Keeping the Faith

Fang Lizhi
Fang Lizhi; drawing by David Levine


On June 4, the day after the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on the citizens of Beijing, the distinguished Chinese astrophysicist and dissident intellectual, Fang Lizhi, reluctantly sought refuge in the American embassy in Beijing with his physicist wife, Li Shuxian. They did so because they feared for their lives. With a warrant out for their arrests accusing them of “counterrevolutionary instigation,” they have now spent six solitary months as refugees within their own country. They have become symbols both of China’s crushed democracy movement, and of the deteriorated state of Sino–US relations. In fact, so agitated has the Chinese government become over Fang, that it is highly unlikely that relations between the two countries will be able to return even to a semblance of normalcy unless Fang and his wife are released. But with hard-line leaders in China continuing to claim that by sheltering Fang and Li the US has been interfering in their country’s “internal affairs,” and that “he who ties the knot must untie it,” Fang and his wife do not seem likely to be liberated soon.

In recognition of Fang’s contribution to the cause of human rights and freedom of expression in China, on November 15 he was presented in absentia with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award in a televised Washington, DC, ceremony, at which Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa gave the keynote address. The following is a translation of Fang’s acceptance speech.

Orville Schell

I am proud and deeply moved to have this opportunity to speak with you here today; but at the same time, I am also filled with a sense of sorrow and shame. I am moved because you have chosen to honor me with the 1989 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, and because it attests to the fact that I have not been, and am not now, alone. But I am filled with sorrow to see that in this land of my birth human dignity has once again been trampled upon. What is more, having had my own basic human rights stripped away, I am now more acutely aware than ever how far we are from accomplishing what we must in the cause of advancing respect for all human beings.

The values underlying human dignity are common to all people. They are comprised of universally applicable standards of human rights that hold no regard for race, language, religion, or other beliefs. Symbolized by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, these universal principles have increasingly earned the acceptance and respect of the world at large. When a commemorative gathering was held last November in Beijing to honor the fortieth anniversary of the Declaration, many of us were delighted, because it seemed to us at the time that the principles of human rights were also finally starting to take root in our ancient land.

However, time…

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