1998 Democracy Award Recipient Bios

Wei Jingsheng was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1979 for circulating articles he had written advocating democracy — most famously his bold essay “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy,” which said that the regime’s economic reform program called “The Four Modernizations” would be “a new lie” in the absence of real political participation by the people. He was released as a political gesture in 1993 shortly before the vote on China’s abortive bid to host the 2000 Olympics, then arrested once again and sentenced to 14 more years in prison. He was released only last November following Jiang Zemin’s visit to the United States.

Wang Dan was arrested in June 1993, having been marked number one on the government’s “most wanted” list following the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square. He, too, was released in a political gesture in 1993, in this case to influence the vote of the U.S. Congress on Most Favored Nation trading status for China. Like Wei, he resumed his advocacy of democracy and was arrested once again, held incommunicado for 17 months, and then sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in a pro forma trial that characteristically violated normal standards of justice. Wang remains in prison.