On Sept. 19, 2023, a founding member of the Tiananmen Mothers, Zhou Shuzhuang, died in Beijing, decades after the death of her son during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
To this day, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has denied her calls for justice.
According to the group, which was formed to represent the families of those killed in the massacre, Zhou had been fighting cerebral thrombosis since 1999. While she was unable to speak or move, she held onto hope that justice would be reached.
However, she passed away at the age of 87, without seeing the truth come to light.
“This was her greatest regret,” the Tiananmen Mothers wrote on the Human Rights in China (HRIC) website on Nov. 8.
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Group member Zhang Xianling told RFA that she could not attend her funeral due to worries of “picking up a respiratory infection” but did send floral tributes.
“We regret being unable to bid farewell to her body, and hope she passed away peacefully,” the group wrote.
Despite her passing, the group vows to continue fighting for the day that the June 4 tragedy would be resolved. They still write to Chinese leaders every year on the anniversary of the massacre, requesting Beijing to share public records on the event and provide compensation for family members of the victims.
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A mother’s fight for answers
Since the 1989 massacre, Shuzhuang spoke painfully of the horrid death of her son, Duan Changlong, during the crackdown.
When Changlong was born in 1965, his father was already forty years old, leaving the boy to continue the Duan family legacy as their only son.
According to the book In search of the June Fourth Victims — written by fellow founding member Ding Zilin — on June 3, 1989, Changlong was looking for his sister and girlfriend when he heard a confrontation taking place between martial law troops and civilians near the National Palace of Culture.
Rushing to diffuse the situation, Changlong was said to have been shot by an “unhuman officer” — as the Tiananmen Mothers described — before being hauled to a nearby hospital, where he was confirmed dead.
“His eyes were half-opened, as if he wanted to tell his loved ones something,” Zhou recalled, referring to her visit to the morgue.
“The grief and anger in my heart suddenly burst out, and the whole family began wailing and sobbing, and the people present and strangers passing by were all crying with us,” Zhou added.
After the crackdown, Zhou founded the Tiananmen Mothers alongside Ding Zilin, committing themselves to spreading awareness of the massacre, even after suffering paralysis for her last two decades.
She would go to the Wan’an Cemetery every year on June 4 to visit her son’s grave. However, she and her family would be heavily monitored during those sensitive days, leaving them in dire states.
Zhou Fengsuo, a democracy activist based in the U.S. and former student leader of the 1989 protests, said that Duan was a “highly respected” member of the movement, and praised the Tiananmen Mothers for their resolve to find justice for those lost during the crackdown.
“It’s been 35 years now, and many of them were in their 40s and 50s [in1989],” Zhou Fengsuo said. “Now they are getting old, and are passing away one by one.”
“It has really been too long a road for them, yet they have persisted until the end of their lives, to their last breath,” Fengsuo added.
Ding Zilin, who also lost her son — Jiang Jielian — to the crackdown, once wrote, “People should not only remember Duan Changlong’s name, but also remember the name of a brave mother. Her name is Zhou Shuzhuang.”
In an open letter to Xi Jinping on the massacre’s 29th anniversary, as shared by the Hong Kong Free Press, the group vowed to resume their resolve and hopes to find closure for their loved ones.
Being awarded with the Women of Courage award by the U.S. State Department in 2020, the Tiananmen Mothers would continue to remember the lives lost, to remind others of the Chinese Communist Party’s atrocities in 1989.
“We [are] finally awake to the fact that we should not tolerate such injustice; we should defend our dignity; we should exercise our human rights; we should get justice for the dead who are dear to us,” Zhou previously told the HRIC.