The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writingsby Wei Jingsheng
Written in a prison cell in China, this is the moving and forceful first book by the paramount leader and symbol of the ongoing struggle for democracy and human rights in China. Once an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, Wei Jingsheng emerged as an eloquent and utterly fearless fighter for individual rights in China during the Democracy Wall Movement in the late 1970s.… See more details below
Written in a prison cell in China, this is the moving and forceful first book by the paramount leader and symbol of the ongoing struggle for democracy and human rights in China. Once an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, Wei Jingsheng emerged as an eloquent and utterly fearless fighter for individual rights in China during the Democracy Wall Movement in the late 1970s. Though he's spent all but six months of the last seventeen years in prison (now serving a lengthy second sentence), the spirit of his message has continued to inspire generations of Chinese democracy activists from the students in Tiananmen Square to the wary citizens of Hong Kong. From his solitary-confinement cell he's composed defiant letters to Deng Xiaoping and other Communist leaders, expressing with breathtaking boldness his views on economic reform, foreign investment and relations, Tibet, and other urgent (and often taboo) political topics and social concerns. The book also includes touching letters to his family and friends, an autobiographical essay, his trial defense statement, and the legendary 1979 wall poster that landed him in prison. With humor and irony that survives his debilitating treatment, Wei's eloquent letters tell the story of courage in the face of tyranny and inhumanity. A towering figure in twentieth-century China, Wei Jingsheng is the most important political prisoner in the world today. The publication of his book may be an opportunity to bring freedom of expression - a human right that knows no borders - to Wei and his fellow citizens. It is certainly a tribute to the durability of the human spirit.
When Chinese authorities wanted to release Wei from prison six months early, on Sept. 14, 1993, in a transparent effort to bolster China's campaign to host the 2000 Olympic Games, Wei's price was the return of the scores of letters he had written from jail; hence this book. Freed, Wei picked up where he had left off 14 years before, agitating anew for democratic reform. He was soon sentenced to an additional 15 years in jail, where he languishes to this day, reportedly near death. Meanwhile, his communist oppressors are feted and flattered by capitalist governments and corporations whose lust for market access produces nauseating double-talk about not allowing dealings with China to be "held hostage" to human rights. Wei would be more famous, perhaps, if his enemies were as ideologically useful as, say, Sakharov's were.
Wei seems incapable of double talk in his own dealings with dictators. "I've long known that you are precisely the kind of idiot to do something foolish like this," he writes to Deng Xiaoping 11 days after the June 4, 1989, massacre at Tienanmen Square, "just as you've long known that I am precisely the kind of idiot who will remain stubborn to the end and take blows with his head up." The two men's "intimate mutual disgust" dates to 1978, when Wei was a leading voice at Beijing's Democracy Wall. Wei's essay "The Fifth Modernization" (included here, along with other valuable background material), argued that China's efforts to modernize were doomed without democracy. Deng exploited such sentiments in his return to power after the Gang of Four fell, then had Wei and other dissenters arrested in March 1979.
Like Lech Walesa of Poland's Solidarity movement, Wei was an electrician by day. In his letters, he demonstrates the towering self-assurance of Mandela, negotiating with his jailers as (at least) their equal; the moral rectitude of Gandhi; the faith and fearlessness of King; the ironic humor of Havel. "Your most devoted hostile element," Wei signs a 1982 letter to General Secretary Hu Yaobang. Also reminiscent of Havel was Wei's remark to fellow activist Liu Qing that many people were more able than Wei, but they were always waiting for the right moment to act. "History is created by those brave enough to propel it forward," Wei said. Wei's most singular characteristic is a selflessness that borders on the divine, a trait encouraged by his revolutionary mother, who took seriously the Party's rhetoric about "sacrifice for those who are suffering." On May 4, 1989, a month before the Tienanmen massacre, Wei writes to Premier Li Peng. The students have occupied the square, citizens are supporting them, the whole world is watching. Wei warns Li not to follow the lead of Deng, who is "senile" and has "brought ruin upon himself." But Wei is shrewd enough to know that Li might have to placate hard-liners, so he urges Li to "use my continued imprisonment" as a bargaining chip. If it would help secure the students' reforms, Wei writes, he would feel "extremely honored" to remain in jail a few more years.
Superbly translated into a pungent, stylish English, these letters may be the final testament of one of the great heroes of our time. Read them. Help him. --Salon
Wei came to prominence in 1978 when he caused a sensation by adding a poster to Beijing's Democracy Wall in which he insisted that the government's Four Modernizations (in industry, agriculture, defense, and science) were inadequate without the addition of a fifth, democracy. It was the culmination of the growing disillusionment of one who had described himself as having been "a fanatic Maoist." After a farce of a trial (captured here in part by a secret tape recording), he was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. For two of those years he was not even allowed to leave his tiny cell, the light was left on all night, his food became increasingly meager, and his health declined precipitously. In 1993, confronted by worldwide criticism of the country's human- rights record, and in an effort to have Beijing declared the site of the next Olympic Games, the Chinese authorities released him. He refused to accept release until they allowed him access to his letters to the Chinese authorities written during confinement. It is remarkable readingfor the skill with which he uses the Communist classics to indict the regime, for his forbearance, for his savage wit, but most of all for his courage in telling the truth. A few months after his release he was arrested again, subjected to a trial where his lawyers had less than a day to review a 1,996-page dossier, and sentenced to another 14 years in prison. The letters gathered here, along with Wei's political essays, offer a unique perspective on the Chinese Communist system, as well as a fascinating record of dissent in modern China.
Difficult, often painful reading, but an unforgettable portrait of a man of sublime courage.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- 6.32(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.13(d)
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Meet the Author
Wei Jingsheng, a former Red Guard, was working as an electrician at the Beijing Zoo in 1978 when he became a leader in the Democracy Wall movement. An outspoken critic of government policy and advocate of individual rights since then, he was imprisoned in China from 1979 to 1993. Rearrested and imprisoned again in early 1994, he is now serving a fourteen-year sentence. In 1996 he won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
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