Chen Ziming, an activist branded as one of the “black hands” behind the 1989 pro-democracy uprising in Tiananmen Square, which was crushed by the Chinese government, died Oct. 21 at his home in Beijing. He was 62.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post.
Mr. Chen, who was convicted of sedition in 1991, spent about 13 years behind bars or confined to his apartment. In response to economic pressure from the United States, Chinese authorities released him in 1994 but imprisoned him again in 1995 after he staged a 24-hour hunger strike commemorating Tiananmen. Suffering from testicular cancer and other illnesses, he was allowed to go home, under house arrest, in 1996.
Even after his sentence ended, the scholarly but impassioned Mr. Chen was under constant surveillance, he told interviewers. He published political commentaries under 30 pseudonyms. With permission from various government agencies, he started a Web site called “Reform and Construction,” but it was shut down, he said, for no apparent reason.
“They just pull the plug on you because they can,” he told Radio Free Asia in 2006.
In the years before the Tiananmen Square massacre, Mr. Chen, a biochemist by training, was one of China’s most prominent social scientists. With his longtime colleague Wang Juntao, he founded an influential think tank, ran a dissident magazine called Beijing Spring, published the reform-minded Economics Weekly and started China’s first independent political surveys.
“No project worried the authorities more,” George Black and Robin Munro wrote in their 1993 history, “Black Hands of Beijing.” Funding came partly from U.S. organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation. A finding that 72 percent of Chinese believed democracy to be the best form of government “provided explosive evidence of the country’s frustrated mood,” the authors wrote.