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Then & Now: Wang Dan, Tiananmen Square student leader
Wang Dan, exiled from his native China, now lives in Boston, Massachusettes.



Beijing (China)
Harvard University
Violent Demonstrations

(CNN) -- In June 1989, student protest leader Wang Dan made the Chinese government's "most wanted" list after he helped organize a people's protest for democracy in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

The demonstration left hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters dead after the Chinese government attacked the civilians and students who'd assembled.

Today, Wang is the author of 17 books about his experiences, and he's working on his Ph.D. at Harvard University.

But Wang's odyssey from Beijing to Boston has been a painful journey that included years of incarceration in China.

Wang was a history student at Beijing University and largely considered the brains of the Tiananmen protest movement.

The demonstrations began on a small scale after the April 15, 1989, death of Hu Yaobang, an outspoken reformer and the former Communist Party leader, who had been ousted two years earlier.

For six weeks students and civilians from across the nation joined ranks in Tiananmen Square and staged massive marches.

They asked that Hu's reputation be restored, but soon the demands expanded to include democratic reforms.

"I saw the power of the people at that moment," Wang told CNN. "Really big power of the people ... I think this was the first time in the history of the [People's Republic of China] that people go to street without allowance from the government," he told CNN in 2005.

When more than 1 million protesters had assembled in the square, and Communist Party leaders began to worry that their authority was eroding, and on June 3rd moved a massive military contingent into the square and ordered it to attack the protesters.

The world watched in horror as tanks and artillery were used against the defenseless students and citizens.

One haunting image showed a lone, defiant protester facing off against a line of tanks.

Official numbers have never been released by the Chinese government, but hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters were killed or wounded in the fighting.

"And for those people that died, I really feel deep sorry for them because I was the leader. I leaded them to go to the square," Wang told CNN producers earlier this year.

Several of the protest leaders, including Wang, were jailed. Other student leaders were smuggled out of the country to the United States.

For "spreading counter-revolution propaganda," Wang was sentenced to four years in prison; he spent four months of that sentence in solitary confinement.

Wang was released in 1993, but he would not be silenced. He continued to campaign for democracy and human rights and was arrested again in 1995. This time, Wang was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but he was released in 1998 and exiled to the United States.

"I really lost something. I lost my youth. Most important, I lost a lot of time," Wang told CNN in 1999. "I'm still very clear: My dream is that I can do something, I can really do something to improve the situation of China," he said.

Wang still worries about the state of human rights in his native country. "If I have chance to go back to China, of course, I still involve in political activities or other activities to try and promote human rights and the democracy," he said earlier this year.

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