Biographies for Honorees of 2008 Democracy Award


Born in 1971 and blind since childhood, Chen Guangcheng is a self-taught lawyer and activist in Shandong province who has represented hundreds of villagers in rights-violation cases. In his most famous case, Chen filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Linyi over an official policy of forced abortions and sterilizations. In September 2005, Chen was abducted by authorities and placed under house arrest. Then in 2006, Chen was arbitrarily detained, then tried on a sham criminal charge and was sentenced to four years and three months in prison, where he has been abused. In addition, local Chinese authorities continue to harass and threaten his wife, Yuan Weijing.

Dr. Teng Biao is a scholar and lecturer at the Law School of the China University of Political Science and Law and practices law at the Beijing Huayi Law Firm, where he is a leading innovator in rights defense law, case strategy, and legal analysis, and has been counsel in numerous human rights cases, including those of Chen Guangcheng and Hu Jia. While he continues to teach, authorities restrict Teng’s movements and harassment has begun to escalate. Authorities recently refused to renew Teng Biao’s lawyer’s license because of his willingness to represent Tibetans supposedly involved in the March 2008 protests.

Li Heping is a partner at Beijing Global Law Firm and has built a strong reputation as a defense lawyer in a large number of politically sensitive cases. Many of those he represents are Christian family churches, members of the Falun Gong, independent writers, and victims of forced eviction. He, along with five other lawyers, filed a landmark brief regarding the state’s right to determine the definitions for categories of religions. Over the last year, Li has been has been suffering escalating harassment including kidnapping, torture, and other physical intimidation.

Li Baiguang is a practicing lawyer who specializes in administrative law cases and the rule of law with respect to religious belief and practice. He is a “house church” Protestant himself, and has taken on numerous cases promoting freedom of religion. He works to raise awareness among house church leaders of their legal rights, while simultaneously demanding that the government comply with its own laws and regulations related to religion. He was arrested and detained on December 14, 2004, after bringing legal action on behalf of over 100,000 peasants who were forcibly evicted from their land; and since his release, he has been detained and physically attacked many times.

Cyber Dissident, Zhang Jianhong (pen name, Li Hong), a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, was sentenced in March 2007 to a six-year sentence for “incitement to subversion of state power.” Zhang is a well-respected writer in China, who contributed regularly to liberal-minded publications in China and to Chinese websites abroad. In August 2005, he founded the popular research and literary site “Aegean Sea” (, which was shut down by authorities in March 2006. He is currently hospitalized for partial paralysis and is continuing to serve his sentence despite numerous motions for medical parole. In the early 1990s, Zhang served a year and a half in a re-education-through-labor camp for participating in the 1989 prodemocracy movement.

Yao Fuxin is a 57-year-old labor leader from northern China who is currently serving a seven-year sentence for leading peaceful demonstrations protesting corruption and unpaid wages in Liaoyang City in 2002. A former worker at the Liaoyang Steel Rolling Mill, Yao was one of a group of 10 workers who traveled to Beijing in 1998 to petition central authorities about corruption in the city, to no avail. Despite a UN ruling that Yao’s arrest was arbitrary, he remains in prison where he has suffered a heart attack, a possible stroke, and other ailments, but has been repeatedly denied medical parole. He is due for release in 2010.

Hu Shigen, a labor and political activist, university lecturer, and writer, is one of the few remaining Chinese citizens charged with “counterrevolutionary crimes” to remain in prison, due for release in 2010. He was arrested in September 1992 for planning activities in several of China’s major cities commemorating the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and for planning to establish the Preparatory Committee of the Free Labor Union of China. Hu was a founding member of the China Freedom and Democracy Party and campaigned for government accountability for the violent suppression of the democracy movement in June 1989.

Roundtable Participants

Bob Fu founded the China Aid Association (CAA) after he and his family came to the United States from China in 1996. CAA monitors and reports on religious freedom in China, particularly focusing on the fate of believers who belong to banned or unofficial house churches, which encompass 60 to 80 million followers. CAA issues frequent news releases on cases of religious persecution involving Protestant house church congregations, and assists victims to assert their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice in China.

CAA also provides a forum for discussion and information exchange among experts on religion, law, and human rights in China through its bilingual journal, the China Law & Religion Monitor, and a bilingual website.

Fu was a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He later converted to Christianity and became a house church pastor and a founder, along with his wife, Heidi, of a Bible school. He was arrested and jailed in 1996. After his release, he came to the U.S. and studied theology and founded the China Aid Association in 2002.

As a 26-year-old railway electrician, Han Dongfang emerged as the leader of China’s first independent labor union since 1949, the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation, during the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement. After the massacre in Beijing on June 4, Han set off on his bicycle on what he expected to be a one- or two-year cross-country trip designed to help him learn more about working conditions in China. On June 19, Han found out to his surprise that he was on the “most-wanted” list, and turned himself in to the police. Han was never tried or sentenced. At the end of April 1991, after he contracted drug-resistant tuberculosis in prison, he was permitted to return home. In 1992, when it was clear his health was not improving, he was permitted to travel to the U.S. for treatment, including removal of a lung.

In 1993, Han tried to return to China to continue his work, but was turned back at the Hong Kong border, where Chinese authorities refused him admission. That year he received NED’s Democracy Award.

Han stayed in Hong Kong, where he founded China Labour Bulletin in 1994 to promote worker rights and trade unionism in China. Since 1997, he has also hosted an influential weekly Radio Free Asia program on labor issues that reaches an estimated 40 million people in China. He also serves on the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy. Han continues to be in daily contact via phone and e-mail with workers in China.

Sharon Hom is Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), the well-known nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded by Chinese scientists and scholars in March 1989.  Its mission is to promote international human rights and advance the institutional protection of these rights in the People’s Republic of China. HRIC’s education, research, and advocacy strategies aim to support the work of local civil society groups in promoting the process of economic, administrative, and legal reform, and to generate international pressure in support of such reform.

Named by the Wall Street Journal as one of “50 Women to Watch” in 2007, Hom is Professor of Law Emerita at the City University of New York School of Law and has over 14 years of experience in USA-China legal exchanges and training programs. She was a Fulbright Scholar in the People’s Republic of China and a Scholar-in-Residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. She also participated as an independent expert at the World Summit on the Information Society’s International Symposium on the Information Society and Human Dignity. She served on the USA-China Committee on Legal Education Exchange with China, and sits on the board of Human Rights Watch/Asia, and on the Committees on Asian Affairs and International Human Rights of the Bar Association of the City of New York.

Wang Tiancheng, a friend and colleague of Hu Shigen, is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Mr. Wang earned his B.A. from Hunan Normal University and his law degree from Peking University, where he served as law lecturer.

He was active in the 1989 prodemocracy movement and later helped found an independent political party, the Liberal and Democratic Party of China, and was involved in the Free Labour Union of China. He was detained in December 1991 and charged with “actively taking part in a counter-revolutionary group” and “carrying out counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” In 1992, he was sentenced to a five-year prison term.

Since his release in 1997, Mr. Wang has published influential and prize-winning papers on the rule of law and constitutionalism in China, and has called publicly for a reconsideration of government policies on Tibet.

Trained as a theoretical physicist, Xiao Qiang became a full-time human rights activist after the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He currently directs the China Internet Project at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the founder and publisher of China Digital Times, a leading independent China news portal.

Xiao was Executive Director of the New York-based NGO Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002 and has served as Vice-Chairman of the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy. He delivered an oral intervention at each meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva from 1993 to 2001, and has testified many times before the U.S. Congress, most recently on issues related to Internet freedom. Xiao received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in 2001 and is profiled in Soul Purpose: 40 People Who Are Changing the World for the Better (Melcher Media, 2003).

A scholar in Chinese democratic constitutional theory, Dr. Yang Jianli participated in the June 4th Tiananmen Square prodemocracy demonstrations in 1989, after which he was blacklisted by the Chinese government and was forced to live in exile for his political activism.  In 1990, Dr. Yang founded the Foundation for China in the 21st Century, which produces the Web magazine and the book series China in the 21st Century.   He earned a doctorate in mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley (1991) and a second doctorate, in political economy and government, from Harvard University (2001). Dr. Yang returned to China in 2002 and was arrested and sentenced to a five-year prison term.  After his release in 2007, he returned to the US to continue his work. He is now President of Initiatives for China, a group with offices in Boston and Washington dedicated to the long term goal of building a constitutional democracy in China.