FANG LI-ZHI knows he may never see his homeland again.
Were he ever to return to China, Fang would find himself "detained indefinitely" by the current communist government.
So he spends his days in exile as a physics professor at the University of Arizona, doing research, writing articles and chatting with his colleagues in Asia via the Internet. He also sometimes quietly crusades for human rights, as he will this Saturday, April 29, when he'll talk about Human Rights in China: Recent Developments.
The unassuming Fang chose the path that would lead to his exodus decades ago. As a scientist and teacher in southern China in the 1970s, he came to an inescapable conclusion.
"I first began demanding freedom for research," he says. "Science needs free thinking, free circulation of ideas." But soon, he adds, "I got concerned not only for freedom of science, but freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble."
It was those demands for civil rights and democracy that Fang began spreading when he came to teach in Beijing in the late 1980s.
The students listened, and then began organizing protests for their rights. Finally, the people in the democracy movement occupied Tiananmen Square in the late spring of '89.
The whole world watched on live television the heartbreaking events that followed: The soldiers moving in, the tank coming to a halt
before one man brave enough to stand in its path and the shutdown of the television crews just before the massacre.
Following the crackdown, Chinese authorities tried to round up Fang and his family, but they escaped to the American embassy. There he spent 13 months while the Chinese and U.S. governments worked out a deal that brought him to America.
Others weren't as fortunate, Fang recently wrote about the case of Wei Jingsheng, another activist who has called for democracy in China. Since being detained in April of last year, Wei has vanished within the Chinese prison system and officials refuse to release any information about him, even though he has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although he's not currently hopeful that he'll see changes in China anytime soon, Fang says he hopes the seeds sprouting in Taiwan and South Korea eventually bloom into democracy throughout Asia.
"China is a still a dictatorship," he says. "Here the system is democracy. There are a lot of problems, but here at least you can complain in the newspapers."
UA professor and Chinese human rights activist Fang Li-Zhi presents Human Rights in China: Recent Developments at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29, at the Northwest Neighborhood Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave. Admission is free. Call 795-2745 for information.
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