Five years ago, 17 years of imprisonment for political dissent finally came to an end for Wei Jingsheng (
The US expected an influential Chinese democratic thinker. But Wei is not highly educated, speaks no English and tends to be uncompromising -- and unrealistic. He has had problems with the US government, with money and with life in general, and the Americans have lost patience with him.
Wei is still wielding the same sword with which he used to fight the Chinese dictatorship, but on the streets of the US, a land completely foreign to him. He has looked around and concluded that the enemy is no longer just the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and this has caused him to lose direction.
Like so many others who have been imprisoned for long periods of time, Wei looks much younger than his 52 years.
A lost expression often passes over his face when he becomes inattentive. In TV studios or during seminars, this look often appears when it's no longer his turn to speak. He may give the speaker a lost look and sometimes his gaze seems to be suspended in time and space, giving the impres-sion that he is not listening to the other speakers.
As soon as it is his turn to speak, however, the words trip off his tongue like cogs clicking into a chain and he speaks with utter fluency. During his most recent visit to Taiwan, he had a full schedule, including interviews with the media, visits with politicians and television appearances. At each occasion, he had to speak constantly, offering his opinions about anything and everything.
He has developed a habit that he may not even be aware of -- whoever he meets, he says what that person wants to hear.
Having dinner with the TSU, he spoke appreciatively of former president Lee Teng-hui (
This kind of life, always being prepared to have something to say, began in November 1997 when Wei was released from prison to go to the US for medical treatment and became the most important leader in the overseas- Chinese democracy movement.
In his hotel room, he sits down and immediately lights a cigarette, and says: "I spent so many years in prison. It was very quiet, almost no one spoke to me. Now that I'm out, it's very noisy."
Five years later, opportunities for him to air his views in the US have diminished. When he first arrived, he met with then US president Bill Clinton and the eyes of the media focused on him, while universities targeted him for recruitment. He accepted a research offer from Columbia University and was given an office and an apartment.
Three years later, however, the university had come to the view that, "Over the past three years, Wei Jingsheng has made no contributions to academic research at Columbia," and he was asked to leave.