Wed, Jan 22, 2003 - Page 8 News List

A troubled exile for Wei Jingsheng

By Dong Cheng Yu 董成瑜

"Wei Jingsheng's suggestions for dealing with China are unrealistic," said Andrew Nathan, professor of political science at Columbia. "Columbia University supported him financially in the hope that he would produce reports and books, share his experience of initiating the democracy movement in China, but he is unwilling to put pen to paper, and doesn't socialize with either students or teachers. He has contributed nothing to the university."

The blows kept coming. Many members of the overseas-Chinese democracy movement felt that Wei was stubborn and unrealistic (eg, in his call for the US to break off all economic and trade relations with China, and his opposition to the establishment of a democratic party in China). Added to this was the limited resources of the democracy movement, its internecine strife and his abandonment by many of his friends.

Wei is a chain smoker. Before lighting a new cigarette, he puts it under his nose for a deep whiff. He says it's a habit he acquired during his prison years. Before each interrogation, other inmates would remind him to bring back cigarette butts: "You'd bring them back and it would be like New Year's. Everyone would take a whiff and savor the smell before smoking."

I point out that the younger generation of democracy activists feel that he is unwilling to compromise and that his ideas are unrealistic. He replies, "That's utterly wrong! Why compromise when you're right? Those youngsters in `The First Tiananmen Generation' listen to everything I say. They basically feel that my opinions are their own opinions. I'm their leader, or at least their spiritual leader. Most of the moder-ates have a background of cozying up to the communists."

I'm taken aback as he names a few names and continues: "I feel strongly that the Chinese themselves are the ones really looking down on the Chinese people. Even if a foreigner hates me, he still accords me the deepest respect, knowing how exalted my position is, almost a saint. How could he not respect me? But Chinese people, they think, `You're nothing special, you're just another Chinese like me, only a bit famous.' Look at the Tibetans, they all praise the Dalai Lama, and when he shines, all the people of Tibet shine. We Chinese, we just want to trample on our own. I occupy such a high position that if you want to walk all over me, in the end it will be you who loses face."

Sitting on the sofa, feet bare and legs crossed, his current position is chairman of the "Overseas Liaison Conference of the Chinese Democracy Movement" (中國民主運動海外聯席會議), which he says has a couple of thousand members outside China. The deputy secretary-general of a democratic alliance has rushed from Japan just to accompany Wei on his visit to Taiwan and help arrange his schedule. During our conversation, the aide often gets up to clear the table for Wei. When all the matches are used up, he readily obliges when Wei says "Get me some matches."

Wei was born in 1950, not long after the late chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東) had proclaimed the PRC. Both his parents were intellectuals, fairly high up in government. He was bright and performed well academically, and his parents were intent on furthering his education. However, he graduated from junior high school just as the Cultural Revolution broke out and his education was brought to an abrupt end.

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