Saturday, March 29, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Wei Jingsheng's Anniversary in Prison

On March 29, 1989, New York Times carried a portrait of Wei Jingsheng, who had just spent his first 10 years in the prison. The story led with:

Somewhere in China, a befuddled and sickly man will presumably spend Wednesday alone in his prison cell, the way he has passed most of the previous 3,653 days: the broken, toothless remnant of a dreamer who took on the state and lost.
In the spring of 1989, Wei Jingsheng's case had long faded from the public awareness. It would have been totally forgotten if not for Professor Fang Lizhi's open letter to Deng Xiaoping in January, appealing for his release in an amnesty. In this report, NYT confirmed that Fang's letter has garnered the support of more than 110 intellectuals in China, and many more in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and America. But Fang said in an interview that "at the moment, it doesn't look very good for his release".

But there are also signs that Fang Lizhi's campaign "already has galvanized and revived the democracy movement in China" and that "the government is alarmed".

Wei Jingsheng's condition in jail had remained a top secret and mystery for all the years before his release. Rumors were rampant about his failing health, as evident in the NYT story. Many of his fellow dissidents had openly predicted that he would not survive his 15-year term. It was also likely that such rumors were spread by his comrades to help gaining sympathy and his early release.

Wei Jingsheng was first released from prison in 1993, when China was actively campaigning to become a host of the Olympics Games. Wei emerged as a relatively healthy man. His teeth looked fine. He would be put in jail once more later and finally released and deported in 1997, for "medical treatment" in the United States. In exile, he is one of the most prominent and controversial activists.

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