Letters from the Other China The New York Review of Books

During the student demonstrations that swept China toward the end of 1986, the brilliant astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was then vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, emerged, through his speeches to student groups, as the country’s most forceful advocate of democracy and human rights. The letters that are published below along with Fang’s introduction were written to him during this period. After his speeches circulated throughout China and were harshly criticized by Deng Xiaoping, Fang was dismissed from his job and expelled from the Chinese Communist party in January of 1987. But even after his fall from official grace, he carried on research and he continued to speak out, not only giving voice to the disaffection of other intellectuals and students, but articulating a program for democratizing China’s political system. In doing so, he was at the forefront of efforts by intellectuals to expand the boundaries of what Chinese dared to think and say. In the process, however, he more and more deeply antagonized China’s aging leaders, who, although they presented themselves as ruling in the name of the “people,” had never really taken seriously the notion of the right of citizens to express independent views, much less to make unsolicited demands on the government, or accuse it of corruption.

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