Supporters of Chinese dissident in West Windsor face off with protesters for second week

Author and Princeton resident Lauren Davis is one of the counter-protesters who support Chinese dissident Teng Biao. On Dec. 6 she held up a sign and tried to engage protesters in dialogue in this photo by Ron Davis.
Chinese dissident Teng Biao (c) with daughter Grace (l) and wife Lynn Wang. The family fled China in 2014 and moved to Princeton Junction in 2015. Photo: Rich Hundley III.

On a daily basis, vans with out-of-state license plates drive to a quiet residential street in Princeton Junction. About 15 to 20 people pile out of the vehicles and stand on the sidewalk in front of a resident’s home, shouting obscenities at him and his family and falsely claiming that he resident is a spy for the government of China and helped spread the coronavirus in the United States.

The protesters started showing up in front of the house of human rights lawyer and Chinese dissident Teng Biao on Dec. 1. They arrive around 10 a.m., break for lunch at about 12:30 p.m., and then leave around 4:30 p.m. each day, taking the day off only when it rains.

After reading about the protesters harassing the family, area residents and faith leaders have rallied around them, showing their support with messages and phone calls, and arriving at the house after the protesters do to stand on the lawn and create a buffer between the protesters and the family. The counter-protesters began showing up on Dec. 4 and have been in front of Teng Biao’s home almost every day since then. The counter-protesters include residents of West Windsor and Princeton, as well as clergy who are members of a group called Faith in Action.

Sometimes the protesters and counter-protesters have clashed. There have been heated verbal exchanges, and more than once, protesters have shoved counter-protesters. The protesters often refuse to engage with the counter-protesters, turning their backs on them and line up facing in the opposite direction, waving their posters that claim Teng Biao is a spy.

Alok Sharma, a resident of West Windsor, has been a regular attendee of the counter protests. His son is in the same grade as Teng Biao’s daughter, Grace. Sharma thinks it’s important to turn out to support the family.

“Every single day these people from outside our town and outside the state come here. They are not even showing their faces. They are only coming here to harass the family,” Sharma said. “It could happen to anyone. I’ll be there if it happens to anyone. You guys will be there if it happens to me. We stand together as a community.”

Lauren Davis, an author who lives in Princeton, felt it was also important to come out and send a message that harassment is not tolerated in the community.

“Teng Biao has worked ceaselessly for human rights for a very long time, and these people are accusing him without any evidence of being a puppet for the Chinese state,” Davis said. “We don’t do this here in this country, we don’t do this in this neighborhood. They are harassing his children, they are screaming obscenities. None of them will tell us who we are. We just hope the family knows that we don’t do this in this country. Not in our town. There is no place for hate here.”

Davis and many of the other counter-protesters vowed to keep coming back as long as the protesters are there.

The presence of the protesters has been stressful for the family, but Teng Biao said he and his wife appreciate the support from community members. He also said he feels bad for the disruption in the neighborhood because of the protests. He and his wife contacted the police and were told there was nothing they could do about the protesters as long as they remain in the public right of way. At one point, protesters claimed they would leave if Teng Biao came outside. He was already outside on the lawn about 10 feet from them.

The protesters keep their faces masked and won’t say who they are. They only refer people to ultra-conservative online websites full of disinformation that are run by Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and former Trump strategist and far-right operative Steve Bannon. When asked for evidence about their claims, they show people copies of stories from the websites.

Some people believe the protesters are paid given the out-of-state license plates and the way they seem to clock in and clock out at the same time each day. At least a few of the protesters have been associated with similar protests in other states. All of the protests target Chinese dissidents, with the protesters claiming the dissidents are all spies, in spite of the fact that most of the targeted dissidents support Trump. Some people theorize that the organizers of the group are actually trying to silence the dissidents because they are vocal critics of the government of China.

Teng Biao, who had to flee China with his family in 2014 because of his human rights work, stands apart from most of the other dissidents because he has been critical of both Trump and Guo Wengui over the past few years. Guo Wengui filed a defamation lawsuit against Teng Biao in 2018 for a column he wrote in 2017 and other social media posts that were critical of Guo Wengui. A judge in Trenton tossed out the defamation suit in September.

Teng Biao looks at a sign area residents brought to his house to show support for him on Dec. 4. The sign reads “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” Photo: Rich Hundley III.
Protesters and counter-protesters face off on Dec. 6. Photo: Ron Davis.
Protesters and counter-protesters argue on Dec. 6. Photo: Ron Davis.
Teng Biao and his family outside their home on Dec. 4. Protesters left that day after it began to rain. Photo: Rich Hundley III.
Counter-protesters talk with Teng Biao and voice their support for him after protesters leave because of rain on Dec. 4. Photo: Rich Hundley III.