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    Chinese idiots and the fight for democracy

    Beatings, torture and repeated jail terms did nothing to dissuade Chinese activist Wei Jingsheng (1950- ) from his staunch advocacy of democracy and scathing attacks on Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, calling him an “idiot,” in letters written from his prison cell.

    Wei was a teenage student in the notorious Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution. A few years later he was an electrician in Beijing’s Zoo. He got into trouble with China’s Communist Party in November 1978 by posting on Beijing’s Democracy Wall a document calling for democracy to be added to China’s “Four Modernizations,” and later publishing a letter denouncing inhuman conditions in the jail where the Tenth Panchen Lama was imprisoned.

    From 1979 to 1997, Wei spent 15 years in Chinese jails. He was subjected to lengthy periods of solitary confinement, beatings, sleep deprivation, noise and light torture, inadequate food and medical treatment. He developed arthritis, high blood pressure, a serious heart condition, and his teeth rotted and fell out.

    Prison did nothing to silence Wei. From his cell he wrote to Deng, “You’re problem is that you have too much ambition, too little talent, and you’re narrow-minded,” as recorded in the 1997 English translation of his book The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings.

    In another letter, Wei wrote to Deng: “I’ve long known that you are precisely the kind of idiot to do something foolish like this, just as you’ve long known that I am precisely the kind of idiot who will remain stubborn to the end and take blows with his head up. We know each other well; probably better than anyone can imagine. It’s just that we have an intimate mutual disgust that probably also exceeds anyone’s imagination.”

    Wei’s treatment by the Chinese authorities drew international condemnation. He was finally released from prison and deported to the United States, largely due to the efforts of Bill Clinton. A New York City area resident but still a Chinese citizen, Wei has garnered a host of prestigious democracy and human rights awards.

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