Dissident Physicist Fang Lizhi Dies

Astrophysicist and democracy activist Fang Lizhi has passed away in Arizona. A former professor at China’s University of Science and Technology, Fang was an eloquent and outspoken dissident who helped spearhead the democracy movement in the 1980s, which culminated in the 1989 protests and subsequent military crackdown. After seeking refuge in the U.S. embassy following the June 4 crackdown, Fang was granted asylum in the U.S. and continued to teach physics at the University of Arizona for the remainder of his life. From the New York Times:

A brilliant scientist — and in his early years a loyal member of the Communist Party — Mr. Fang had become China’s best-known dissident by the 1980s, his views shaped by persecution in China and exposure to Western political concepts abroad.

In early 1989, he published an open letter to China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, calling for the release of political prisoners. The letter helped galvanize a pro-democracy student movement that spring, peaking on June 4, when Chinese troops killed hundreds of student protesters among the masses occupying Tiananmen Square.

Fearing arrest, Mr. Fang sought refuge with his family at the United States Embassy in Beijing. President George Bush’s decision to grant him protection there provoked a yearlong diplomatic standoff with the Chinese that ended, after secret negotiations, with a decision by Chinese leaders in June 1990 to allow the family to leave China, ostensibly for medical treatment.

Mr. Fang later became a professor of physics at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he taught and continued to speak out on human rights until his death.

See Fang’s bio page from the University of Arizona and a 1988 essay about Fang by Orville Schell, “China’s Andrei Sakharov.” Fang was a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, including an essay last year, “My ‘Confession'” which discussed the events that transpired during his time in the U.S. embassy in 1989.


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