China's most outspoken dissident faces jail once more



It was November 1978, when posters started appearing on a brick wall in central Peking demanding political reform, that marked the birth of the "Democracy Wall" movement.

Within months, a young electrician from the zoo, Wei Jingsheng, had made his mark as an outspoken contributor: "We want no more gods and emperors, no more saviours of any kind," he wrote. "Democracy, freedom and happiness are the only goals of modernisation."

By March 1979 Mr Wei had been arrested, and later that year was sentenced in a closed court to 15 years for "counter-revolutionary" activities.

These days the brick wall is long demolished and the pavement is lined instead by a government "Science Popularisation" exhibition. Glass-fronted exhibition panels extol the achievements of Chinese women scientists - propaganda left over from Peking's biggest ever international event, the World Women's Conference in the autumn.

Peking's skyline and China's global status have been transformed by 16 years of economic reform. But some things have not changed. In the city's No 1 Intermediate People's Court this morning, a trial will open with Mr Wei, 46, now accused of trying to overthrow the government. Since March 1979 he has spent only six months out of jail, and today is likely to receive another long prison term. Nor, despite a court spokesman's promise that the trial would be "open", have any ordinary Chinese, foreign diplomats or journalists been given passes to attend.

Mr Wei's trial will again put the international spotlight on China's judicial system and the government's intolerance of criticism.

The name Wei does not stick in the memory of Westerners in the way Mandela and Sakharov once did, although he is often dubbed the country's "most famous" dissident. But he has been a constant thorn in the side of the Chinese government for almost two decades.

Mr Wei has an unlikely counter-revolutionary background. He came from a family of Mao loyalists in Anhui province, and was a Red Guard before going to work as an electrician in the Peking Zoo. When the political climate thawed in 1978, he edited a journal called Exploration, and quickly embraced the Democracy Wall movement.

As well as being an advocate of democracy, he bluntly rejected Deng Xiaoping's policy of economic modernisation without political reform. "The people must maintain vigilance against Deng Xiaoping's metamorphosis into an autocrat," Mr Wei wrote, prompting his immediate arrest and heavy sentence, much of it spent in solitary confinement.

It was not until September 1993 that Mr Wei left prison, released on parole by the government in the hope of winning the 2000 Olympics for Peking. He immediately renewed his call for democracy and insisted he would not escape abroad. His robust opinions showed no sign of having been weakened by his prison experience.

It was his decision to meet a senior US government human rights official, John Shattuck, which terminated his new-found freedom. Soon after, on 1 April 1994, Mr Wei was detained, and has not been seen since. Today he may well disappear again, for a very long time.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home