Chinese performance artist and human rights activist Chen Yunfei was charged in 2015 with “incitement to subvert state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after visiting the grave of Tiananmen Massacre victim Wu Guofeng. After two years of detention without trial, Chen was sentenced on March 31, 2017, to four years in prison. Chinese authorities have tortured Chen twice while in custody and have kept him in shackles for prolonged periods of time.


Chen Yunfei is a performance artist who works at the intersection of human rights activism and art. His art is overtly political, promoting the Chinese pro-democracy movement and addressing human rights abuses in China and the legacy of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Case History

On March 25, 2015, Chen was detained after visiting Wu Guofeng’s grave site with a group of activists and Wu’s family members in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Wu was an amateur photographer and university student who was ultimately stabbed to death with a bayonet by a Chinese soldier during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In late April of that year, police formally charged Chen with “incitement to subvert state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”—charges typically brought against dissidents. Chen was held in detention without trial for over two years. Chen’s one-day trial finally occurred on March 31, 2017, after which he was sentenced to a four-year prison term. While in detention, Chen has suffered multiple human rights violations, including being forced to wear shackles for extended periods of time and torture. Chen’s attorney, Sui Muqing, has been detained illegally twice after visiting his client.

Freedom of Expression in China

Chen’s arrest, detainment, and treatment in prison are indicative of the ongoing repression of critics of the Communist Party in China. Since President Xi Jinping took office in early 2013, he has overseen an extensive crackdown on free speech, which has included punishing individual Chinese writers, journalists, and creative artists who have been censored, harassed, imprisoned, and even disappeared after speaking out about sensitive topics such as the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, corruption, and the lack of democratic reform.

Works by Chen Yunfei

In one work, Chen created a farm at his residence called the “Chen Work Farm” and positioned himself as “Chen Prisoner Yunfei.” This work commented both on Chinese penal farms and Chen’s oppression by the police. Another work was a funeral for his passport and permit for traveling to Hong Kong and Macao following the restriction of Chen’s travel due to his outspoken performance art.

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