WHEN I returned to Beijing in the fall of 1986, after an absence of six months, it was hard not to feel disoriented by the sudden change in political climate. During the previous spring and summer, political and intellectual life had begun to thaw to an extent unprecedented since the Chinese Communist Party had come to power, in 1949. Following on the heels of a bold program of economic reform and of opening up to the outside world, which China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, had launched in 1978, this relaxation of Party control over economic, intellectual, and political life had filled the Chinese with a heady new sense of possibility. The increasing tolerance of individualism and freedom of expression reflected the surprising but growing conviction among China's new generation of reform-minded leaders that their country would never be successful in its efforts to modernize unless some dramatic way could be found to re-energize its people and win their willing participation in a new drive toward economic development. Political reform and democratization became their new rallying cries. But to the older, hard-line Maoists, who had spent their lives fighting for a very different kind of revolution--one that stressed centralization and Party discipline, rather than individual initiative and democracy--this latest wave of reform appeared as at best an unwelcome disruption and at worst a dangerous form of apostasy. While young reformers watched enthusiastically as official publications began to bloom with articles advocating freedom of speech and the press, the separation of governmental powers, and the protection of human rights, and as intellectuals publicly called for the democratization of almost all aspects of Chinese life, revolutionary hard-liners looked on with displeasure, waiting for an auspicious moment to counterattack.
A deep wariness of speaking too freely had been burned into many senior intellectuals by the crackdowns that had, with a horrifying inevitability, terminated all previous interludes of liberalism in Chinese Communist history. While it was true that fall that the boundaries of acceptable political discourse were broader than ever, most intellectuals nonetheless prudently continued to try to stay within the elusive margins of Party tolerance. But there were a few who, seemingly without regard for their future, dared speak out openly. The most vocal of these was a fifty-two-year-old astrophysicist of international stature named Fang Lizhi, who by last year had become legendary throughout China for his forceful calls for democracy and his forthrightness in publicly saying what he believed.
When I first met Fang, in his Beijing apartment last fall, what impressed me about him was his good cheer and guilelessness. He laughed easily--an infectious laugh that spiraled spontaneously into something like a whinny carrying everything with it in a burst of unpremeditated mirthfulness. He was dressed simply, in a knit shirt, a tweed coat, and permanent-press slacks. Tortoise-shell glasses gave him a slightly owlish look. He made an initial impression of ordinariness--until, that is, he began to talk. Then I instantly sensed that I was in the presence of a man of not only keen intelligence and conviction but fearlessness. The longer I was with him, the more the quality struck me. Far from being a studied posture adopted as a means of resisting intimidation, Fang's fearlessness appeared deeply rooted in his personality, which in spite of its manifest self-confidence betrayed no suggestion of arrogance. Seldom have I met a man who, although at the center of an intense and dangerous national controversy--the Communist Party had laid the blame for the student demonstrations of the previous winter on his frequent speeches to student groups, in which he openly advocated Western democracy--so lacked the kind of polemical energy that often makes zealots of a lesser kind shrill and self justifying. Although Fang obviously cared deeply about the cause of democracy in China, he was not one to thrust it upon anyone; and although he had been politically persecuted throughout his life, there was no hint of rancor or resentment in his politics. What he was for was so much ascendant over what he was against that the notion of enemies seemed utterly alien to his intellectual, political, and emotional vocabulary.
What made being with him strangely uncharacteristic of my experiences in China was his complete lack of the self-censorship that renders many other Chinese intellectuals of his generation incapable of speaking their minds. Never overriding his thoughts and feelings with the usual subtle (and frequently unconscious) genuflections to the official political line of the moment, Fang spoke so openly about what he was thinking and what he believed that one had to suppress the urge to warn him of the dangers of such candor.
Such warnings have in fact come from many quarters, but Fang is impervious to them. "Everything I have ever said is open," Fang told me. "I have nothing to hide. And since I have already said everything that I believe many times in public, what is the point of trying to hide things now, in private?"
To recount those many times is to tell the story of his life, which began in Beijing in 1936, when he was born into the family of a postal clerk from the city of Hangzhou. He entered Beijing University (Beida) in 1952, as a student of theoretical and nuclear physics, and although he quickly distinguished himself as an unusually capable scientist, politics was as important to him as his studies. His first recorded brush with political dissent occurred one February day in 1955, during the founding meeting of the university chapter of the Communist Youth League (an organization that arranges political and recreational activities for young people and that anyone who intends to become a Party member must join). The league branch secretary from the physics department had been addressing the gathering, in the auditorium of Beida's administration building, and had just begun discussing the role of the league in stimulating idealism among China's youth when Fang Lizhi, then a nineteen-year-old student, dashed up onto the stage, indicating his desire to speak.
"Some of us students in the physics department thought the meeting was too dull, just a lot of formalistic speeches," Fang has said. "So we decided to liven things up a bit. When it came time for our branch secretary to speak, he let me express my opinion, since I had the loudest voice." Taking over the stage from the secretary, Fang redirected the discussion to the general subject of the Chinese educational system. "I said that this kind of meeting was completely meaningless. I asked what kind of people we were turning out when what we should have been doing was training people to think independently. Just having the Three Goods [good health, good study practices, and good work] is such a depressing concept and hardly enough to motivate anyone.
"After I spoke, the meeting fell into complete disorder. The next day the Party committee secretary, who was the top person in charge of ideological work for students at Beijing University, spoke all day. He said that although independent thinking was, of course, all well and good, students should settle down and study."
In spite of his attraction to politics, Fang did in fact settle down to study, earning straight As at Beida. There he met his future wife, Li Shuxian, who was a fellow student in the physics department, which she ultimately joined as a faculty member. In 1956, at the age of twenty, Fang graduated from Beida and was assigned to work at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Modern Physics Research. But a year later the Anti-Rightist Campaign began, and Chinese intellectuals who had spoken up during the previous Hundred Flowers Movement were ruthlessly persecuted. Because he had written a lengthy memorial on the need to reform China's educational system so that politics would not stifle scientific research, Fang was severely criticized. Unlike many other intellectuals under pressure, he refused to recant his alleged misdeeds and was expelled from the Party in 1957.
"For a long time after the Anti-Rightist Campaign, I continued to believe in communism," Fang told me. "Even after I was expelled from the Party, I continued to have faith in Chairman Mao and believed that it must have been I who was wrong."
Wrong or not, as a promising young scientist he was greatly needed by China in its early efforts to industrialize and was allowed to keep his position at the Institute of Modern Physics Research. He was ultimately even sent to help organize a new department of physics at the University of Science and Technology (Kexue Jishu Daxue, or Keda for short), which was just then being set up in Beijing. During the next few years, while teaching classes in quantum mechanics and electromagnetics, Fang also conducted research on solid-state and laser physics. Despite his previous political troubles, and because of his obvious talent in his field, in 1963 he was promoted to the position of lecturer.
But no sooner had Fang's life and career begun to resume a more normal course than the Cultural Revolution broke out, in 1966, and like so many other Chinese intellectuals. Fang once more ran afoul of politics. This time he was "struggled against" as a "reactionary" and incarcerated in a niupeng, or "cow shed"--a form of solitary confinement often chosen by the Red Guards for intellectuals of the "stinking ninth category" (Maoists had divided Chinese society into nine categories). After a year's imprisonment he was released and "sent down" to the countryside in Anhui province to work with the peasantry. Here, because of the paucity of scientific books available to him, he was forced to change the focus of his scholarly work and to concentrate on the study of relativity and theoretical astrophysics.
"I had only one book with me--the Soviet physicist Lev Landau's Classical Theory of Fields," Fang told me. "For six months I did nothing but read this book over and over again. It was this curious happenstance alone that caused me to switch fields from solid-state physics to cosmology.
"It was then that I began to feel that perhaps Mao was not so good for the country. But because at the time most of us intellectuals still believed in communism, we were left with a difficult question: If not Mao, whom should we follow? There was, of course, no one else, and he was the embodiment of all idealism.
"After the Cultural Revolution started, everything became much clearer. I realized that the Party had not been telling the truth, that they had in fact been deceiving people, and that I should not believe them anymore. You see, a sense of duty, responsibility, and loyalty to the country had been inculcated within me as a youth, but what I saw around me made me feel that the leaders weren't similarly concerned about the country and weren't shouldering responsibility for its people."
In 1969, when the Academy of Sciences began to move several of the undergraduate departments of Keda from Beijing to the provincial capital of Hefei, in Anhui, Fang, along with several dozen other academics who had been stigmatized with rightist labels, was exiled with them. In Hefei, Fang began to study and teach astrophysics, but because of the political cloud hanging over him, he was able to publish the results of his research only under a pseudonym.
His full rehabilitation did not come about until 1978, two years after the fall of the Gang of Four. At this time he regained his Party membership and received tenure at Keda, shortly thereafter becoming China's youngest full professor. The next few years were perhaps his most creative, from a scientific point of view. Fang, who was increasingly interested in the cosmology of the early universe, began to publish frequently on this subject, now under his own name. (By 1986 he had more than 130 articles to his credit.) In 1980 his popularity at Keda led to his being elected director of the fundamental-physics department, with more than 90 percent of the faculty's 120 votes. However, his politically progressive views and outspokenness continued to cause the Party to distrust him. Because of secret reports from a fellow professor impugning his political reliability, Fang, though nominated several times for the post of vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, was rejected.
What was ultimately to have the profoundest impact on Fang was his readings in politics and his travels abroad, which became possible as a result of Deng Xiaoping's open-door policy. In 1978 Fang left China for the first time, to attend a conference on relativistic astrophysics in Munich. Subsequent trips took him to the Vatican, for a cosmology conference; to Bogota, Colombia, for another conference; to Italy, as a visiting professor at the University of Rome; to England, as a senior visiting fellow at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University; to Japan, as a visiting professor at Kyoto University's Research Institute for Fundamental Physics; and finally to the United States, where he was in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, from March through July of 1986. These trips abroad were to influence deeply the way that Fang looked at the Chinese socialist system and the role of intellectuals within it.
In spite of many years of political harassment and periodic near-total isolation from the world scientific community, Fang had now become one of the very few scientists from the People's Republic ever to have received such international scientific attention and acclaim. Fang was even more unusual for his interest in education, philosophy, and politics, as well as science--interests that grew out of his conviction that in any truly creative mind science and philosophy, of which he took politics to be an extension, were indissolubly bound together.
Just as scientific research was a way of bearing witness to truths about the natural world, so, Fang believed, intellectual and political inquiry were ways of bearing witness to truths about the political and social world.
Interviewed by the writer Dai Qing in the newspaper Guangming Daily in December of 1986, Fang explained his notion of the special role that he hoped scientists, as intellectuals, would play in the development of a modern China. He noted, prophetically in his own case, that "almost invariably, it has been the natural scientists who have been the first to become conscious of the emergence of each social crisis." Then, evidently paraphrasing Einstein, he declared, "Scientists must express their feelings about all aspects of society, especially when unreasonable, wrong, or evil things emerge. If they do otherwise, they will be considered accomplices."
Fang's remedy for the claustrophobic intellectual climate of most Chinese educational institutions was to scrutinize their shortcomings both honestly and relentlessly. "The emergence and development of new theories necessitates creating an atmosphere of democracy and freedom in the university," he told Dai Qing. "In the university there should be nothing that...allows no questioning of why it must be upheld. There should be no doctrine allowed to hold a leading or guiding position in an a priori way."
As he tried to play his part as a "conscience of civilization," one of the most shocking things that Fang began to say publicly was that socialism as an ideology was passe for China. "When I first said this, back in 1980, Fang Yi, the Vice-Premier in charge of science and technology, called me in and criticized me," Fang Lizhi told me with an impish smile one day. "He said, 'How could you say a thing like that?' And I replied, 'I said it because I believe it.' He said, 'Well, I might go even so far as to say that I agree with you, but one can't just come right out and say such a thing!'"
FANG EMERGES AS LEADER
In 1984 Fang Lizhi was finally promoted to the position of vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, and Guan Weiyan, a colleague in physics, was appointed president. Clearly, Fang's star was now rising. There were soon efforts among the liberal reform faction in China's central leadership to nominate Fang for high provincial office, and even to confer upon him membership in the Party's central Committee--all this despite his refusal to maintain Party discipline and promote its mythology.
The next year the Ministry of Education issued a report, "The Reform of China's Educational Structure," calling for dramatic changes in the country's university system. It recommended that administrators be elected to top positions by committees of academics, rather than being appointed by the Party. Fang and Guan designed and proposed a radical plan to redistribute power horizontally at Keda. Instead of keeping all authority concentrated in the hands of top-level administrators, allowing them to control research funding, the awarding of degrees, and faculty promotions, these functions would be spread out among special committees and the departments themselves.
A second reform proposed in the plan involved establishing the right of faculty and staff members to audit all administrative meetings. Fang held that since the socialist system claimed to have made the people the masters of their own country, the people should have the right to know what their leaders were up to. This was an especially important concept for Fang, because he believed that a major defect of Chinese society was that in the absence of oversight provisions, problems and grievances piled up unsolved until any given situation became explosive.
A third area of reform that concerned Fang and Guan was free speech. They wished to establish firmly the right of students and faculty members not only to speak out on campus but also to remain free from subtler but not necessarily less crippling forms of ideological repression. Fang and Guan wished to create an open academic and political environment at Keda, and since in their view diversity was something to be cultivated, not suppressed, it was their conviction that anyone should be able to put up a handbill and hold an event on campus without having to seek prior approval from some higher authority.
This was indeed a bold vision of academic freedom, such as the People's Republic of China had never known. But Fang and Guan did not stop there. To foster openness with a cosmopolitan dimension, they also sought to establish as much contact as possible with the outside world. By the end of 1986 more than 900 faculty members and students from Keda had been sent abroad to visit, lecture, and study, and more than 200 foreign scholars had visited Keda. Exchange programs had been set up with educational institutions in the United States, Japan, Britain, Italy, and France.
Fang's experience with this reform process convinced him that the most meaningful task he could undertake in China was not scientific research but pressing for change in the country's educational system. "I am determined to create intellectual and academic freedom--this will be my top priority," he said, with his usual directness, when asked about his future plans. In the context of a Western democracy, where traditions like intellectual and academic freedom are taken for granted, such a declaration might sound commonplace, but coming from a university vice-president in China just as it emerged from the Cultural Revolution, his words had the effect of throwing down a gauntlet to Party hard-liners.
Moreover, while Fang was helping to fashion these educational reforms at Keda, he was by no means shutting himself off from the broader political issues and currents of the country at large. In fact, in 1985 and 1986 Fang seemed to turn up whenever and wherever there was open political discussion or ferment, a habit that must have caused consternation among those hard-liners in the Party hierarchy whose conception of the "mass line" had never included radical educational reform, much less a spontaneous political campaign for the democratization of Chinese life, led by roaming freethinkers like Fang.
On November 4, 1985, in a stirring, free-ranging, and sometimes even humorous talk that held his Beida audience spellbound, Fang encouraged the students to hold on to their social concern and political activism and to look to the West for new models of intellectual commitment if none could be found in China. Addressing himself to the larger issues of China's backwardness and his hopes for its future, Fang declared,
"...There is a social malaise in our country today, and the primary reason for it is the poor example set by Party members. Unethical behavior by Party leaders is especially to blame. This is a situation that clearly calls for action on the part of intellectuals...."
"...We are obligated to work for the improvement of society....This requires that we break the bonds of social restraint when necessary. Creativity has not been encouraged over the past three decades as being in keeping with Chinese tradition. It is a shame that, as a result, China has yet to produce work worthy of consideration for a Nobel Prize. Why is this?..."
One reason for this situation is our social environment. Many of us who have been to foreign countries to study or work agree that we can perform much more efficiently and productively abroad than in China....Foreigners are no more intelligent than we Chinese. Why, then, can't we produce first-rate work? The reasons for our inability to develop our potential lie within our social system....[This translation and several that follow are those of the China Spring Digest.]"
Placing the blame for China's backwardness on the closed nature of its society, Fang continued,
"...Some of us dare not speak out. But if we all spoke out, there would be nothing to be afraid of. This is surely one important cause of our lack of idealism and discipline.
"Another cause is that over the years our propaganda about communism has been seriously flawed....Room must be made for the great variety of excellence that has found expression in human civilization. Our narrow propaganda seems to imply that....nothing that came before us has any merit whatsoever. This is the most worthless and destructive form of propaganda. Propaganda can be used to praise Communist heroes, but it should not be used to tear down other heroes....
"We Communist Party members should be open to different ways of thinking. We should be open to different cultures and willing to adopt the elements of those cultures that are clearly superior. A great diversity of thought should be allowed in colleges and universities. For if all thought is narrow and simplistic, creativity will die. At present there are certainly some people in power who still insist on dictating to others according to their own narrow principles....
"We must not be afraid to speak openly about these things. In fact, it is our duty. If we remain silent, we will fail to live up to our responsibility."
The Beida students had never heard a respected faculty member speak publicly like this before, and Fang's effect was electrifying. Moreover, it was only one of many talks that Fang would give over the next year, as he traveled to other cities, quickly earning himself the reputation of being China's foremost freethinker. Fang Lizhi is a singular figure in post-Mao China. The content of his speeches made it difficult to remember that he was still a member of the Chinese Communist Party, where, as ever, the watchwords were discipline and obedience.
Meanwhile, so successful were Fang and Guan's reforms at Keda that the official Party newspaper, the People's Daily, caught up in China's new dalliance with democratic thinking, ran a series of five articles, in October and November of 1986, describing them in the most adulatory way, a move tantamount to giving them the Party's seal of approval. In fact, the writer, Lu Fang, was so impressed by what he had seen at Keda that from the very first sentence of the first article he seemed unable to control his enthusiasm. Instead of reciting a litany of facts and statistics to introduce his subject, as this genre of news feature often calls for, he dove right in and began, "During my trip to Keda, everywhere I breathed the air of democracy." Lu went on to praise the openness and "unconstrained atmosphere" of the university in which students and faculty members worked together.
Still mindful during those halcyon days of democratic dialogue that even the warmest political climate in China can suddenly frost over, the People's Daily published another article that fall asking rhetorically if it were not a concern that the radical experiments in educational reform at Keda might someday be branded as "wholesale Westernization," a derogatory term used by Party hard-liners to describe any overtly Western phenomenon. "Perhaps someone will bring up the question," the article went on to answer itself. "In applying a system of 'separate and balanced powers' to run a college, is there not always some danger of being suspected of imitating Western capitalism? But the methods used at Keda are actually in accordance with the directions of Party Central regarding the 'practical application of democratization to every aspect of social life.' They are in accordance with the Constitution which prescribes academic freedom. It [democracy] is not something that is being 'sneaked in the back door' here. We should have no suspicion about that."
The effect of these articles in the People's Daily was both to transform Keda into an official new post-Mao model university and to elevate Guan and Fang to the status of semi-official national heroes. The glare of the spotlight, far from cowing Fang into silence as it might some intellectuals, seemed hardly to faze him. In November, Shanghai's World Economic Herald ran an article that quoted Fang as declaring that China's intellectuals "lack their own independent mentality and a standard of value, always yield to power, and link their futures to an official career...And once they become officials themselves, many intellectuals change their attitude from being absolutely obedient to higher levels to being absolutely conceited. They suppress and attack other intellectuals."
Fang went on to call on intellectuals to remake themselves and, instead of being slavishly obedient to those above them, to "straighten out their bent backs." And then, as if he had despaired of the older generation, he ended with an appeal to Chinese to "place their hopes in those younger intellectuals who are growing up during the nineteen eighties."
It was one thing to crusade for educational reforms, even to discuss democracy, human rights, or checks and balances in the abstract, but here was Fang Lizhi implicitly appealing to youthful intellectuals (and also his academic peers) to form a powerful new check against Party power. This was a bold challenge indeed, for Fang seemed to be implying that the Party's failure to reform itself from within now justified pressure from without.
STUDENTS TAKE FANG'S MANDATE AS THEIR OWN
It was obvious to anyone watching that students were powerfully drawn to Fang, not only by his intelligence, candor, and irreverence but also by his willingness to name names. Never had a leader spoken to them so unguardedly about Party pomposity, favoritism, prejudice, even corruption. The Party might have tolerated his tweaking its tail over such apparent hypocrisies as a Constitution that guaranteed rights it was not prepared to defend, but it could hardly countenance his outright attack on high-ranking officials.
In 1985, for instance, Fang publicly denounced the vice-mayor of Beijing, Zhang Baifa, for contriving to join a scientific delegation that had been invited to attend a conference on synchrotron radiation in New York state. Fang had learned of the case because China's lone synchrotron was jointly operated by his own university and the Institute of High Energy Physics, in Beijing. Fang's refusal to overlook this kind of junketing and feather-bedding by the Party elite, and his willingness to bring such cases to the attention of student activists, made him an even greater favorite of young intellectuals disgusted with such behavior.
When criticized by ranking Party leaders for his lese majeste, Fang replied, "As for Zhang Baifa appropriating the conference seats that should have gone to the University, I just want to ask him what he knows about synchrotrons. Is he willing to take a test?" As a result of his attack on the vice-mayor, Fang's trip to the Institute of Advanced Study, planned for January, 1986, was suddenly canceled. It was not until two months later that Fang, still refusing to recant, was finally allowed to leave the country.
Upon returning to China from the United States late that fall, just as appeals for political reform reached a crescendo, Fang traveled to several Chinese cities, making speeches, holding discussion groups, and giving interviews. His calls for democracy were bolder and more uncompromising than ever, and his fearlessness more pronounced. During November, particularly in student circles, Fang Lizhi's name was spoken more and more often. In Beijing, Hefei, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shanghai--wherever he spoke--young people listened, recorded, and even transcribed his talks by hand, and sent them on to friends and student groups all across China, and even to colleagues studying in the United States and Europe. Chinese students, who had almost completely lost the kind of socialist idealism that had so distinguished their parents' generation during earlier phases of the Chinese Communist Revolution, now seemed perched on the precipice of a whole new system of beliefs. In the ideological vacuum of the 1980s they thirsted for someone and something to believe in. Just as these young Chinese had come to worship the West for its appliances, style, culture, and technology, now they were becoming entranced with its political ideas and "isms." Nowhere was the threadbare nature of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought more evident than in the way many of these young Chinese intellectuals found themselves drawn to the gospel of democracy as preached by Fang Lizhi.
When the Party repeatedly urged Fang to tone down his message, he refused, and even fired a salvo or two at Deng's sacred Four Cardinal Principles, which upheld socialism, the people's democratic dictatorship, the leadership of the Communist Party, and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought. When asked what he thought of them, he replied that although he realized they were "articles of faith among the political leadership," he preferred four different principles--namely, "science, democracy, creativity, and independence." He went on to observe that if his principles conflicted with those of the Party, it was only because the latter "advocated superstition instead of science, dictatorship instead of democracy, conservatism instead of creativity, and dependency rather than independence."
In November, Fang Lizhi gave several speeches in Shanghai. Appearing on the campus of Tongji University on November 18, he addressed a crowd of students on the subject of democracy, reform, and modernization, rousing them to repeated rounds of applause. "We now have a strong sense of urgency about achieving modernization in China," he told the students.
"...Chinese intellectual life, material civilization, moral fiber, and government are in dire straits....The truth is that every aspect of the Chinese world needs to be modernized....As for myself, I think that all-around openness is the only way to modernize. [It is interesting to note that Fang claims to have consistently used the term quanfangwei kaifang ("all-around openness") rather than quanpan xifanghua ("wholesale Westernization").] I believe in such a thorough and comprehensive liberalization because Chinese culture is not just backward in a particular respect but primitive in an overall sense....We are still far behind the rest of the world. And, frankly, I feel we lag behind because the decades of socialist experimentation since Liberation have been--well, a failure! [Long applause.] This is not just my opinion, it is clear for all to see. Socialism is at a low ebb. There is no getting around the fact that no socialist state in the post-Second World War era has been successful, nor has our own thirty-odd-year-long socialist experiment...I am here to tell you that the socialist movement from Marx and Lenin to Stalin and Mao Zedong has been a failure....Clearing our minds of all Marxist dogma is the first step...."
After this uncompromising attack on China's socialist patron saints, Fang went on to proclaim:
"...We must remold our society by absorbing influences from all cultures. What we must not do is isolate ourselves and allow our conceit to convince us that we alone are correct...."
For Fang, the most "critical component" of democracy was human rights.
"....Human rights are fundamental privileges that people have from birth, such as the right to think and be educated, the right to marry, and so on. But we Chinese consider these rights dangerous. Although human rights are universal and concrete, we Chinese lump freedom, equality and brotherhood together with capitalism and criticize them all in the same terms. If we are the democratic country we say we are, these rights should be stronger here than elsewhere, but at present they are nothing more than an abstract idea. [Enthusiastic applause.]
"I feel that the first step toward democratization should be the recognition of human rights....But [in China] democratization has come to mean something performed by superiors on inferiors--a serious misunderstanding of democracy. [Loud applause.] Our government does not give us democracy simply by loosening our bonds a bit. This gives us only enough freedom to writhe a little. [Enthusiastic applause.] Freedom by decree is not fit to be called democracy, because...it fails to provide the most basic human rights....
"In a democratic nation democracy flows from the individual, and the government has responsibilities toward him....We must make our government realize that it is economically dependent on its citizens, because such is the basis of democracy. But feudal traditions are still strong in China; social relations are initiated by superiors and accepted by inferiors....
"People of other societies believe that criminal accusations arising from casual suspicion harm human dignity and privacy. In China, on the other hand, it is not only normal for me to inform on you...but considered a positive virtue. I would be praised for my alertness and contribution to class struggle in spite of my disrespect for democracy and human rights...."
Having reiterated his belief that democracy made the people rather than the government sovereign, he went on to redefine the position of a university in Chinese society.
"...To liberate oneself from the slavery of governmental and other nonintellectual authorities, one need only view knowledge as an independent organism. But this is not so in China. Our universities produce tools, not educated men. [Applause.] Our graduates cannot think for themselves. They are quite happy to be the docile instruments of someone else's purposes. China's intelligentsia has still not cleansed itself of this tendency....Knowledge should be independent of power. It must never submit, for knowledge loses its value as soon as it bows to power...."
About Party pressure against his outspokenness, Fang said,
"I have heard grumbling about my political ideas, and that is fine. But I simply will not accept any interference in my scientific research....Democracy will have no protection until the entire scientific community is filled with this spirit. The products of scientific knowledge should be appraised by scientific standards. We should not be swayed by the winds of power. Only then can we modernize, and only then will we have real democracy."
Fang's speeches, putting into words what many of his colleagues thought but dared not utter in public, were like detonations beneath the whole edifice of Party thought control. Here at last, after thirty-five years during which almost all alternative or oppositional thoughts had been suppressed, was a man who when he spoke made no effort to censor the forbidden or divide his thoughts between the private and the public. Because Fang and a small number of other dissidents, including Liu Binyan and Wang Ruowang, writers who in spite of almost constant Party persecution had continued to write exposes and critiques of Party malfeasance and stupidity, continued to speak and to suggest alternative ways of looking at the Party, China, and the world, political discourse in China had acquired a new depth of field, a three-dimensionality in which Party orthodoxy at least momentarily lost its monopoly.
Early that winter, just as Fang and many other Chinese intellectuals began evincing some sense of hope that China might succeed after all in evolving politically toward greater democratization, a series of events that no one had anticipated took place. Beginning in Hefei, at Fang's own university on December 5, and ending in Beijing on January 1, twenty large Chinese cities were suddenly racked by demonstrations in which students demanded a speed-up in political reform. Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of urban China carrying placards and banners emblazoned with such slogans as NO DEMOCRATIZATION, NO MODERNIZATION and GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, AND FOR THE PEOPLE. Campuses were festooned with wall posters proclaiming anti-Party sentiments like I HAVE A DREAM, A DREAM OF FREEDOM. I HAVE A DREAM OF DEMOCRACY. I HAVE A DREAM OF LIFE ENDOWED WITH HUMAN RIGHTS. MAY THE DAY COME WHEN ALL THESE ARE MORE THAN DREAMS.
Alarmed by the specter of political chaos, the Party reflexively acted to quell the disturbances and to locate and root out their causes. Urged on by Maoist hard-liners, for whom the student uprising had been the embodiment of their worst fears about reform, the Party launched a swift counterattack.
THE PARTY REACTS TO FANG AND THE PROTESTS
In early January of last year, just after the student demonstrations had ended, the Anhui Daily (published in Hefei, the home of Keda) ran an article that, like advance artillery fire softening up an enemy target, seemed to be preparing its readers for a larger political campaign to follow. Taking a surprisingly soft line on the recent demonstrations, the article said that student "enthusiasm and concern about the fate of our nation and the future of reforms is understandable." The real blame for the recent upheavals, it suggested, lay elsewhere--namely, in the hands of that "very small number of people who had spurred on the trend of 'bourgeois liberalization,' propagated opinions against the Four Cardinal Principles, and taken advantage of the students' enthusiasm and lack of experience in society to achieve their political aims."
The Guangming Daily, which just the previous year had jubilantly proclaimed, "Our socialist system not only does not fear people speaking out but encourages them to do so," now lashed out menacingly against overly Westernized notions of democracy. On January 11 it ran a commentary with the headline "THE ESSENCE OF POLITICAL 'WHOLESALE WESTERNIZATION' MEANS DISCARDING SOCIALISM," which suggested that the students had been manipulated into demonstrating by a certain unnamed "Vice-President comrade of a university."
On January 12 Zhou Guangzhao, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, summoned the Keda faculty to a special meeting. In the very center of the front row of the large meeting hall were two conspicuously empty seats. When the room fell silent, Zhou Guangzhao announced that the Party Central Committee and the State Council had decided to remove Guan Weiyan, the president of the university, and Fang Lizhi, the vice-president, from office and to reassign them, respectively, to the Institute of Physics and the Beijing Observatory, both in the capital.
After announcing this coup, Zhou Guangzhao accused Fang of having "disseminated many erroneous statements reflecting 'bourgeois liberalization'" and of having departed from the Four Cardinal Principles. He continued his attack by saying that Fang's "ideas of running the school by attempting to shake off the Party leadership and departing from the socialist road had resulted in extremely nasty consequences for Keda. These erroneous ideas were fully revealed in the recent disturbance created by students of this university."
The assessment made by the secretary of the Anhui Provincial Party Committee, Li Guixian, was even more extreme. He claimed that Fang had "defamed the Party's cadres and leadership, and negated the cause of the Party over the past few decades, slandered and distorted the socialist system, and sown discord in the relations between the Party and intellectuals, especially among young intellectuals." Then, in that Maoist way so recognizable to all Chinese, Li began to speak directly to Fang's former colleagues in the audience, seeming to offer understanding while actually delivering a threat. "It should be noted that most cadres and teachers at Keda disapprove of, and many comrades resolutely reject, Fang Lizhi's erroneous words and deeds. Some comrades may have made some erroneous remarks under Fang Lizhi's influence, but it is a good thing that today they have realized their mistakes and corrected themselves. Those few comrades who up to now have failed to do so are allowed to take some time to realize their mistakes, but they must observe discipline."
Over the next few days articles in the official press railed against Fang. These attacks were so relentless, repetitive, and overblown that it sometimes seemed as if the Party despaired of convincing even its own members, not to mention other intellectuals, of the righteousness of its actions, except by the sheer force and volume of its rhetoric. Any lingering uncertainties about whether the orders for Fang's ouster had come from the very top of the Party were dispelled when, a day after Fang's dismissal, Deng Xiaoping himself denounced Fang Lizhi, along with Liu Binyan and Wang Ruowang, by name during a meeting with Noboru Takeshita, then the Secretary General of the Japanese Liberal-Democratic Party and now Japan's Premier.
Fang's ouster set off an immediate reaction at Keda. Students organized a petition drive to protest his dismissal and put up banners saying, IT IS CHINA'S SHAME THAT IT CANNOT EMBRACE SUCH A SCHOLAR AS FANG LIZHI, and MR. GUAN AND MR. FANG, YOU HAVE ALREADY MADE YOUR SACRIFICES. WE MISS YOU AND HOPE WE WILL SEE YOU AGAIN. Authorities quashed the petition drive and tore down the banners.
On January 16, four days after Fang's dismissal, the Chinese were stunned to hear that Hu Yaobang, the Party general Secretary and the man widely considered to be Deng Xiaoping's chosen successor, had been removed from office. But the Party did not stop even here. A week later, on January 19 (as if Fang's dismissal from his position at Keda had not sufficiently rid China's system of him), Xu Leyi, a deputy Party secretary in Anhui province, appeared on evening television and completed the new purge. For seven minutes of the half-hour news broadcast he was shown reading a statement from the Anhui Provincial Party Committee announcing that Fang Lizhi had not only lost his job but also been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party. In the communique that followed, the Party enumerated the now familiar litany of Fang's "extremely serious" mistakes, each one backed up by a list of offending quotations.
The Fang Lizhi affair quickly became a cause celebre in China. Within days of his dismissal, members of the foreign press and the diplomatic community in Beijing were referring to him as China's Sakharov. Chinese intellectuals, even those who did not completely agree with Fang's uncompromising vision of democracy for their country, applauded him for his unwavering boldness. The Party, desperate to stem this hagiographic treatment of Fang, was relentless in its media campaign against him. Even the People's Daily, which only two months earlier had lionized Fang and Guan for having created a model university at Keda, now ridiculed them, claiming that in "waving the banner of running universities in a democratic way" they were "passing fish eyes off as pearls" and letting "vulcanized copper masquerade as gold." This was certainly not the first time that a Chinese publication had been forced to reverse itself--and surely there are few kinds of intellectual debasement worse than the forced repudiation by a writer or an editor of passionately held and publicly expressed beliefs--to keep its political position parallel to the careening Party line.
Fang's outspoken espousal of democracy and human rights had put the Party in a difficult bind, and made it appear grossly inconsistent. Having vigorously tried to cultivate intellectuals at various times during the previous years with ever wider calls for ever greater freedom and democracy, it now seemed bent on persecuting them again in a way that could not but remind members of the Chinese intelligentsia of the Anti-Rightist Campaign, which had followed Mao's call for the Hundred Flowers Movement, in the mid-fifties. Sometimes it appeared as if the Party, unable to find the "golden mean" (zhongyong)--the middle way revered by classical Chinese political philosophers--hoped at least to create an optical illusion of moderation by oscillating back and forth rapidly between the extremes, alternately coddling and punishing its intellectuals. When, some months later, I asked Fang if he believed that democratization could ever take place in China under the prevailing conditions, he replied. "In China the concept of democratization has often been nothing more than a poker chip in what is really a game of power. Maybe there are still a few idealistic leaders, but on the whole most are preoccupied with the struggle for power, and they use such concepts as democracy as just another means of defeating their opponents. One side will say, 'I stand for reform and you don't, so you shouldn't be here!' The other will say, 'No! Reform is wrong, so you shouldn't be here!' In the end it is the Chinese people who suffer, because they get used as playthings."
The Party's treatment of Fang pointed up the contradiction embedded within its whole modernization program and within its past as well. If China was to modernize, the Party urgently needed to rally to its cause those students and intellectuals who had been alienated from it for so many years. The key element of this mobilization process included both granting them more freedom and opening China's doors to the outside world. The predicament in which the Party found itself was that along with foreign capital, technology, science, languages, and management techniques came foreign political ideas and values that by their nature challenged the hegemony of one-party rule and led to the kind of hard-line neo-Maoist reaction to which Fang, like so many intellectuals before him in Chinese Communist history, had fallen prey. What was the Party to do? Allow such subversive heresies as democracy, freedom, and human rights to spread unchecked, or crush the students and intellectuals and risk losing their creative energies for the paramount task of developing China?
Neither alternative seemed acceptable. Desperately needing to find some compromise position, the Party did the only thing it could: it acted inconsistently. By slapping down Fang Lizhi it sent out a signal that while intellectuals were being granted unprecedented new freedoms, public political discourse was not to be among them. However, by limiting its punitive actions to what by historical Party standards were mild ones, it sought at the same time to reassure intellectuals that China was not returning to the political dark ages. In effect, the message was this: "As long as you are willing to leave the supremacy of the Communist Party unchallenged, we will grant you considerable freedom. If you challenge the Party and socialism as its official canon, you will be punished--but not as harshly as before." The reformers in the Party were trying to keep a delicate balance between the imperatives of modernization and those of control. But that January when it was rocked by renewed factional struggle after the tumultuous student demonstrations of the previous month, it was teetering ominously.
About a month after Fang Lizhi was dismissed from his job, expelled from the Party and ordered back to the capital to take up the post of researcher at the Beijing Observatory (his wife still taught at Beijing University), I happened to stop by the house of a friend of mine, a longtime Party member who is an up-and-coming official in a state-run enterprise. He, his sister (also a Party member) and I had been eating dried persimmons and watermelon seeds, chatting, and half-heartedly watching a television program about new strains of purebred swine that were being introduced into Chinese herds, when my friend suddenly disappeared into his bedroom. Moments later he reappeared and, with a conspiratorial smile, handed me a thick sheaf of photocopied papers. To my surprise it consisted of ninety-one pages of speeches and interviews with Fang Lizhi, printed in bold, oversize characters that even the sight-impaired could have read in a dim light, and arranged in chronological order from March, 1985, through December, 1986, complete with a table of contents.
Since the Party was at present ill disposed toward both Fang and all illegal publishing ventures, I expressed amazement at seeing Fang's very controversial speeches printed up in what looked like published form. I asked if my friend had found the collection at some outdoor bookstall, thinking it might have been put out surreptitiously by an underground network of dissidents, as were journals that had circulated in 1978 and 1979, during the Democracy Wall period.
"Not at all--I got these from the Party itself," my friend replied, clearly enjoying my surprise. "The collection is a neibu ['internal,' a designation for documents not to be shown outside restricted Party circles] that all of us in the Party are being required to study and criticize."
Smirking, his sister slapped the sheaf of paper and told me that the Party had sent every Party branch copies of Fang's selected works so that all members might hold study meetings to "criticize his erroneous bourgeois liberal line."
"And did you hold such meetings?" I asked.
"You know," my friend's sister replied, her smirk breaking into a full smile, "before the Party handed down this document, no one in our unit really knew much about Fang Lizhi except that he had been vice-president at Keda and that he had run into some trouble with the Party over the student demonstrations. Few people had paid much attention to him, and we didn't have much of an idea what he really stood for. However, after the Party compiled these speeches, disseminated them to every Party branch, and then actually required members to read them, we of course got a better sense of him, and an awful lot of people suddenly started saying, 'Hmmm. This guy Fang isn't bad! In fact, he makes a lot of sense!' Before I knew what was happening, many people in my unit became not only quite interested in what Fang had to say but quite sympathetic toward him as well."
"How did the discussion sessions actually work out?"
They both laughed. "Unfortunately, it was my responsibility to organize the study meeting to criticize Fang at my unit," my friend said, rolling his eyes upward. "What could I do? As a result of reading the document, so many people had ended up agreeing with Fang, the very person they were supposed to get together to criticize, that it became next to impossible for us to hold a meeting."
"So what did you do?"
"It was ridiculous! I finally just said, 'Forget it!,' wrote a report, and sent it on up to my superiors, saying that we had all read the required documents and had learned much from one another's criticisms."
"Did any units you know of actually hold criticism meetings?"
"Probably. But I imagine this kind of charade went on elsewhere in the Party too."
"What's the attitude of your co-workers now toward these kinds of study meetings?" I asked.
"Well, of course, we don't have them as often as we used to," my friend replied with a suggestion of embarrassment. "But when documents do come down from Central, we have to get together to act out the ritual. Usually there's a lot of joking around, because our attitude is that if the leaders want to fight among themselves about ideology, that's their business, but they shouldn't drag the rest of us into these struggles with a lot of propaganda and study meetings. We're tired of it and resent it."
"But aren't people now a little warier than they used to be, because of the recent political crackdown?"
"Even though things loosened up over the past few years, people have become fearful again about stepping too obviously over official boundaries," my friend's sister acknowledged. "Before the student demonstrations people were much more careless. Now, at least in public, most people have started to act obedient to the Party again, even though they no longer believe in it. Although the situation is still nowhere near as bad as it was during the Cultural Revolution, everyone knows that a wrong move could still affect their lives. After all, who doesn't remember the past? Several people in our office had parents and friends who committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution after they were accused of being rightists and capitalist-roaders."
The naivete of such old-fashioned propagandizing was sublime. Rather than winning adherents, the Party propaganda organs had become huge, self-defeating engines of disaffection, which caused more and more of the very young Chinese whose support the leadership needed to react almost automatically against anything the Party supported. Far from aspiring to, or being proud of, Party membership, a growing number of young Chinese now wished to distance themselves as much as possible from the Party. Although many ambitious young people worked for and maintained membership, often they did so simply because advancement was impossible in the ranks of government or in state-owned enterprises without it, and because it frequently provided them with valuable perks such as the use of cars, better housing, and opportunities for travel. But, particularly among China's new, foreign educated elite, there was a growing sense that what was important was not the Party but the outside world, with which they increasingly identified.
By expunging from their midst people like Fang Lizhi and shortly thereafter the dissident writers Liu Binyan and Wang Ruowang, the older leaders of the Party may have enjoyed a temporary illusion of purification, but actually they were just isolating themselves further from the very sources of support they so urgently needed for credibility. In fact, when it came to questions of trust--the fundamental bond between a government and its people--it was rare to find anyone, particularly in intellectual circles, who still put much faith in the justice or fairness of the Party. The Chinese Communist Party of 1987 was indeed a far cry from that of the days when Party membership conferred on a Chinese the highest social status imaginable and when the Party's leadership was looked up to with blind reverence.
The Party, though still awesomely powerful, had been cut down in stature both because of its recent history and because Chinese now had alternative avenues of advancement. For instance, one could go into business for oneself or go abroad to study and live. Or one could stay home and sink into a more or less individualistic life of self-interest, if not "self-fulfillment." One of the reasons that Fang made the political establishment so nervous was that he was contributing to the creation of exactly these new dimensions of life that fell outside the Party's aegis. He was helping to create an ethos in which dissent was not only thinkable but laudable. So it must have been infuriating, not to say alarming, for Party hard-liners to learn that after his expulsion Fang received an avalanche of sympathetic mail.
"It was very heartwarming to get so many expressions or support," Fang told me. "Some addressed their notes simply to 'Fang Lizhi, Beijing,' and still they got to me! But my wife and I were particularly touched by those people who sent postcards on which they not only expressed their outrage about my loss of job and ouster from the Party but also signed their names and wrote their return addresses, as if to defy the censors and show them that they refused to be cowed into silence."
Then, with a bemused but satisfied smile, Fang added, "There was a great flood of these letters in late January and February, right after my expulsion. Then, after they had slowly tapered off, a curious thing happened. Suddenly a whole new wave began to arrive. And this time what people wrote was much more complex. Their letters did not simply express sympathy or outrage at my expulsion but contained longer comments on what I had been saying about democracy. At first I couldn't figure out what was going on. Then it dawned on me. They were triggered by the Party's circulation of my speeches for criticism." Fang gave one of his guileless laughs.
When I asked Fang if he would consider joining the Party a third time, he sat for a while without speaking, as if he were pondering a riddle. Finally he said, "Well, should that moment ever arrive, I would first want to see what the situation was like at the time. I certainly don't feel that it is up to me to reform myself. But if the Party changes, well, then I might consider rejoining it."
Once purged from the party, Fang Lizhi and the writers Liu Binyan and Wang Ruowang disappeared for a while from public view, although hardly from the consciousness of Chinese intellectuals. Of the three, Fang came in for the most frequent and strenuous criticism in Party propaganda, being accused of having almost single-handedly incited the nationwide student demonstrations. Although the activities of all three men were severely limited, they were allowed to receive friends, to continue their work, and to attend certain public functions. Fang was even allowed to go abroad for a scientific meeting. But they remained in a sort of limbo as the contending factions within the Party waged their slow-motion struggle for ideological supremacy and political power.
Although Fang was allowed to teach a limited number of classes and to see friends, he was explicitly forbidden to meet any Western journalists. But with Fang the Party had a problem that it did not have with either Liu or Wang. Fang had already made frequent trips abroad, and thereby had become one of the very few Chinese scientists to gain recognition in foreign scientific circles. In fact, after his expulsion, when Westerners in Beijing began to refer to him as China's Sakharov (an implicit rebuke to pretensions that China was more open than the Soviet Union), some began speculating as to whether Fang might not become China's first Nobel laureate.
Fang's situation was unique for another reason as well. When he was forced to leave Hefei, he had to forfeit the seat he had just won in the fall elections for the local district People's Congress. However, his wife, Li Shuxian, later won a seat in Haidian, the Beijing district in which many of the city's universities are situated. Taking advantage of her new celebrity status, she told foreign reporters that she believed the Party had been wrong to discharge her husband and that, in due course, history would "prove that he was right." In the months that followed, Li Shuxian came to serve as a kind of local people's advocate, speaking out about the injustice of her husband's situation, championing human rights, and protesting on behalf of her student constituents, who were frequently harassed with unannounced searches of their dormitories and sometimes even detention by security guards.
On February 28 Fang made his first post-purge public appearance, in Beijing, when he showed up at the Fourth National Congress of the Chinese Physics Society to deliver a paper titled "Progress in Modern Cosmology." His return was widely reported in the Chinese press, as was the fact that the meeting was chaired by none other than his old friend at Keda, Guan Weiyan. Clearly, this was an all too self-conscious attempt by the Party to reassure scientists that there was now life after purgatory.
In June, after Fang's application to go abroad had been approved at the very highest level of Party leadership, Fang was allowed to leave China briefly to take part in the annual meeting of the International Center for Theoretical Physics, being held in Trieste. He was refused permission, however, to go on to Great Britain for a conference commemorating the tercentenary of the publication of Isaac Newton's Principia. No sooner had Fang gotten out of China than he was descended upon by hopeful interviewers. Instead of holding back, Fang expounded to them on his political views as fearlessly as he had done the past fall in China.
When his friend Tiziano Terzani, the former Beijing bureau chief for Der Spiegel, met with him in Italy and asked him what his next political target would be, Fang answered with one word: "Marxism." Terzani appeared surprised by his boldness, and Fang added, "That Marxism no longer has any worth is a truth that cannot be denied....It is a thing of the past--useful to understand problems of the last century, but not those of today....It is like a worn-out dress that should be discarded." When asked what successes he would attribute to the Chinese Communist Revolution, Fang replied, "In China the Communist Party has never had any success. Over the past thirty years it has produced no positive results....That is why the desire for a reformation is so strong, why faith in the Party, especially among young people, has disappeared....In China the Party wants not only to manage politics but to have everything under its control as well, including the way people think and live....To create a real economic democracy in China the Party must diminish this political control-- precisely what it fears."
When asked by Lu Keng, whose interview with Fang appeared in the overseas Chinese newspaper Queens Daily, why he had been allowed to go abroad while Liu Binyan had not been allowed to accept an invitation from the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, Fang replied facetiously, "The country apparently needs to learn from the West only in science and technology, but not in the humanities." Then he went on to reiterate his belief that the Chinese Constitution must prevail over the will of the Party, and that China's future lay in striving for "freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other freedoms which are provided for by this Constitution." He said, "For only freedom of speech will be able to break the tyranny of a 'one-Party voice' and bring about the realization of political pluralism."
Surprisingly enough, after Fang's return to China there were no immediate political repercussions from these outspoken interviews, By last fall it had become clearer than ever that the punitive measures taken against Party intellectuals were more in the nature of a wrist-slapping than a full-fledged purge. The efforts of the hard-liners ended up only rebounding on them by imbuing their opponents with quasi-mythical status within China and attracting international attention to the very men whose ideas they wished to suppress. Last winter foreign journalists were suddenly writing adulatory accounts of these courageous Chinese defenders of free speech and democracy. The hard-liners seemed to have underestimated the voracious appetite of the West for Communist-bloc intellectuals stamped with the imprimatur of Party persecution. As the political climate once again warmed up, and with the behind-the-scenes support of certain key reform leaders, many Chinese intellectuals who had been in bad Party graces that winter began to leave China for tours abroad, where they were treated like heroes. Liu Binyan was invited to go to Harvard University to become a Nieman Fellow, and also won a lucrative book contract with an American publisher for his autobiography. Fang Lizhi received invitations from Cambridge and American universities to be a visiting scholar and had his collected speeches published in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
When I last saw Fang last September in Beijing, I was surprised by the freedom with which he was allowed to socialize and go about his academic life. It was true that he had been forbidden to make political speeches or give interviews to the press, that his phone was bugged, and that his movements were closely watched; but it was also true that he was able to lead a busy life in the capital, teaching, attending scientific meetings, and meeting privately with friends, including some foreigners. In November he had even been allowed to return to Keda to deliver four lectures, although he was watched closely by security guards at all times.
One occasion in particular illustrated the surprisingly permissive post-crackdown policy of the Party toward Fang. After dining with Fang and Li Shuxian at one of the capital's Western hotels, my wife and I introduced them to the NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, who was in Beijing for the network's week-long series of broadcasts on China. As it happened, Brokaw had just the day before interviewed Zhao Ziyang, the Premier and acting Party General Secretary, and Zhao had spoken about Fang's situation at some length in what appeared to be yet another effort to reassure the outside world that Fang and other Chinese intellectuals would not have their freedom circumscribed any further. Upon meeting Fang, Brokaw asked him if he would like to see the tape of the Zhao interview, which was not scheduled to be shown on Chinese television.
In what was surely one of the most unusual experiences of my many years in China, we soon found ourselves sitting in an NBC screening room, watching China's head of state speak to China's number-one dissident via an American network-news interview. Even stranger than the situation itself was what Zhao was saying about Fang.
"Recently some Communist Party members were expelled from the Party, while others were persuaded to leave the Party," Zhao told Brokaw amiably, taking periodic swigs from a glass of Qingdao beer, which did not appear on the televised interview. "Maybe some people in the U.S. view this as a crackdown, as oppression against intellectuals. I do not agree. I think probably you are already familiar with the name of Mr. Fang Lizhi." As Zhao spoke his name, I glanced over at Fang, who sat bolt upright, as if at attention. He had a slight smile on his lips and a nonplussed expression on his face, and was utterly absorbed in what Zhao was saying. "He is a professor and a well-accomplished physicist. Over the last few years he has made many remarks and speeches and written articles criticizing the Chinese government and the policies of our Party. Sometimes he has even referred to the leadership in our country. He delivered such speeches at universities and also at other places. But he is still working in a very important post, and not long ago he even went abroad for an international academic conference. Moreover, recently he gave an interview to two journalists from Taiwan. [They had been the first journalists in some four decades to visit the mainland from Taiwan.] But he still maintains his original position and ideas. He was a Party member in the past. However, since he has such beliefs, he could no longer remain a Communist Party member. However, he is still an intellectual and a scientist, and is, moreover, respected for this. As such, he is still able to play his role in scientific and technological areas."
Going on to draw a distinction between the obligations of intellectuals who are Party members and those who are not, Zhao said, "If one joins the Party, one has to observe the regulations, the Party Constitution, and the Party program....If someone cannot observe them, he will be asked to leave....I think the Party itself should have the freedom to decide whether someone should remain in or not. But when intellectuals leave the Party, they will still be respected and will still be able to play their own roles in their own [professional] capacities. I don't think you could call this a crackdown."
Zhao spoke with confidence and conviction, and his words seemed so reassuring that it was difficult to remember that even though he had given his word the previous winter that Party harassment of intellectuals would cease, another wave of punitive action had followed that summer.
Although heartened by Zhao's new moderation and doubtless also by the way Party reformers had managed to bring China back from what seemed to be the brink, Fang remained uncompromising in his attitude about the need for democracy in China. When I asked him what his own generation might leave by way of a legacy to China's youth, he replied simply "That communism doesn't work. Although one cannot say that every sentence of Marxism-Leninism is wrong, one must admit that its basics are incorrect."
"Are there any Marxist true believers left in the Party?" I asked.
"They are very few. The whole atmosphere in China now is very bad. There is no morality or religion, or, for that matter, anyone in charge of our moral education. Formerly, the Party did this to some extent, but now belief in the Party and Marxism has literally collapsed. When you ask young people what they believe in, they tell you that they don't know. They have lost confidence in contemporary Chinese culture. They have nothing to be proud of. Except for those young people who are still idealistic because they have started to turn to democracy, there is a cultural and political vacuum."
"Do you put any hope in the Party's reform-minded leaders?"
"Perhaps there are a few who are idealistic, but on the whole they are primarily concerned with the question of power.
When I continued to press Fang as to whether he truly doubted that there was any hope for reform from within, he finally relented a bit. "Even if the leaders are not sincere, we must accept that this is the way things are going to be," he said. "One cannot say that success is absolutely impossible. But for now since the Chinese Communist Party is all there is in power and there are no other democratic channels open, we can only allow these leaders to lead and hope for the success of the reformers."
Then, brightening somewhat, he added, "The Chinese Communist Party now finds itself in a curious kind of competition with Gorbachev and his idea of glasnost. The two socialist countries now seem to be vying with each other to see which one can be most open and, by analogy, be most modern. China's Party leaders do not want to seem to be outdone by Gorbachev, particularly since some people have likened my situation to that of the Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, and his situation has now improved so greatly. As far as I am concerned, this kind of competition is a very good thing not only for me but for Chinese intellectuals and China in general. The hard reality is that there is no way now to get the Chinese Communist Party out of power. To try to replace them, or even to persuade them to adopt some other political system, is impossible. This is the difference between dissidence in China and in the West--that dissident opposition can aspire completely to replace certain leaders. So now most Chinese feel that the only way to move forward is to hope that the Communist Party will be able to change its direction and do well by the country. Maybe the next generation will use different tactics and changed political forms, but this will be up to them. Right now, such things are impossible."
In November, when the Thirteenth Party Congress closed, with the reform-minded Zhao Ziyang firmly ensconced as Party General Secretary and with the Maoist hard-liners once again at bay, many Chinese intellectuals heaved a sigh of relief. As the student demonstrations and the ensuing expulsions of Fang and his colleagues receded from memory, and as official publications from the Party became refoliated with calls for political reforms and democratization, it did indeed appear that China had completed yet another of its seemingly endless political circles. In February of 1988 Fang was given a promotion from fourth to second rank of professorship and the Party allowed him to grant a short interview to The New York Times. Liberal friends who only the winter before had been gloomy about the prospect for political reform in China were now filled with a new optimism.
But, chastened by the many earlier abortive reform efforts, Fang remained skeptical about the future. When asked by the Hong Kong journal Baixing Banyue Kan how he viewed the outcome of the Congress and Zhao's clearly reform-minded speech to the Party, he replied, "It is true that Zhao's report was very stirring. But in his own time Mao Zedong made speeches that were even more stirring." After citing a host of ways in which the Party continued to conduct itself in an undemocratic fashion, Fang went on to warn, "It's not enough just to read of speeches in newspapers. One must always keep one's eye on reality...There are still just too many examples of authorities saying one thing but doing another."