Zhu Yufu

At the end of January 2012, Zhu Yufu attracted worldwide attention when a Chinese court convicted him of “inciting subversion” because he had written a short poem entitled “It’s Time.” Ten days later, in a rushed hearing where he was not permitted to speak, he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.

Mr. Zhu is a man of some experience. For the first few months after Deng Xiaoping took power at the Third Plenum in December 1978, the authorities permitted — perhaps in order to weaken any extremist opposition left over from the Cultural Revolution — the posting of manifestoes and criticisms on a wall in Beijing that came to be known as the Democracy Wall. To those who cared about such things this was tremendously exciting, and 700 miles away in Hangzhou, Zhu Yufu — then a 26-year-old working for the botanical garden and interested in design — began putting up posters offering his ideas about democracy and human rights. He started April 5, a monthly magazine named after the first Tiananmen Incident which had occurred in 1976. But this window of free expression was closed by the end of 1979. In 1983 he was hauled into court during the Campaign against Spiritual Pollution: I have not been able to learn any details. In 1987 Mr. Zhu assumed a responsible position in the workers’ union of a property management office; in 1989 his outspokenness during the events at Tiananmen (which inspired ferment all across China) got him jailed for a month and fired. He seems to have supported himself thereafter with a variety of jobs that included running a small photo shop in the city.

In June 1998, he founded the Democratic Party of China and a periodical (Opposition Party) setting forth its positions, an act for which he was arrested and in 1999 sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for subversion. In 2007, within a year of his release, the police stopped him on the street along with his son; when the latter sought to phone a friend, the police treated the younger man very roughly, and when Mr. Zhu tried to intervene, he was arrested and charged with obstructing official business — for which he received another two years in prison. His most recent arrest in 2011 was part of the crackdown intended to ensure that nothing like the “Arab Spring” would develop in China.

Translated below are two poems Mr. Zhu wrote in 1998, as well as “It’s Time.” The upper-right-hand corner of each page contains a link to the Chinese originals. The verses addressed to a police officer record what he considered a turning-point in his life. His own words shed light on the complex humanity of this remarkable man.

At his trial in January, his wife observed that in the course of his detention Mr. Zhu’s hair and beard had turned white.

To Officer Xu (1998)

The Central Government is Correct (1998)

It’s Time (2011)