Exiled Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng has lived a good life in the United States for more than 20 years. But the man often called the father of his country’s modern democracy movement still welcomes visitors the Chinese way – by offering them a cigarette.
In a lengthy interview with AFP at his home in a Maryland suburb south of the US capital, he lights one for himself – and starts unleashing harsh criticism of the “one-party dictatorship” in power in Beijing. It’s a familiar battle cry: for four decades, Wei has railed against state oppression of the Chinese people’s democratic aspirations.
That battle cost him 18 years of his life, spent in a series of prison cells. In 1997, after international pressure – including a plea from then US president Bill Clinton – he was released, ostensibly on medical grounds, and put on a plane to America. Now 68, Wei is hooked on Gauloises – strong French cigarettes that are hard to find in the US – but is otherwise in good shape. He runs his namesake foundation from his home, battling for human rights in China.
On Wednesday, he will mark a landmark anniversary – on December 5, 1978, he posted “The Fifth Modernization” on a wall in Beijing. The essay said that Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernizations” did not go far enough, and called for democracy to be a goal for China alongside the four Deng cited: the development of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense.