It is sobering to think anyone can be sent to jail for six years, have his family blacklisted, and be told he can never come back to his home country. It is even more sobering when the crime is simply speaking out for the human rights we take for granted in Canada.
On Fri., May 28, Wang Dan, a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, spoke at the University of Calgary. Wang also placed a wreath at the foot of the Goddess of Democracy in memory of Tiananmen Square before addressing a crowd of about 200. Wang outlined his life history and answered questions from the audience at the MacEwan Student Centre Food Court.
"In 1989 I started at Beijing University and I tried to organize a forum, some propaganda for democracy," said Wang. "I attended all of the protest and all of the events that happened in 1989. After June 4 [the day of the government crackdown] I was arrested for over six years [in total]. I was released in 1993. After participating in democratic events to promote human rights I was rearrested in 1995. [In] 1998 I was released for medical problems."
Wang is currently an exile in the us studying for a Masters degree in modern Chinese history at Harvard.
Lyan Lee, representative coordinator for Wang's tour and Board director for the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, believes Wang is still an important figure although he no longer lives in China.
"In the past he [had a] symbolic meaning and [was] a model to promote and advocate democracy and human rights in China," she said. "Recently, some of his colleagues, University of Beijing students, were arrested and he [spoke] up for them and drafted a statement to give to the United Nations."
Since most of the talk was in question and answer format, Wang covered a wide variety of topics, including his thoughts on the future of China, what countries like Canada should be doing to promote human rights in China and whether economic success can come before human rights. Wang believes that there is no evidence supporting the idea that the killing and repression of human rights in China is responsible for the increased economic prosperity.
"A civilized society should be, basically, [that] the civil rights of the citizens should be respected and the government could not overstep their power whenever they like," said Wang through an interpreter. "I was asked... if sacrificing [thousands of human lives] is worth the 10 years of relative peace and prosperity. I asked those people who support [that] opinion: what kind of right do you have to ask the dead people [to sacrifice their lives] in exchange for the prosperity you are enjoying today? Even [if] we accept these high practices (that killing 200,000 [is a fair exchange for] our economic stability and prosperity), does this mean we can use this killing to achieve any of the goals we want?"
The Students' Union co-sponsored the event, helping with advertising and giving permission to use MacEwan Student Centre.
"We heard the organizers were having trouble finding a venue in Chinatown, so we thought we could help out," said SU Vice-president Events Jared Lorenz. "By supporting this talk we are allowing the students of the University of Calgary to make a statement in support of democracy and human rights in China."
To commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, a rally outside the Chinese consulate in Calgary will take place Fri., June 4. Free screenings of the Oscar-nominated documentary Sunrise over Tiananmen Square will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre. On June 5, The Movement for Democracy in China will also be screening Gates of Heavenly Peace: The Massacre of Tiananmen Square at the U of C at 2 p.m. in Science Theatre 148.