Friday, 13 April 2012

Chinese human rights activist Fang Lizhi dies

China´s communist leaders are still extremely scared by anybody who is speaking out about human rights. When news about the death of the distinguished astrophysics professor and human rights advocate Fang Lizhis death began to spread on internet, the government immediately took action:

News of his passing spread quickly on the Chinese Internet. Students whom he had taught in the 1980s and admirers of his eloquent championing of human rights wrote their accolades. State Security officials noticed, and within hours ordered Internet police to delete all messages that mentioned the words “Fang Lizhi.” After that, tweets about Fang on weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter) disappeared about a minute after posting. 

Perry Link, writing in the New York Review of Books blog, gives some background on Fang Lizhi:

After Mao died Fang’s star rose again, and in 1984 he became vice-president of China’s prestigious University of Science and Technology in Anhui.
By then he had shed his attachment to Marxist dogma and, in addition to teaching physics, began delivering trenchant speeches on human rights and democracy. For example, when the government of Deng Xiaoping began using the slogan “modernization with Chinese characteristics” (i.e., modernization without power-sharing by the Communist Party), Fang responded satirically by asking students if they believed in physics with Chinese characteristics. Students were charmed; the authorities were not. In January 1987 they fired him from his university job (for this and other speeches), expelled him from the Party, and compiled excerpts from his speeches that they then distributed to campuses all across China as examples of “bourgeois liberalism” that students should avoid. But students found the excerpts themselves far more attractive than the warnings, and Fang suddenly became famous everywhere in China. He became the spirit behind the nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989. He lived on the outskirts of Beijing at the time, but refused to go to Tiananmen Square. He wanted to make it clear to the authorities that the students were acting autonomously.

After the June 4 massacre that ended the protests, the government published a list of people wanted for arrest. Fang Lizhi and Li Shuxian were numbers one and two. On June 5 they took refuge in the US embassy in Beijing, where they lived for thirteen months in a basement apartment that had no windows. On being told that Deng, in a conversation with Henry Kissinger, had said he wanted him to write a confession, Fang wrote one in the form of a forthright statement of human rights principles. In June 1990 the Japanese government negotiated the release of Fang and Li by offering economic concessions to China, and for the next nearly twenty-two years they lived in exile.
The 1989 warrant for his arrest was never dropped, so that when he died he was still officially “wanted”: for “the crime of counterrevolutionary incitement” and as “the biggest black hand behind the June Fourth riots.”

China has without doubt experienced impressive economic growth during the last ten years, or so. Western leaders are lining up as beggars in Beijing in front of China´s communist rulers, who speak with a soft voice and are dressed in impeccable tailor made business suits. But behind this empty facade you will find a group of authoritarians, who have no respect for decency, democracy and human rights. The system they have created may last for a few more years, but before long these corrupted and undemocratic politicians will be replaced by better people. By then new generations of Chinese will have a chance also to remember people like Fang Lizhi, who were ready to fight for their principles.

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