Skip to content Skip to navigation

Wang Dan press conference statement

April 23, 1998

The Harold M. Proshansky Auditorium
The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, April 23, 1998, 11 a.m.

Jointly sponsored by Amnesty International, Human Rights in China,
Human Rights Watch, and the New York Academy of Sciences

Wang Dan's Statement

Ladies, gentlemen, and friends:

Greetings! I am delighted to be able to meet with friends from the world press here today.

I would like to say a few words before entertaining your questions. I would, first, like to thank the many groups and individuals both inside and outside China and around the world for the concern and support they have shown over many years for democracy and human rights in China and for me in particular. I wish also to thank the governments of the United States and other democratic countries, and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch/Asia, Human Rights in China, Amnesty International, and the Human Rights Committee of the New York Academy of Sciences for their tireless efforts in seeking my release. I am grateful as well to the City University of New York for its cooperation in arranging this press conference.

Nonetheless, my feelings rights now are mixed. On the one hand I am naturally delighted to breathe free again, especially since I can now live and study in a free country like America. But on the other hand, I feel disturbed at having been forced to leave my own country, to live separately from my family, relatives, and friends, and all of my compatriots, without knowing when, if ever, I will be allowed to see them again.

The Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit has given me attentive care and a thorough physical examination. The results show that, except for a chronic cough brought on by mild asthma, I suffer no serious health problems. Accordingly, while I continue to follow doctors' orders regarding the cough, I hope to find a university where I can continue my education. Some friends have already begun making inquiries for me.

I will have two goals during my time in America: the first will be to complete my education, and the second to do what I can to promote the democratization of China and to improve the state of human rights in China. The reason why I list my education first is that I am acutely aware that I still have considerable growing room for my understanding of things and for the development of my personal character. I know that if I really want to do well with my second goals -- that is, pressing for political progress in China -- there can be no substitute for solid educational grounding.

My ideal for myself is to become an independent and free-thinking intellectual. I hope that some day I will make a scholarly contribution of some kind. But I also feel strongly that intellectuals have a natural duty to be concerned about matters of society; indeed, I feel that to criticize authority and dictatorship, and to stand up for freedom and tolerance, is an unshirkable responsibility of the intellectual.

I feel that my country now stands at a crossroads: will it move toward democracy and prosperity, or go stumbling toward chaos and collapse? The duty to answer this question, I feel, rests with every Chinese person, and will be decided by the daily-life choices that every Chinese citizen makes. I just happen to be more zealous than some. Whatever methods I might use, and whatever achievements I might attain, my goal is not going to change. I plan to devote my entire life to the struggle for democracy in China. I hope to continue using three criteria for measuring the worth of my actions: have I been responsible 1) to the Chinese people, 2) to history, and 3) to my own conscience?

Today, as I speak at this spot in one of the freest cities on earth, I feel a special duty to speak for the courageous people who remain trapped inside some of the least free of spots in the whole world -- the cells of the Chinese prison system. It would be wrong if the world's concern for me and for a few famous dissidents were to draw attention away from the legion of less known Chinese political prisoners. These include Liu Nianchun, Li Hai, Gao Yu, Liu Xiaobo and many, many others. The outcry of world opinion has always been immensely important inside China. Let us resolve to work together until every last one of China's political prisoners has regained his or her freedom.

I dream of a day in China when the ideas of freedom, democracy, human sympathy, tolerance, and equality have pervaded people's hearts and minds and have radically transformed the patterns of social life. When that day comes, we can cease our tears, forget every painful memory, and watch China advance toward a magnificent and brilliant new day. If we all work hard for that day to come, it will, I believe, come.

Thank you.

Also In Attendance at Today's Press Conference

Joseph L. Birman, Distinguished Professor of Physics at City College and City University of New York, is chair of the Committee on Human Rights of Scientists at the New York Academy of Sciences. Dr. Birman holds a Ph.D. degree in theoretical chemistry from Columbia University and an Honorary Doctorate from the University de Rennes in France. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Society, and a board member of Human Rights in China and the Committee of Concerned Scientists.

Curt Goering is Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, and has been involved with AI at many levels for sixteen years. He is chief operating officer for the US section of Amnesty. He has carried out several research assignments in the field for Amnesty's International Secretariat in London in the Israeli Occupied Territories, in the refugee camps on the Iraq/Turkey border; and in Bosnia, among others.

Sidney Jones has been executive director of Human Rights Watch/Asia since 1989. From 1985 to the end of 1988, she was Indonesia/Philippines/Pacific researcher at Amnesty International in London, and from 1977 to 1984 was a program officer with the Ford Foundation, first in Jakarta, later in New York. She holds degrees in Oriental Studies and International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Jones has written extensively on human rights in Asia with a particular focus on Indonesia.

Li Shuxian, a former professor of physics at Beijing University, came to the U.S. in 1990 with her husband, astrophysicist and leading human rights activist Fang Lizhi. After the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing, they were listed as Nos. 1 and 2 on the Ministry of Public Security's September 1989 List of Major Criminals Not Yet Caught. The couple had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing until their departure from China could be negotiated.

Liu Gang, a graduate student in physics at the time of the June 1989 pro-democracy movement, served a six-year prison sentence for "conspiracy to subvert the government. He was No. 3 on the government's "most wanted" student list. After his release in June 1995, he was not permitted to return to school and persistent surveillance and harassment by Chinese authorities made it impossible for him to earn a living. On April 27, 1996, Liu Gang escaped from China. He is currently studying computer science at Columbia University in New York

Perry Link is a professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, where he specializes in modern Chinese language, literature, and cultural history. His most recent book is Evening Chats in Beijing. He is a board member at Human Rights in China and Human Rights Watch, Asia division.

Liu Qing came to the United States in 1992 as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. One of the first dissidents allowed to come to the West, he is now chairman of New York-based Human Rights In China. He was first sentenced in 1979 for his role in the Democracy Wall movement and for publishing a transcript of Wei Jingsheng's trial. He had his sentence extended for smuggling out an account of his life in the labor camp. Liu Qing is on the Chinese government's blacklist, and cannot return to China.

Wang Juntao, labeled as one of the "black hands" behind the 1989 pro-democracy, served four and a half years of a thirteen-year sentence before being released on medical parole on April 22, 1994 and being exiled to the United States. The charges against him included "conspiracy to subvert the government" and "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement." Now a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Columbia University in New York, Wang Juntao is a director of the China Strategic Institute.

Xiao Qiang, the Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), came to the United States in 1986 to enter the doctoral programin astrophysics at the University of Notre Dame. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, Xiao began working as a full-time human rights activist. He acted as deputy director of the Washington-based Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) before he assumed his current position at HRIC in April 1991.