Dr Shao Jiang is a survivor of Tiananmen Square. He has spent the last 26 years since then calling for justice for the victims and relatives – his friends - of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
On Tuesday, he joined an Amnesty demo along the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace. We, the human rights protestors, were massively outnumbered by thousands of pro-China fans, bussed in from around the country and kitted out with merchandise apparently sent via the Chinese embassy, from China as diplomatic cargo. But undeterred we set out our protest area, raised our placards and Shao Jiang unfurled a massive banner which displayed the iconic ‘Tank Man’ photograph.
I was surprised when Shao Jiang told me that, iconic as it might be to us, many of the pro-China demonstrators who had grown up in China would most likely never have seen the image.
That disparity of knowledge between the two countries is hard to appreciate. But for Shao Jiang, who has spent much of the last two decades living in exile, it must be an ever-present reality. If he were in China he would be treated as a criminal. Here in the UK he is a hero. A veteran democracy fighter. Or at least, that’s what he had been seen as, before now.
But on Wednesday Shao Jiang was arrested. At the time he stood alone in front of an ominous convoy of black cars which were ferrying the Chinese President Xi Jinping to his next royal appointment. In each hand Shao Jiang held a sign, one read; ‘end autocracy’ the other; ‘democracy now’. It hardly needs pointing out that his solitary protest bore remarkable similarities to the Tank Man photograph. He was wrestled, detained and arrested at the scene.
Shao Jiang has been charged with ‘conspiracy to commit a public order offence’ and his laptop, phone - as well as all his wife’s personal electrical equipment - have been confiscated by the police. He has now been released on bail, but with conditions. He has tweeted those conditions which include not going near Chequers, and staying more than 100 meters away from President Xi Jinping, to avoid further harassment of the ‘victim’. The victim, to be clear, is President Xi Jinping.
An odd end to an odd week. One in which the UK government greeted the President of China - the country which executes more people than the rest of the world put together – with the sort of homecoming parade you might expect for a victorious sports team. And one in which - at the end of it - saw the arrest of a Tiananmen survivor for a peaceful protest, and term the Chinese President a victim. It’s hardly the sort of summary that makes you proud to be British.
This week was an opportunity to show our Chinese visitor how the right to protest is valued in this country. Sad then, that we have shown how it is criminalised. I hope that common sense will prevail and the charges will be dropped, as well as all of Shao Jiang’s possessions returned – and of course his wife’s too.
Show your solidarity for Shao Jiang on twitter at and make it clear he’s not standing all alone.