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Recently Freed Chinese Dissident Calls for Support of Democracy

Wei Jingsheng says nations should work together

By Joshua L. Kwan, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng pleaded for unity among supporters of China's overseas democracy movement in a half-hour long speech at the Kennedy School of Government's ARCO Forum on Wednesday afternoon.

His repeated calls for urgent action and his sense of immediacy contrasted with the reserved remarks of fellow dissident Wang Dan, 29, who answered questions last Thursday at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.

"When I was young, I didn't really understand all the conditions of Chinese people," Wei, 58, said through a translator.

"Once I saw the oppression and lack of freedom then I determined as my own goal to obtain freedom and democracy for ordinary people so that all could enjoy the same kind of freedom," Wei said, his voice rising with each syllable.

Wei railed against complacency and sought to infuse the audience with a renewed sense of confidence in the struggle for democracy in China.

"We who live in the West have lost a sense of urgency and crisis that ordinary Chinese citizens have," he said.

"We Chinese people do not have enough confidence in democracy in the future of our nation," he added.

After 16 years of imprisonment, Wei was finally released in November after intense but low-profile lobbying by the Clinton administration.

Wei arrived in Detroit less than a month after Chinese President Jiang Zemin paid a highly publicized state visit to the United States.

Wei warned against depending on foreign governments to put pressure on China for democracy and human rights.

"We can't rely on begging foreign governments" to foster change in China, he said.

The weakness of democratic governments, Wei said, is that politicians do not plan beyond four years and have so many competing interests.

"To my face they are very polite but when they turn their back it's a whole different story," he said.

Wei even offered to work together with Americans to obtain what he called "true democracy" if their politicians did not represent their ideas.

Asked how he felt about being criticized for his outspoken style, Wei responded, "If I can not speak up for my people in the West then I really do not have anything going for me."

Wei, who was released from prison for what Chinese officials say were medical reasons, suffered an angina attack on Tuesday and was hospitalized in Canada for heart tests before making his one-and-a-half hour public appearance at Harvard.

Standing under the bright lights of the Forum, Wei grew visibly tired after 45 minutes of open questions. As the capacity crowd of 800 stood in ovation, he asked forgiveness for not having the strength to answer any more.

Wei is part of the first generation ofdemocracy activists which came into prominence in1978. The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, whichWang helped lead as a Beijing University student,are widely considered to have been the secondwave.

In 1978, during the post-Mao democraticmovement, posters demanding political reform werehung on a wall in Tiananmen Square.

The "Democracy Wall," erected shortly afterDeng Xiaopeng came into power, quickly gainedinternational attention and Wei's poster "TheFifth Modernization: Democracy" led the charge.

The Beijing Zoo electrician went from obscuregovernment worker to heralded and jailed activistin less than a year. Wei was sentenced to 15 yearsin prison in 1979.

After his release in 1993--mere days before acommittee was to decide on Beijing's bid to hostthe 2000 Olympics--Wei again ran into trouble,this time for speaking with the U.S. AssistantSecretary of State for Human Rights. He wassentenced to another 14 years of prison in 1995

Wei is part of the first generation ofdemocracy activists which came into prominence in1978. The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, whichWang helped lead as a Beijing University student,are widely considered to have been the secondwave.

In 1978, during the post-Mao democraticmovement, posters demanding political reform werehung on a wall in Tiananmen Square.

The "Democracy Wall," erected shortly afterDeng Xiaopeng came into power, quickly gainedinternational attention and Wei's poster "TheFifth Modernization: Democracy" led the charge.

The Beijing Zoo electrician went from obscuregovernment worker to heralded and jailed activistin less than a year. Wei was sentenced to 15 yearsin prison in 1979.

After his release in 1993--mere days before acommittee was to decide on Beijing's bid to hostthe 2000 Olympics--Wei again ran into trouble,this time for speaking with the U.S. AssistantSecretary of State for Human Rights. He wassentenced to another 14 years of prison in 1995

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