Sunday, 15 April 2012

Quote of the Day: Fang Lizhi

The well-known China expert Perry Link has fond memories of dissident Fang Lizhi who died last Friday.

Link wrote a touching obituary in The New York Review of Books. He explained Fang's background, how he became a top astrophysicist who had no fear in confronting officials about demanding human rights. He even believed concepts of human rights grew out of science.

1. "Science begins with doubt," whereas in Mao's China students were taught to begin with fixed beliefs.

2. Science stresses independence of judgment, not conformity to the judgment of others.

3. "Science is egalitarian"; no one's subjective view starts ahead of anyone else's in the pursuit of objective truth.

4. Science needs a free flow of information, and cannot thrive in a system that restricts access to information.

5. Scientific truths, like human rights principles, are universal; they do not change when one crosses a political border.

According to Fang, human rights are critical in producing good science.

Link has one particular anecdote about Fang that brilliantly illustrates his wit.

I remember watching a Western journalist interview him during the student protests in spring 1989. When the interview was over the reporter asked if there were a way he could ask follow-up questions, if necessary. Fang said "sure," and gave the reporter his telephone number.

"We've heard that your phone is tapped," the reporter said. "Is it?"

"I assume so." Fang grinned.

"Doesn't that... bother you?" the reporter asked.

"No," said Fang, "for years I've been trying to get them to listen to me. If this is how they want to do, then fine!"

We will miss Fang for his brilliance, integrity and courage.

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