China: From Prison to Freedom

Issue Date April 2008
Volume 19
Issue 2
Page Numbers 88-93
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Read the full essay here.

We can hope that China’s autocratic rulers will take the initiative to grant their people political rights, but we cannot rely on them to do so. A democratic transition in China is most likely to occur through the growth of popular democratic forces. Our real hope lies with them. Our sacred duty is to nurture their growth.

About the Author

Yang Jianli, who grew up in China, was pursuing his Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of California–Berkeley when the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square were launched in 1989. He went back to China to take part in them, returning to the United States three days after the June 4 crackdown. The Chinese government labeled him a “hostile element,” refusing to allow him to return to China or to renew his passport when it expired. He went on to earn a second Ph.D. (in political economy at Harvard) and to become a leading advocate and activist for democratization in China. In 2002, he returned to China to investigate labor unrest there; lacking a valid passport, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. Released in April 2007, he was able to spend several months traveling in China before returning to the United States again in August 2007. This essay is based upon a talk he gave at the National Endowment for Democracy on 15 January 2008.

View all work by Yang Jianli