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Wang Dan, a prisoner for an 11-year term until 1988 for advocating democracy in China, a leader of the student-led 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square and currently a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University, came to UC Irvine on May 25 to speak about the prospect of democracy for China.
Wang continues to be a leading activist in the movement as well as a respected commentator on the Chinese government.
Professor of economics Gary Richardson organized Wang’s visit, which was sponsored by UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy. Students and faculty members filled Social Science Plaza B 1208, where the talk was held.
In his introduction, Richardson recalled the first time he learned of Wang.
‘I met Wang Dan in 1996,’ Richardson said. ‘He might not remember. He was in China [and] I was in Berkeley watching a documentary.’
In his talk, Wang expressed his determination to see change in China’s future. Wang wishes to see a realization of what Chinese students and intellectuals in the 1989 protests were unable to accomplish.
‘[We] thought the only way to be rid of corruption is to have a democratic institution,’ Wang said. ‘It is obvious that corruption has become worse and worse in China. In the aftermath of [Tiananmen], the Communist Party refused any political reform.’
According to Wang, the government crackdown on the protests that ended on June 4, 1989 was a terrible setback for political reforms in China.
‘It was victory for corruption,’ Wang said.
During the Q-and-A session following his talk, Wang’s dialogue with the audience revealed his political predicaments.
In response to questions about his position on Taiwan’s independence, Wang emphasized that it is not relevant to the democratization of China.
‘One day in China, when democracy is realized, the Chinese government will allow space in the international community for Taiwan,’ Wang said through his interpreter.
‘My take is if China still hasn’t been democratized, then the [Chinese Communist Party] will make sure to watch [Taiwan],’ Wang said.
Wang suggested that democracy in China is not just of interest to mainlanders.
‘I think the first priority is to promote the democratization of China to secure [Taiwan’s] national security,’ Wang said. ‘The political reality [though] is not to support Taiwan now.’
‘I am not from Taiwan so whether Taiwan is independent or not has no personal relevance to me,’ Wang said. ‘[If] China is going to be democratized, I think it should be possible for the two parts to stay together.’
Wang also deterred a question regarding the controversy over the Falun Gong movement, which was suppressed in 1999 by the Chinese government after 10,000 practitioners peacefully protested outside of the government’s central headquarters Zhongnanhai. Wang instead said that Falun Gong’s interest lies in a democratic China.
Vivian Au, a second-year psychology major, attended the talk and found it informative.
‘I don’t know much about what’s going on in China,’ Au said. ‘I found it touching that Wang cares so much about China and it forced me to think about my relation to China as a person of Chinese origin who has not been there yet.’
Vicki Chan, a second-year history and political science double-major, also found the presentation interesting.
‘I just wonder if it’s feasible for China to make that transition to democracy in the recent future,’ Chan said. ‘But I don’t think it’s impossible at all. China has been and always is in a process of transformation.’

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