Monday, April 09, 2012

Remembering Fang Lizhi

I was saddened to hear of the death of Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi. I followed Fang's career as an advocate for reform with great interest in the 1980s and when, in the early 1990s, our Amnesty International chapter at Caltech participated in a campaign to bring attention to the post-Tiananmen human rights climate in China, we decided to educate ourselves by reading Fang's collection of essays, Bringing Down the Great Wall: Writings on Science, Culture, and Democracy in China. Fang, a physicist, was an inspiring model for a discussion of the role of the citizen-scientist in the human rights movement. Although we didn't form the on-going discussion group we know as Rights Readers until 1999, this was our first effort to deepen our appreciation for the many human rights heroes we encounter in the course of taking action by diving into their writing. His book was the seed for our future reading and campaigns to free dissidents Ngawang Pekar and Gao Zhisheng. I'm sure future generations of reform-minded Chinese will surely point to Fang as a pivotal figure.  If you are not familiar with Fang, The Atlantic has posted Orville Schell's 1988 profile of Fang comparing him to another famous physicist turned human rights advocate, China's Andrei Sakharov. We also recommend Schell's fuller account of the the 1989 Tiananmen protests, including Fang's leading role, Mandate Of Heaven.
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