Sunday, January 5, 2014

This Day in 1989: January 6, Fang Lizhi Wrote a Letter to Deng Xiaoping

On January 6, 1989, physicist Fang Lizhi, then working at the Beijing Astronomical Observatory, wrote a letter to Deng Xiaoping, calling for an amnesty for political prisoners.

With this letter, Fang Lizhi broke his silence of a couple of years after being expelled from the Chinese Communist Party and stripped all his previous positions at University of Science and Technology of China for his accused involvement in an earlier student movement.

He was inspired by the study of the recently discovered supernova SN 1987A. Called "guest stars" in ancient China, supernova was traditionally regarded as a signal to the emperors to announce a general amnesty as a gesture to the mighty heaven. He took the task as his own and wrote the above letter (see full test in English here). Instead of supernova, however, he used the more modern "year of anniversaries" as his pretense for the amnesty call.

Fang Lizhi sent the original by dropping it in a mailbox. He then showed a copy of it to a sympathetic official who had inside channels to Deng Xiaoping's office and another copy to a few foreign reporters in Beijing, who made it public. It was then known as Fang Lizhi's Open Letter to Deng Xiaoping.

Days of 1989

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