SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 12
Soon new essays appeared emphasizing that all human beings should be able to enjoy certain fundamental freedoms. These manifestos pushed for change in all areas of government. It may have been the first time anyone had acknowledged China's human rights problems in such a public atmosphere. It was also perhaps the beginning of a real awareness in my country that people are entitled to such rights.
The outpouring of outspoken criticism could not have happened at any other time. In the early part of the 1970s, people had yet to realize how flawed the communist system was. Mao's death left a power vacuum that resulted in a loosening of control by the government. In bidding for power, Deng and rival factions tried to win the people's favor by allowing a small degree of freedom. These leaders hoped, too, that freedom of speech would result in people criticizing their opponents.
At first, I was optimistic. I believed that some people in the party would be open to fair criticism and that we would be allowed to continue to express our views. Within two months after the first genuinely critical essays had appeared, a real democratic opposition began to form. This group's goal wasn't merely to tinker with the system, but to declare that, without democracy, China had no future. Because of the controversy surrounding my essay, however, I realized that I would be arrested. This was disheartening, but I still believed that what I had written was right.
Even today the party represses the kinds of views we were expressing then. But the ideas that emerged from Democracy Wall remain firmly implanted in the minds of the Chinese people. Ten years later, those ideas blossomed into the Tiananmen movement. But while China's democrats languish in jail or, like me, have to cope with exile, the ideas expressed in "The Fifth Modernization"--and in other Democracy Wall postings--cannot be shackled. No weapon can wipe out the truth.
Wei Jingsheng, the most influential of the Democracy Wall activists, spent nearly 18 years in jail for challenging the government
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TIANANMEN SQUARE: Hope and Repression
CHINA ART GALLERY: An Avante-Garde Explosion
HAIDIAN DISTRICT: A Silicon Valley of China's Own
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