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Wang Discusses Chinese Reform

Exiled Tiananmen Leader Speaks at MIT

By Naveen Sunkavally

Wang Dan, the most prominent student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest in China, spoke to a packed 10-250 audience yesterday about his perspectives of China’s political future.

The talk by Wang, who was exiled in a gesture of good will by China to the United States on April 19 last year, was sponsored by MIT Amnesty International and MIT Society for Hong Kong-China affairs. Wang is now studying East Asian history as a graduate student at Harvard University.

Need for strong leadership

Wang opened the discussion by reading an article he wrote calling for strong Chinese political leadership to instill social stability. Using China’s treatment of the Falun Gong as an example, Wang said that China’s political atmosphere has become more repressive in recent years and that it’s social stability is fragile.

Without strong leadership, “the social transition will enter in the next five to ten years a period of earthquakes” and “massive turmoil.”

“China needs a strong force to create a functioning society,” Wang said.

Question and answer period

Speaking through a translator in the question-and-answer period, Wang defended the democratic movement in China and encouraged people here to play an active role in China’s future.

“How do you know what’s best for China?” asked one audience member, pointing out that Russia, since the introduction of democracy there, has suffered economically. Another audience member said that in Russia’s two revolutions this century only the top leaders were being exchanged, with the populace largely remaining in the same situation.

Wang acknowledged that China is doing well economically but said, “People not only need enough to eat but should be able to live with self-respect.” Wang said that, considering the cultural, economic, social, and aspects parts of a nation, democracy is the best system.

Wang also said that any move towards democracy would require a strong “constructive opposition” force rooted in the country to engage the populus. He said that in order to make the transition to democracy smooth, the new government must feature “enlightened Communist leaders.”

Many audience members expressed frustration over the state of China’s fragmented democratic movement.

“I am aware that Chinese people abroad are disappointed ... We do have to make a rational movement,” Wang said.

But he also said that people here must participate actively in China. Wang encouraged the post-Tiananmen generation to visit China to see the system first hand, because many Chinese-Americans here have become disconnected with their homeland.

“The leaders at Tiananmen have done their share,” Wang said. Now, of the 21 student leaders, Wang said that nine live in the United States and twelve remain in China --a few continuing to fight for democracy there while others have gone into commerce and business.