Behind the Scenes, a Huge Magma Is Moving
An Interview With Mr. Zhou Fengsuo


Former leader of the Tiananmen Square protests

Zhou Fengsuo

While a student at Tsinghua University, he was a student leader in the pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square, he defected to the U.S. in 1995 and earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago. He worked in the financial industry from graduation until 2017, and founded the human rights organization, “Humanitarian China” in 2007.


――It is a great surprise that the fire in an apartment complex in Urumqi has triggered demonstrations against the zero-Covid policy in many Chinese cities, especially among young people. How do you think such demonstrations could have occurred in China, where surveillance is so strict?

I think people are just fed up with all the controls, and they have no other way but to fight back and that is where they show their greatest courage. Of course, people did so because of their love for their fellow citizens and the families who were burned to death in Urumqi. That is very miserable and heartbreaking. It is one of the events in a series of similar events that happened in the past every day. We see people jumping out of windows from a high rise. People are denied healthcare, people are starving, and very brutal, ghastly incidents are happening every day, especially in the name of zero-Covid.

In fact, the protests were inspired by the Sitong Bridge protestor. He began the protest on October 13th. There was the tensest security. It began with cameras and security guards. It is such a great work, courage, planning, and creativity. I think that is why more people felt like they could do something, under all the repressions and the high-tech control that the government had on the people. However, many individuals have also contributed individually and have unimaginable courage. It is all ordinary people with firm beliefs who have taken sometimes extraordinary but small steps forward.


A Cloud Revolution With Twitter, Telegram and Instagram

――How do you see the difference between the 1989 Tiananmen movement and protests today?

First, there are many similarities. The main body of the protesters was young and idealistic, and most of the protests were spontaneous, as in 1989.I think that there was no way to organize the protest, so people had to come up with ways to gather spontaneously. I think in 1989, it was the Tiananmen Square, which was the political center of China.

This time, the center is on Twitter, and to some degree, Telegram and Instagram, where people exchange some pictures, and there is a flow of ideas and a consensus of opinion that drives people to act.

I think that is very different now. I would call this a ‘cloud revolution’ driven by a virtual community based on a virtual cloud.

From the beginning to the end, Twitter, Telegram, and Instagram users are the main drivers of the information and happenings that motivated people to go on protests, both inside and outside of China. Twitter is the most important platform because events that would normally be censored and disappear in China are preserved and discussed through information sharing. They are kept alive in terms of information flow on Twitter. This is why it is important. Twitter is collectively like a person with input and output.

These inputs are facts that people can continuously input. They collect information from inside China and send it to Twitter because it is safe, where all the information will be kept forever. The outputs were opinions and plans to act. People feel the urge to act, and once that happens, there will be actions on the ground.

On Telegram, there are many channels through which people can discuss some issues, and there can be more like subgroups. You can talk with people who are in a certain area and who are concerned about other facts of a certain city in China. For example, outside of China, now there are like duty groups, and duty has been a motto since 1989. Many people have revived it in recent organizations. London, New York City, Toronto, all groups that people normally belong to in the same area, so they can discuss how to hold protests in certain cities.

Instagram is now the preferred platform for young people. That is where people normally share, for example, beautiful sceneries and their self-expression, like beautiful pictures of themselves, families, their cats, and dogs. However, because China censors everything, true self-expression itself is forbidden. That is why on Instagram, there is a community of people who really love freedom and where they would coalesce a few accounts, share information, and share some pictures and videos.

During the Shanghai protests, one live broadcast had almost 10,000 live views online.
Overall, the entire picture communicates on all three platforms.


The Biggest Defeat of Xi Jinping

――Some reports have suggested that President Xi Jinping is cornered. What are your thoughts on this?

I think that this was the biggest defeat of Xi Jinping since he took his position 10 years ago. This was the first time that he had to change course because of the outbreak of protests. In this sense, these protests have already been successful. This was a stepwise victory.

Even though, he is still imprisoning, and has arrested many protesters. The police are tracking people down, and especially on Twitter we are seeing many Twitter accounts being closed because they have arrested these people and forced them to cancel their accounts. However, they only showed fear. They are now vulnerable because they must change. I think people know that even though he has full control of the power of military and political machines, and has all his loyal followers in the political bureau, he is weak. He changed too often. This is significant.


Support From Within the Military

――There is now a move in China to relax its zero-Covid policy. How do you see this?

I think on one hand, it’s definitely a positive move for most people, because the way it was so strictly enforced, it was definitely imprisoning people in their own home, and loosening is a good step. I think that most people enjoy this benefit.

On the other hand, China has not prepared for this because Xi Jinping did not really have a long-term plan. I mean, they have not vaccinated vulnerable, old, or sick people. I think it is possible that, with the increase in infections and new cases, there will be some crisis in the future due to the problem of not being prepared.

――Dozens of Chinese democracy activists, including you, have issued an open letter to the People’s Liberation Army, military, and police, urging them to never repeat Tiananmen Square’s tragedy. Could you tell us about the thoughts you have put into this letter?

Right. Of course, when we saw the news of the protests, most people were alarmed by the prospect of a bloody repeat of Tiananmen-style in 1989 with huge massacres. That is why we wrote that letter, and also, for me personally, I realized that like in 1989, people actually had support from within the military. There were many good people on the side of the students, but there was not a good channel of communication between the protesters and the faction within the military that supported the protesters.

That is why I think this time we wanted to make it clear, and we urged the police and the military to do the right thing.


True Opinions Are Being Repressed

――Do you feel hopeful about this demonstration? Do you believe that the democratization and liberalization of China is possible?

Yes, of course. This was a very inspiring moment, and for me, I was very touched and moved. I think that the most important message from these protesters is that even though on the surface people may not be complaining, their true opinions are being repressed.

It is similar to a volcano with a molten magma. The surface is solid, like a shield, but when there is an opportunity, it will erupt, similar to the state. Most people were pessimistic that this system of control was so advanced, and so carefully designed, like everybody is watched every minute, but still, I think these protests show that there are always opportunities if people have the courage to go out together, to fight together. It is also significant that, for the first time since 1989, Chinese people reminded the world that they wanted freedom.

Behind the Scenes, a Huge Magma Is Moving
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