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  • China's Time Will Come
  • Fang Lizhi (bio)

All who care about democracy must be concerned about whether China can become a democratic country. In 1989, movements for democracy were successful in Eastern Europe but failed in China, thus giving rise to the question: Is it impossible for China to achieve democracy?

I am not an astrologer who makes predictions, but only an astrophysicist who has no way of foretelling most of China's future. But there is one point that I can predict with confidence: China will not be able to avoid moving toward democracy.

My reasons for this prediction are very simple. A democratic China fills the needs of both the Chinese people and the world. Some people say that China is a big country and a poor country, and that the most urgent need of the Chinese people is economic development—not democracy. This seems hard to deny. The facts show that modernization has been the goal of the Chinese people for a long time.

Time and again, however, Chinese efforts at modernization have ended in failure. The most recent example has been the economic reform movement that began in the late 1970s. This movement enjoyed some successes during the first part of the 1980s, but after 1987 it began gradually to slide toward failure. [End Page 50]

Why do Chinese efforts at modernization fail? Why do reforms fail? Why has the Chinese economy remained largely unsuccessful? Obviously, it is not because the Chinese people are not good at working or doing business. The economic success of overseas Chinese around the world belies such a conclusion. The problem has to do with the authoritarian political system in China. Therefore, without reform of China's political system, it will be impossible to bring about modernization. This is a basic reason why the Chinese people need democracy.

Of course, the Chinese people's need for democracy arises not only from the economic failures of the communist system, but also from its extreme inhumanity. It has trampled upon the dignity and the most basic rights and freedoms of its own citizens. This explains why the movements that have arisen to oppose communist regimes have always been movements dedicated to democracy and human rights. The pattern has been the same whether it appears in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, or China.

The true record concerning human rights in China has been hidden, because the Chinese authorities have thoroughly blocked communication about it. Some people have even been misled into believing that China has been free of human rights violations. Yet no record at all can be the worst of all. The Tiananmen massacre of 1989 shocked many people. It marked the first time that the outside world was able to see for itself how cruel and violent the behavior of the Chinese authorities can be. But the Tiananmen incident is only the tip of an iceberg. I cannot describe here the rest of that iceberg in its terrible entirety, but will mention just one item: there are, according to incomplete statistics, at least 876 labor camps in China. It is hard to say exactly how many people are in them, but we do know that the inmates of certain camps in Xinjiang Province number between 50,000 and 80,000. How many of these are political prisoners? Again we do not know, but one informed researcher has estimated 10 percent to be political prisoners.

Recently, the Chinese leaders used the distraction of the war in the Persian Gulf to intensify repression of those fighting for democracy and freedom in China. They have resumed the trials of students who took part in the peaceful demonstrations at Tiananmen. This is a new desecration by the Chinese authorities of the universal principles of human rights. It is clear that basic human rights cannot be guaranteed without a democratic government.

In sum, Chinese history teaches us that modernization requires democracy, and that human rights require democracy. This is why we Chinese must pursue a democratic China.

The world at large also needs a democratic China. Today, the human race lives within a common civilization, united by the mutual exchange of news, knowledge, and culture. It...


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