Sunday, 8 April 2012

One Less Voice for Democracy

Physicist and democracy advocate Fang Lizhi
There is still no information on what caused the death of dissident Fang Lizhi (方励之) who died yesterday at the age of 76.

He was an inspiring figure during the pro democracy movement in 1989.

One of the student leaders at that time, Wang Dan, mourned Fang's death.

"I hope the Chinese people will never forget that there was once a thinker like Fang Lizhi. He inspired the '89 generation, and awoke in the people their yearning for human rights and democracy," Wang wrote. "One day, China will be proud to once have had Fang Lizhi... Fang is my spiritual teacher, his death is a major blow to me. At this moment my grief is beyond words."

The son of a postal worker, Fang went to Peking University in 1952 to study theoretical physics and nuclear physics. Later he became a pioneer in China's research in laser theory.

He was a loyal member of the Communist party (CPC) and because of his academic brilliance he traveled extensively and was exposed to Western political concepts.

However he gained prominence in 1986-88 when he became outspoken about democratic reforms; the authorities alleged his speeches at the University of Science and Technology where he was vice-president, incited unrest.

As a result Fang was expelled from the CPC and sacked from his academic post. But he refused to stop speaking out and received letters of support across the country almost daily.

In early 1989 he wrote an open letter to then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping calling for the release of political prisoners which helped fuel the enthusiasm of the students occupying Tiananmen Square.

After the crackdown on June 4, Fang and his wife Li Shuxian sought refuge at the United States embassy for 13 months, as their names were on warrants that could have carried death sentences on conviction.

American diplomats, led by ambassador to China James Lilley refused to hand the couple over and eventually the two countries negotiated he could visit the US for "medical treatment".

He continued his work as a physics professor at the University of Arizona in Tuscon and also to criticize human rights abuses in his homeland.

"Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consider those rights dangerous," he said 26 years ago in a speech to students at Tongji University in Shanghai.

"If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere. But at present they are nothing more than an abstract idea."

And more than a quarter century later, Fang's words still ring true.

May his hopes and efforts for China to be a better country not be in vain.


  1. "the evil that men do live after them, the good is oft interred with their bones".

  2. Interesting quote... where does it come from?

  3. shakespeare's julius caesar. anthony made a speech carrying caesar's dead body in front of the senate. beginning with "friends romans countrymen , lend me your ears....."