The Chinese leadership has committed a new blasphemy against universal human rights. They have used the distraction of the war in the Persian Gulf to intensify the repression of those fighting for democracy in China.
Wang Dan, the 22-year-old regarded as the foremost leader of the Tiananmen protests, whose thin face and earnest manner became familiar to millions of television viewers around the world in the spring of 1989, went on trial on Jan. 23. He was charged with "instigating counterrevolutionary propaganda." On Jan. 26 he was sentenced to four years in prison.Ren Wanding, an accountant and human-rights advocate, was sentenced to seven years. Liu Gang, a physics graduate student who organized the open-air "democracy salons" similar to teach-ins and who campaigned for freedom of the press and multiparty elections, also will be tried. He has been in solitary confinement since May for trying to organize a hunger strike commemorating the anniversary of June 4, 1989, and is expected to receive especially harsh punishment because he has not been "cooperative" since his arrest.
These three men are among those advocates of democracy named on the "21 Most Wanted" list after the crackdown. The government's charge against them is that this "tiny handful of people exploited student unrest to launch planned, organized and premeditated political turmoil, which later developed into a counterrevolutionary rebellion in Bei-jing. Their purpose was to overthrow the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and subvert the socialist People's Republic of China."
It is, I believe, a moral imperative for those who shared the hopes of those momentous days in Tiananmen Square to speak out now to bring pressure on the Chinese leadership, to let them know that their actions against the students are being held up to public scrutiny.
Albert Einstein, the forerunner in my own scientific field, said, "To keep silent before a crime is no different from being an accomplice to that crime." Even today, many Chinese still remember that, in the 1930s when the government persecuted many Chinese scholars and students, Einstein was one of the first to telegraph his concern and protest.
The fax communications and satellite TV coverage that characterized the days of the Beijing Spring vividly illustrated how we all live in the same global village - a village where there can be only one standard for human rights. That was the symbolic meaning of the Goddess of Democracy constructed in the very heart of China, in the square.
The struggle for human rights and liberty in China riveted the world's attention then. It should not be forgotten now.
For a long time, China's human rights situation received scant attention from the outside world, particularly because the Chinese government blocked all outside com-mun-i-cation. In fact, a great number of people believed that China had no record of human rights violations. And, of course, no record is the worst record of all.
The Tiananmen massacre shocked many people. It was the first time that they were able to see the extent of the leadership's cruelty and violence. In fact, the incident is just the tip of the iceberg: China's labor camps today, its gulags, number at least 978.
Because the true human rights situation in China has been hidden for such a long time and because of the great differences between China and the West in race and language, and because of the long-term separation of East and West, it is quite easy to view China's society and culture, and therefore its politics, as totally different from any other civilization in the world.
Some have even theorized, perhaps rationalized, that the Chinese don't need universally recognized human rights, and that universal principles of human rights don't fit China's experience.
This theory of "uniqueness" has been widespread in China and the West for a long while. It is the very basis, in fact, for the double standard with which the United States and other Western countries view Chinese affairs.
Grounds for condemnation of Mikhail Gorbachev - such as repression in the Baltics - are completely ignored in China. China's affairs, we are told, should be judged by "Chinese standards." In this way, violence against and persecution of those striving for democracy in China become "understandable," and rulers who slaughter the innocent become "acceptable."
Thus, the actions of Chinese leaders are tolerated or even encouraged in a disguised fashion - for example, through the revocation or relaxation of the kind of economic sanctions that were placed on South Africa for decades because of its human rights record.
But, if the Tiananmen movement proved anything, it was that the Chinese people want the same freedoms as everyone else. The Chinese do not have a value system any different from the rest of the world.
In politics, double and multiple standards are short-sighted. More and more, the global village faces common problems: population, energy, the environment, global warming and deforestation. But, when a government exists that can be proud of the Tiananmen massacre, when a dictatorship still stands that refuses to apply universally recognized principles to control its own behavior, how can we possibly cooperate on other global problems?
All evil fears justice and morality. Therefore, I am strongly confident that if the world community continues to uphold human rights as a universal standard, the power that opposes human rights in mainland China today will follow those powers that have already died in places such as Eastern Europe and Latin America. They will finally be defeated.
China's advocates for democracy need the world community's help now. The place to begin is with international condemnation of these trials.
991, New Perspectives Quarterly
Distributed by L.A. Times Syndicate