China's most outspoken dissident faces jail once more

TERESA POOLE

Peking

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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teachers required for Cambridge Primary positions Jan 2015

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in Cambridge...

British Sign Language Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education are lookin...

English Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English Teacher - Saffron ...

Primary Supply Teacher - Northants

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Primary School Supply Teache...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain