Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NYT Archive 1989: Dissidents' Lives in the Early 1980s

The April 16, 1989 edition of the New York Times reprinted the same story on Hu Yaobang's death the day before, this time in the obituary section. Other than that, there were no immediate reactions to the event. It had to wait for another day, literally.

But the paper carried two long stories, or book excerpts, on the lives of dissidents at the time, under the overall title of "Human Rights in China".

In great detail, Orville Shell described what had happened when Fang Lizhi was denied from attending a banquet by the visiting American President George H. W. Bush. Fang and his wife Li Shuxian had been invited by the U. S. side as a gesture of support to China's human rights issue. But in the evening of February 26, 1989, they were stopped by the police and rudely treated. Things could have been worse if they didn't happen to have another banquet goer with them: the American Professor Perry Link. But the police did everything they could to prevent them from even getting close to the hotel where the banquet was held.

It is interesting to note that, in the aftermath, President Bush expressed "regret" but failed to protest for the incident. On the Air Force One leaving China, Bush's Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater was quoted saying "Human rights is one aspect of the relationship [with China]...we wouldn't want to say that it is the cornerstone..." Bush himself later expressed his preference in "quiet discussions" on this issue.

Fang Lizhi, on the other hand, believes that "it is not enough", "Some say that Bush was too soft....I will only say that the West should not operate on a double standard by criticizing human rights in the Soviet Union but not in China."

The other story was written by Richard Bernstein, who a few years ago had helped to publish dissident Liu Qing (刘青)'s diary in TIME magazine. That was right after Wei Jingsheng's 15 year sentence during the crackdown of the Beijing Spring movement. Liu Qing had worked for Wei's defense and got thrown in jail himself. His friend, Lu Lin (路林), in turn, helped to smuggle out Liu's diary and passed along to Bernstein. For that, Lu was sentenced for six years.

Bernstein returned to Beijing and found Lu Lin in a free market, selling clothes. Bernstein had felt responsible that his own carelessness had helped putting Lu in jail. Lu dismissed that, "it's nothing."

In his story, Bernstein also looked back at his time in Beijing around 1982, providing a glimpse of the lives of dissidents at the time.

Coincidentally, Danwei had republished a news item by Graham Earnshaw of the Daily Telegraph in 1981, describing the troubles of Li Shuang (李爽), a young artist with a French diplomat boyfriend. Li was also mentioned in Bernstein's story. Her case was rather famous in Beijing at the time. It was also rumored/believed that she was involved in the effort in smuggling out Liu Qing and Wei Jingsheng's papers.

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