China’s Pro-Democracy Effort Lives
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Chinese tanks crushed the pro-democracy movement that brought thousands of students and workers to Tiananmen Square in 1989. But it thrives underground and overseas with hundreds of ``exiles″ in the United States and elsewhere pressing for political change from the outside.
Even as President Clinton departed today for Beijing, Chinese police detained a dissident who had been on the run: Li Xiaolong left his hiding place to see his two children and was picked up by police.
Here are the stories of four exiles:
Last November, Wei Jingsheng was spending his 18th year in prison, caged like the animals at the Beijing Zoo, where he once worked as an electrician. His Chinese jailers had erected a glass wall to keep him under 24-hour watch. Lights shone in his face, making sleep difficult. Age 47, Wei had lost teeth, had high blood pressure, heart and stomach ailments. He had been beaten, force-fed, held in solitary confinement for years at a time.
But China’s most famous dissident said he never lost faith.
``If you are convinced what you’re doing is correct, your heart is at ease and you can continue in the struggle,″ Wei says now.
Since his medical parole last year, Wei has traveled the world, 13 countries so far, urging the United States and other nations to get tough with Beijing on human rights. He plans a fall trip to Japan and Taiwan.
``Without the involvement of the international community, no one can guarantee that a country will simply become democratic,″ he said.
Wei met with Clinton in December after his release, but he said Clinton wouldn’t meet with him again to discuss his China trip.
Wei thinks Clinton should not honor Chinese leaders such as President Jiang Zemin with a visit. ``If America, as leader of Western democracy, is willing to cozy up to China, that will have an impact on other western democracies around the globe.″
Richard Long’s first memories are of hunger. Desperate for food, one day his mother, a poor farmer, gave him his first bit of meat in weeks.
``She caught a mouse and she burned the mouse and gave it to me,″ he recalled. ``That was so delicious to me. Can you imagine that?″
More recent images haunt him from Tiananmen Square in 1989.
There he is on the night of June 3, a 26-year-old teacher, taking a photograph of the ``Goddess of Democracy,″ modeled after the Statue of Liberty. Within hours, Chinese military tanks would crush her and the movement. Long helped carry away bodies from surrounding streets.
``We got a boy’s body, maybe age 10,″ Long said. ``We carried that body to a (military) leader’s feet. We said, `Look at this. Is this guy a criminal? You soldiers who shot this boy to death. You are the criminals.‴
Long was never jailed. Instead, the Chinese government let him go to graduate school in the United States in 1991 _ another dissident exiled. He joined the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars, founded in 1989 to fight for human rights and democracy in China.
Last September, Long, who uses an alias to hide from Chinese authorities, started two Internet magazines to spread news and commentary inside China, where an estimated 1 million people have access to the World Wide Web.
``While Jiang was visiting this country, Bill Clinton told him he was on the wrong side of history″ on human rights, Long said. ``He should say this again on Tiananmen Square.″
As a medical student, Wang Bingzhang learned how the communist system really worked. ``We turned away cancer patients, heart patients, people with severe problems″ because they were peasants who couldn’t pay, he said.
``Since childhood we were educated that the Communist Party works for the people. However, the reality is the opposite. The reality is terrible.″
Wang, 49, began speaking out against the system at the start of the Cultural Revolution and was jailed in 1966 and 1967. From Canada in 1979, he became a leading exiled dissident.
In the early 1980s, he moved to New York and started a magazine, China Spring, that circulated to students and activists around the Asian nation, and he launched the Chinese Alliance for Democracy.
He made headlines this year when he sneaked into China to organize an opposition Chinese Democracy and Justice Party to press for free elections and civil liberties. After three weeks, he was caught and deported.
The secretive political party _ the first organized by dissidents _ operates underground with 16 branches across China, Wang said.
Wang said Clinton ``should put pressure on the Beijing government to legalize opposition political parties in China. The people need freedom and justice. We cannot live in an unjust system forever.″
Lian Shengde was a leader at Tiananmen, a 20-year-old who never imagined Chinese leaders would give the order to shoot to kill.
``We were so naive,″ said Lian.
An elected captain of student demonstrators, he negotiated with the government for withdrawal from the square, but gave up in frustration.
Lian remembers random shootings as tanks streamed toward Tiananmen.
``We saw an old man on the streets killed. He was an old man just taking a walk,″ he said.
During two years in jail, Lian endured beatings and a diet of rice and sour cabbage soup, dropping from 120 pounds to 85 or 90, he said.
Tired of being monitored by Chinese police, Lian left in 1994 to study at Harvard University. He’s now at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
On June 4, Lian helped form the ``Free China Forum,″ a coalition of U.S.-based dissident groups to fight for political reform together.
``Clinton should go to China and ask for the liberty of all political prisoners,″ said Lian. ``If one man is not free, no man is free.″