Wei Jingsheng's cry for democracy in China echoes down 30 years
On a bitterly cold winter night 30 years ago, an electrician from Beijing Zoo took the step that would cost him decades of freedom and create China’s most defiant prisoner of conscience.
Wei Jingsheng was 28, invigorated by the tide of optimism and unprecedented freedom of expression that followed the death of Chairman Mao in 1976, but angry at signals that Deng Xiaoping wanted public discussion to end. He made his way to the focus of the debate, a brick wall dubbed “Democracy Wall”, beside a bus station just west of Tiananmen Square on the Boulevard of Eternal Peace.
There he pasted up a paper demanding an addition to Deng’s drive to bring Four Modernisations to China after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Mr Wei called for a “Fifth Modernisation”: democracy.
Three decades later, speaking from Prague, where he is attending a ceremony to honour his action, Mr Wei has no regrets. “My years in prison were tough, but I was happy. It was worth it, and I would do it again.”
In the winter of 1978 Democracy Wall had become the most exciting spot in Beijing. Hundreds of people would gather there each evening and into the night to read the latest essays posted by usually anonymous writers discussing freedom, democracy and the future of China as it broke free of the straitjacket of orthodox Marxism.
About 300 people were huddled against the cold on the night that Mr Wei went public with his ideas. A small square backed by a gleaming shopping centre now marks the spot.
China’s most famous dissident told The Times: “At the time I was so determined that I was ready to die. To speak ill of the Communist Party then was to sign your own death warrant, so it was a surprise for me to remain alive. I felt it was essential for someone to speak out.”
Mr Wei was arrested in March 1979, accused of selling military secrets to foreign journalists and sentenced to 15 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement. He was released on medical parole in 1993 — just as China was applying to stage the 2000 Olympics — and vowed to revive the democracy movement. He was rearrested the next year and sentenced to 14 years for subversion. He was sent forcibly into exile in the United States in 1997.
Now an advocate for greater democracy and human rights in China, Mr Wei believes that the Communist Party has sown the seeds of its own demise by failing to implement political reforms as well as economic change. “This path will bring serious consequences,” he said. “The Communist Party and the people are at a crossroads and there are only two choices: the Communist Party can push political reforms or the people will lose patience and overthrow the party.”
He also predicted violence as a consequence of a rapidly widening gap between rich and poor. “This makes me very worried: worried about social chaos and that people are ready for revenge. So I think violence is getting closer and the chance of a will for peace is drawing further away.”
Source : The Times