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Dissident Wang says he'll carry on fight for democracy in China

Wang Dan
Wang Dan  
April 23, 1998
Web posted at: 2:14 p.m. EDT (1814 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Speaking publicly for the first time in years, leading Chinese dissident Wang Dan told reporters Thursday that he's happy to be in a nation where he can breathe and think freely but that he'll never give up his fight for democracy in China.

"On the one hand I am naturally delighted to breathe free again, especially since I can now live and study in a free country like America," Wang said. "But on the other hand, I feel disturbed at having been forced to leave my own country, to live separately from my family, relatives and friends, and all of my compatriots without knowing when, if ever, I will be allowed to see them again."

Wang's statement at his Thursday news conference
icon 10 min. VXtreme video

Wang arrived in the United States on Sunday to begin a life in exile, after Beijing officials released him from prison on a medical parole. He was serving an 11-year sentence imposed in 1996.

The dissident, who rose to international prominence in June 1989 during the pro-democracy student demonstrations in Beijing, thanked the United States and human rights groups for pushing China to release him.

Wang also said China may have more political prisoners than any other nation in the world, and the United States, and others, should continue to press for their release.

The release of more political prisoners should be U.S. President Bill Clinton's top human rights issue when he travels to Beijing in two months, Wang said. Political prisoners are such a thorny issue in China that progress needs to be made in that area first; if that is done, progress in other human rights areas will follow, he said.

Wang's goals

The 29-year-old Wang told reporters he has two goals for his stay in the United States: to complete his university education and to continue to promote the democratization of China and the improvement of human rights conditions there.

Tiananmen Square
A protester confronts tanks during the 1989 democracy protest in Beijing  

"I feel that my country now stands at a crossroads: Will it move toward democracy and prosperity, or go stumbling toward chaos and collapse?" Wang said.

"I plan to devote my entire life to the struggle for democracy in China. I hope to continue using three criteria for measuring the worth of my actions: Have I been responsible to the Chinese people, to history, and to my own conscience?"

When asked how he planned to support himself in the United States, Wang emphasized that he does not want handouts. Instead, he said, he prefers to work on a campus while completing his education.

Wang was a student at Peking University in 1989 when he launched his controversial political career.

Nine years ago this week, Wang and other student leaders led a march to Tiananmen Square. For weeks, Wang, and others, could be seen extolling the virtues of democracy to thousands in the square. The images of Wang speaking to the crowds became some of the most enduring of the student protests.

On June 3 and 4 of that year, Chinese soldiers unloaded machine-guns on the crowds, killing hundreds.

After the massacre, Wang disappeared into the underground. He was placed on China's most-wanted list, and subsequently arrested and jailed for four years.

After his release, Wang continued speaking out for political freedom. Chinese officials detained him again in 1995. A year later, a Beijing court sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

Good health

Before his arrival in New York, Wang's first U.S.-stop was in Detroit, where he was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital. Doctors there evaluated him for medical problems that arose while Wang was in prison.

Wang told reporters on Thursday that the Detroit doctors said he suffers no serious health problems. They are treating him for a chronic cough brought on by mild asthma, Wang said.

The doctors also found no signs of a brain tumor during their evaluation, he added.

Chronic headaches and the fear that Wang might have been suffering from a brain tumor were part of the reason China agreed to his medical parole, Wang said.


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