Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi dies in exile in US


FANG LIZHI, one of China’s best-known dissidents and one of the highest profile figures during the 1989 pro-democracy movement, has died in exile in the US.

The astrophysicist spent 13 months hiding out in the US embassy after the tanks moved in to crack down on the student demonstrators on Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989, in which hundreds, or possibly thousands, were killed.

Mr Fang (76) did not play any public role in the protests, but his profile was such that pro-government supporters burned effigies of him, prompting him and his wife to seek shelter in the US mission. He eventually fled to Washington with his wife in June 1990, ostensibly to seek medical treatment, in what marked a key stage in the resumption of normal relations between Washington and Beijing.

Although he was best known for his inspirational speeches during the pro-democracy movement, Mr Fang began making his sharp criticisms of the Communist Party several years earlier, saying that it had achieved nothing. In 1987 he said: “Marxism . . . is like a worn dress that must be put aside”, comments that earned him the ire of then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.

He was known as “China’s Sakharov”, a reference to the famous Soviet physicist and dissident, Andrei Sakharov.

In exile, he became a physics professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His wife, Li Shuxian said he died there on Friday morning of natural causes.

“I hope the Chinese people will never forget that there was once a thinker like Fang Lizhi,” student leader Wang Dan, who is also in exile, wrote on Twitter. “He inspired the ’89 generation and awoke in the people their yearning for human rights and democracy

The son of a post office worker, Mr Fang went to Beijing university in 1952, at the age of 16, to study theoretical physics and nuclear physics. He became an important researcher in laser theory.

Authorities claimed that his speeches to students at the University of Science and Technology, where he was vice-president, incited unrest.

Mr Fang was expelled from the Communist Party and fired from his university post.