, I discovered that I hadn’t learned anything and felt that his way of teaching was mistaken.”

This court finds that defendant Zhang Zhongshun showed Falun Gong propaganda in his classroom on multiple occasions, using a cult to undermine implementation of the law; his actions constitute the offense of using a cult to undermine implementation of the law. The allegations made by the Laishan District People’s Procuratorate are valid. Defense counsel’s argument regarding the defendant’s innocence is contrary to the law and this court cannot accept it. In accordance with Article 300(1) of the Criminal Law of the PRC, [this court] rules as follows:

For the crime of using a cult to undermine implementation of the law, defendant Zhang Zhongshun is sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

(The prison term is to be calculated from the day the verdict is implemented, with each day spent in detention prior to the verdict’s implementation to count as one day of the prison term; therefore, it will run from August 28, 2007, to August 27, 2010.)

If this verdict is not accepted, an appeal may be filed within 10 days of the second day following the receipt of this verdict, either to this court or directly to the Yantai Intermediate People’s Court. In the case of a written appeal, the original appellate petition must be submitted together with two copies.

Presiding Judge: Gao Xubo
Adjudication Officer: Wang Aiqing
People’s Assessor: Zhang Zhilun

February 28, 2008

Court Clerk: Bi Jiantong

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