Twenty-year-old Xia Chongyu has very clear memories of Nov. 8, 2014. It was the last day he saw his father, and it was also the day that the authorities came to their home in Beijing. He said:
“I remember there were people yelling at us; they forced me, my mum, and my grandma to stand in a line in the kitchen, and they took photos of us while others searched the house. They kept my father under tight security while all this was happening and took him away with them.”
Nobody in the family could imagine the serious consequences, including Xia Lin himself. He was calm as he left with the police, wearing only a thin shirt despite the cold winter weather. When he left, he said:
“Don’t worry, it’s just evidence collection.”
“He said he would return within 24 hours and nobody should worry about it. But it turns out that we haven’t been able to see him since then,” said Chongyu.
On Sept. 22, 2016, Xia Lin was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment by Beijing’s Second Intermediate People’s Court charged with fraud. His colleagues and friends from legal and human rights circles believe that Xia Lin is being punished for giving a voice to those the regime see as a threat.
“What is eighty-nine?” asked his son. Chongyu was very aware of the number 89, which appeared frequently in Xia Lin’s work. When he was about 4, he asked his father:
“What does eighty-nine mean? Why is this number always in your books and papers?”
Xia Lin frowned while he thought of a way to answer Chongyu’s question. Suddenly, his face cleared and with a burst of laughter Chongyu remembers:
“He told me there was a flood in the year 1989, and we decided to stop the flood…”
It wasn’t until many years later that Chongyu understood the heartfelt grief that his father tried to conceal from him.
When Chongyu was a junior high student, he was achieving exceptional results and was selected to join the Communist Youth League. He was very excited and couldn’t wait to share the news with his parents. “I told my mum and dad about this at home. Father suddenly became very emotional. He steadfastly opposed my enrollment into the League.” Xia Lin decided that Chongyu was old enough to know the truth, and in their first adult conversation, he shared his experience of the dark days during the early summer of 1989.
Xia Lin was a 19-year-old freshman at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law at Chongqing in 1989. Beijing was suffering under the tight control of the regime at the time, including a strict curfew, resulting in many students staging a large sit-in at Tiananmen Square to peacefully protest against this control and many other restrictive policies of the ruling Communist Party.
Xia Lin and some fellow classmates decided to stage a peaceful protest with a sit-in at the Chongqing City Government Hall in support of the Beijing demonstration. A huge military presence had been deployed in Beijing.
Early on the morning of June 4, shots rang out and the infamous massacre of innocent students unfolded. Upon hearing the news, Xia Lin and his classmates went to the Gele Mountain Monument and publicly destroyed their Communist Youth League memberships.
The 89 Incident was a nightmare that became the symbol of struggle for Xia Lin’s generation. Upon hearing the story, Chongyu refused to join the League —chosing his love and understanding of his father’s pain over a lifetime of Party indoctrination.
Xia Lin wanted to serve his country by becoming a lawyer
Xia Lin didn’t start out as a lawyer. Upon graduating at age 22, he was originally dispatched to work as a policeman at the Public Security Department of Quizhou Province. Remembering his father’s words, Chongyu said:
“Dad found it difficult to fit into the role of intern policeman and resigned. He decided to study law and passed the exams.”
Several years later, Xia Lin established the first legal firm partnership in Quizhou Province. The firm’s early cases were mainly commercial in nature, such as providing legal consultation to Maotai Distillery Co. Ltd. Chongyu heard his father say many times:
“I feel that I can do more things to facilitate the progress of China.”
His wife would counter:
“Please don’t say that to anyone else; they will laugh at you. You’re just a little lawyer — don’t overestimate yourself.”
Finally, Xia Lin couldn’t bear his inaction any longer and moved to Beijing when he turned 30. Chongyu said:
“My mum told me that he read an article entitled The 89 Generation Is Ugly. It alleged that the 89 generation had lived through this awful experience, but had chosen to do nothing about it. Dad couldn’t live with the guilt any longer, so he decided to go to Beijing to realize his ideals.”
“It was simple for Dad to get himself enrolled in the Department of Law at Beijing University. Once there, he made many new acquaintances and established a fraternity with a group of good men, who later became the leaders of the civil rights movement in China.”
Chongyu saw righteousness, justice, and persistence in his father’s character. “I was very close to my father; we were like brothers. He has great social skills and always treats others with a strong sense of honor and justice. He is extremely honest and never hides anything,” said Chongyu when recalling his father’s personality. He shared a story about a time that he and his father came across a shoe shiner being told off by a city official in Guiyang City. Xia Lin rushed toward them, yelling at the official:
“Get out of here! You have no right to tell him to leave. I’m a lawyer, leave him alone! You don’t have any such right!”
A father’s influence is both unconscious and long-lasting. One day when he was in fifth grade, Chongyu read a news story about a street vendor named Cui Yingjie, who killed the head manager of Zhongguan Village, Haidian District, Beijing City. He asked his father, “Dad, can you help him?” Xia Lin dedicated much effort toward defending Cui’s case without charging a fee. His endeavors saved Cui from the death penalty. This was Xia Lin’s first exposure to human rights issues as a lawyer.
A clear conscience can bear any trouble
Subsequently, Xia Lin took on another sensitive, high-profile case — a female hotel servant, Deng Yujiao, had stabbed a corrupt government official to death after being sexually assaulted in Hubai Province. Chongyu explained:
“When my father decided to defend Deng Yujiao in 2009, he was constantly followed. That put my family under tremendous pressure. Trying to soothe our anxiety, Dad said: ‘A clear conscience can bear any trouble.’”
His passion for upholding human rights made him unstoppable once he started. He defended many human rights cases, including Tan Zuoren, the person who collected the names of students killed in the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province; Ran Yunfei, a writer from Chengdu City who was charged with “subversion against the government;” Ai Weiwei, a famous artist who was accused of tax evasion through links to Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.; and Pu Zhiqiang, a fellow human rights lawyer who was charged with “incitement of ethnic hatred.”
In October 2014, Xia Lin represented Guo Yushan, who was arrested by Beijing police as a suspect for “picking fights and provoking trouble.” Xia Lin was arrested himself a month later. Guo describes Xia Lin:
“From Guizhou to Beijing, from commerce to human rights, Xia’s life journey over the past 27 years has become more and more breathtaking and soul-stirring.”
Just after Xia Lin’s arrest, Chongyu went to the U.S. to study. A court session was finally called for Xia Lin’s case on June 17, 2016; he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. And just like that, the family was torn apart.
As the 2017 Chinese New Year celebrations drew near, Chongyu’s mother was home alone in Beijing preparing for the approaching second trial. The family holds no illusions about what may come. Chongyu just wants to tell his father:
“Dad, we are ready for you to come home no matter how long you keep us waiting!”
Translated by Aizhu Lu and edited by Kathy McWilliams.