Foreign Affairs

Widow of Chinese dissident struggling to cope

The wife of a Chinese dissident killed in a recent car crash says she’s struggling to raise her children without the support of her husband - the family’s sole income earner

Xi Weiguo (48) died in a car crash in Tokoroa on July 21, along with fellow pro-democracy campaigner Wang Lecheng (47). Fellow campaigner Yu Hongming (Freeman) was seriously injured.

The men were with a group of activists on their way to Wellington, to protest against Chinese state interference in New Zealand, and to deliver a petition to Parliament.

Since the fatal crash last month, Xi’s wife Rebecca has set up a Givealittle page, and is imploring the wider community to help fund her son’s education and other costs.

Rebecca Xi said her family had been dealt another blow, as her primary school-aged son has recently fallen ill, and has been referred to a specialist after the doctor detected a heart murmur.

The day of the crash was their son’s seventh birthday.

“Just after blowing the birthday candles, the police knocked on the door.”

Rebecca said she had been left to care for her teenage daughter, Wendy, and their son, Andy.

“Until now we can hardly believe that this is true. I really hope this is just a nightmare.”

Xi, a former member of the People’s Liberation Army, opposed corruption in China and was detained by police for challenging authority figures. 

His wife said their son was “a gift from God”, and they risked being fined for having a second child due to the specific rules of China’s current “planned birth policy”.

The family moved to New Zealand four years ago, where Xi joined the democratic movement. 

Rebecca said her husband had made friends within the activist community.

He became the chairman of the New Zealand Branch of The Federation for a Democratic China. Those who knew him said he would rush to the front of protests.

Pro-democracy campaigner and dissident newspaper publisher Chen Weijian said Xi was “an organiser and a leader”.

Xi’s wife Rebecca said outside of his activism work, her husband liked spending time at the beach with his children - catching crabs and picking up cockles.

He also liked to play football, and would always strike up a conversation with the Kiwis he met.

Xi loved to cook, and was known within his friend group for his secret chilli sauce recipe.

She said Xi loved New Zealand, and he had big plans for their family.

“Xi Weiguo left suddenly, but we will always remember his ebullient smile.”

But now Xi’s wife is concerned about her son’s future, with the loss of her husband’s support and income.

“My husband has always been the pillar of our family, he has been guarding our family.”

Xi was remembered at a funeral earlier this month, which was attended by his family and members of their church community, as well as local MPs Louisa Wall, Simeon Brown and Jami-Lee Ross. University of Canterbury China expert Anne-Marie Brady also attended.

And last week another memorial service was held to remember Xi and Wang Lecheng.

Following the funeral, her son Andy fell ill with a fever and has since been referred to a specialist with a heart murmur.

Rebecca said she is worried about her son’s health, funding his future, and how much his father’s death is affecting him.

“Andy still can't understand that his father can no longer grow up with him.”

The family had received a lot of support from Xi’s pro-democracy friends, and there had been tributes from members of the Chinese community for Xi, Wang and Yu.

Columnist Sun Jiarui said the global democracy movement, which grew out of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre had died down in many countries, including New Zealand.

“In recent years, due to the participation of Mr. Yu, the two dead men, and other Chinese, the New Zealand democracy movement has begun to reorganise and revive,” Sun said.

“Their voices, brave demonstrations, and parliamentary petitions are sending an alarm to the New Zealand Government, parties, and people.”

The petition the men were planning to deliver when they crashed called on Parliament to “legislate laws to regulate the activities of foreign agents, to defend NZ’s democracy, to defend our free way of life”.

It detailed their concerns about Chinese state interference in New Zealand’s elections, media, churches and education institutes.

Sun said the loss of the community leaders may temporarily cause difficulties for New Zealand’s Chinese democracy movement.

“But the right thing will always be done by someone… It is foreseeable that more people will join the New Zealand democracy movement.”

Like others, including Brady during her recent select committee hearing, Sun urged the Government to pay attention to the men’s deaths, “and seek dialogue with other democrats as soon as possible to clarify the real situation of the local Chinese community”. 

“Only by listening to different voices and understanding different perspectives can we help the Chinese community truly become a part of this big family,” he said.

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