Michelle V. Agins / New York Times Photo

Chinese dissident Wang Dan arriving on April 21, 1998 at Newark International Airport after being exiled from China.

November 13, 2018

Wang Dan, Student Leader From Tiananmen Square Protest, to Speak at Cornell

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Nearly thirty years ago, a Peking University freshman organized one of the most consequential protests in modern Chinese history, making him one of the most wanted men in all of China after the government squashed the dissent. Now, he is bringing his contentious views on Chinese democratization to Cornell.

After serving a few years in a Chinese prison and earning a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University, Wang Dan — the world-famous student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests against the Chinese government — will speak on Wednesday in Kaufman Auditorium at 6:30 p.m.

The speaker at the event will address whether the U.S. should “actively support democratization in China,” according to the event’s Facebook page. The event is co-hosted by the Cornell Political Union, Cornell Democrats, Cornell Republicans, Cornell Asian Pacific Student Union and Cornell International Affairs Society, according to John Sullivan ’20, CPU president.

Living in the United States, Dan currently addresses Chinese communities and students, said Michael Johns ’19, president of the Cornell Republicans and an opinion columnist for The Sun.

The government violently cracked down on the protests fueled by a yearning for democratization, killing “hundreds to thousands” of Chinese student demonstrators, Johns said. Dan was no exception to the crack down — Johns said he was listed as “most wanted” by the Chinese government of the protesters that escaped death.

Johns praised Dan for exemplifying “ the inherent desire in all people to be free,” urging Cornellians to go see the democratic reformer.

“His efforts are a testament to the bravery of the human spirit, and the lengths that human beings are willing to go to achieve that freedom and earn peace,” Johns said. “I believe that it’s important for Cornellians to connect with this idea and to understand the price of freedom, especially given our detached position safe in the woods of upstate New York.”

Sullivan echoed Johns’ sentiment, saying that he hopes Wang’s history of standing up for his principles will resonate with Cornellians.

“We hope that Dr. Wang will inspire Cornellians to stand up for their values,” Sullivan said. “Though he’s risked death, spent seven years in prison, and was exiled from the country he loves, he continues to challenge the authoritarian one-party state and speak out against the Chinese’ government’s human rights abuses.”