Calgary man is Tiananmen Square `hero'
By Gwendolyn Richards, Canwest News Service
June 4, 2009
CALGARY - It was a simple act of defiance meant to shatter illusions about
the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.
The decision of three young men to lob paint-filled eggs at the massive
portrait of Mao Zedong, as tension built and more protesters gathered in
Beijing's Tiananmen Square, would profoundly change their lives.
Now, as the world looks back to this day 20 years ago - when tanks filed
into the square, bringing the seven-week protest to an end, but not without
international outcry and costing civilian lives - the trio is united again
in Washington, D.C.
For Lu Decheng, who has quietly made a life for himself in Calgary with his
wife and three children, the reunion was an ``exciting moment.''
But it was also marked by their shared history: of prison time when they
were tortured psychologically and worked to the bone.
``We really escaped death,'' he said through an interpreter from Washington.
Lu Decheng has been settled in Calgary since 2006. With help from the
Canadian government, his wife and two children joined him last year.
A new baby born six months ago was a happy addition to the family.
``I am very happy to live in Calgary,'' he said. ``This is actually what I
was always longing for.''
How he came to the city, though, is a tale of sacrifice and pain born from
the need to protest China's totalitarian regime.
It is a tale, said author Denise Chong - whose book Egg on Mao will be
released in September - that highlights the fight for human rights through
the actions of Lu Decheng.
``We take for granted when you live in a place that's safe, (that) you can
speak out without fear or reprisal, or you hold your beliefs and are free to
hold them strongly.''
``To see somebody who recognizes the value of rights and see them denied,
repressed, or taken away . . . it made me realize the loss of human rights
somewhere else . . . diminishes us all.''
Lu Decheng grew up under the rule of Mao. He was forced by teachers to make
bricks in the schoolyard, and was yelled at for not shedding real tears when
For Lu Decheng and his friends, Yu Zijian and Yu Dongyue, defacing the
former leader's portrait in Tiananmen Square was a simple, quick way to tell
people not to have illusions about Mao and the party. It was a call for the
regime to end, he said.
The trio mixed the egg whites with paint, then put the liquid back into the
They divided their duties: Yu Zijian kept people out of the way, as Yu
Dongyue and Lu Decheng lobbed the eggs, splattering the portrait with black,
red and blue paint.
``We thought it would achieve (our) goal to deface the portrait and it
wouldn't hurt anybody,'' he said.
The three were not caught immediately, but student protesters eventually
came to the three, grabbed them and delivered them to police.
Lu Decheng said he doesn't blame the students for what they did.
``The first thing what we thought was . . . we have done this thing and we
should take responsibility,'' he said.
Lu Decheng was sentenced to 16 years in prison, Yu Dongyue to 20 years, and
Yu Zijian was handed a life sentence.
The three were in prison together until 1990, when authorities decided they
should be separated.
Because they were political prisoners, they were given the same physical
work as other criminals, but they also suffered from psychological torture,
Lu Decheng said.
For example, the government pressured his wife to leave him.
Yu Dongyue, meanwhile, now suffers from mental illness from the torture he
``He is a shadow of the person who went originally to Tiananmen Square with
them,'' Chong said.
Lu Decheng was released in 1998, but it took him six years to decide - with
persuasion from human-rights groups - to leave his home country, escaping
through the border to Burma, then Thailand and, finally, to Canada.
Before leaving China, he and Yu Zijian - who was released from prison in
2000 - went to see Yu Dongyue in jail.
Already affected by his illness, he didn't recognize them.
Yu Zijian and Yu Dongyue fled China in April 2008, with Yu Zijian's wife and
Yu Dongyue's younger sister in tow. They have been given asylum in the
While some call the three men heroes, Lu Decheng shrugs off the term.
``That was 20 years ago. I never thought I am a hero. Today, I still think
the same. I am a normal worker and I'm very happy I can work in Canada,'' he
Still, his final words echo his beliefs from when he lobbed that first egg
onto the portrait of Mao.
``I wish, I hope, that everybody should stop having fear from this
dictatorship in China,'' he said.