FEATURE: Achieving the impossible worth fighting for: Wang Dan

By Kao Chia-ling and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff Reporter, with Staff Writer

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 - Page 3

When people mention Wang Dan (王丹), the first thing that springs to most people’s mind is the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre because of his role as one of the student leaders who protested against the Chinese government.

However, for the 60,000 fans of Wang’s Facebook page, the human rights advocate’s weightloss efforts are as praiseworthy as his work for democracy.

While most people welcomed this year with New Year’s resolutions such as getting a better job or saving more money, Wang made a resolution on his Facebook page — which he said has become his addiction — to lose about 7kg.

“I have tried literally everything to lose weight, because being an idealist means to endeavor to achieve the unachievable,” Wang said.

Saying that the fundamentals of pushing for China’s democratization and that of losing weight were practically the same, Wang said that the greatest sense of accomplishment usually comes from achieving what seemed impossible and was worth spending a lifetime fighting for.

Inspired by his personal experiences of going from being an imprisoned dissident in China and an exile in the US to a doctoral graduate from Harvard University and an visiting assistant professor at Taiwan’s Tsing Hua University, Wang seeks to teach his ideology to his students, especially those from China.

“Talking about the difficulty of achieving something is meaningless. Bringing democracy to China is difficult, and losing weight is no easy task either, but should we just sit back and do nothing?” Wang asked.

Turning to his addiction to Facebook, Wang said he spent an average of three to four hours a day engrossed in the social networking site and that frequently updating his Facebook status had become a habit for him.

Except for his long-time endeavor to campaign for democracy and human rights in China and worldwide, Wang said he was not much different from others.

“I also hang out with friends for a couple of drinks and am sometimes a little poetic or even shed tears in the moonlight,” he said.

However, Wang said being a renowned democracy advocate had its drawbacks.

“It is horrifying to be stared at in public, so I always put on a mask to keep a comfortable distance from the public,” Wang said, adding that despite the disguise, some people still recognized him.

After 24 years, the Tiananmen crackdown continues to remain at the center of Wang’s conversations with almost everyone, he said.

“Although I am getting tired of topics surrounding the incident, I have to admit that it has become an integral part of my life,” he said.

While self-mockery seems to have helped Wang embrace his past in a more light-hearted manner, sitting in a movie theater appears to have the same therapeutic effect for a man who considered himself a “born optimistic idealist.”

“‘Brainless’ Hollywood movies are good for releasing pressure, especially those whose names you would forget the minute you walk out of a theater,” Wang said.