Tiananmen Square crackdown

Tiananmen protest student leader Wang Dan plans China think tank

Dissident to return to US from Taiwan to promote democracy in policy change on the mainland

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 January, 2017, 10:00am

Former Tiananmen protest leader Wang Dan said he planned to set up a think tank calling for policy change and democracy in China when he returned to the United States later this year, but still hoped to return to his homeland one day.

Wang said he would leave his teaching positions in Taiwan and return to the US in June to “advocate human rights and democracy” on the mainland, in a video post on his Facebook page.

“Of course I still hope to return to China one day,” Wang said in a reply to a question from the South China Morning Post. “The changes I hope to advocate can only happen from within China.”

Wang Dan: the guardian of democracy

The exiled student leader, now 47, was jailed after the Chinese Communist Party cracked down on tens of thousands of university students and other protesters who demanded democracy and an end to corruption in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

After spending more than six years in prison, the government permitted him to go to the US on medical parole where he stayed until he started teaching politics and history at different Taiwanese universities in 2009.

The past two years have been especially tough for Wang as he had to teach six sessions of lectures at two universities each week. Wang said he had suffered occasional intense headaches for years, but his daily work schedule, plus four hours of commuting and only six hours of sleep on his teaching days, had done nothing to improve the condition.

“These seven years of teaching in Taiwan have put quite a lot of pressure on me, with some negative impact on my health. I think I need to rest for a period of time,” he said in the video, which received more than 1,000 comments wishing him good luck despite many saying that they did not want to see him go.

Wang Dan's mother held amid Nobel talk

Wang, who is now a permanent US resident, also wished that he could bring his parents, both in their 80s and living in Beijing, to live with him in Washington.

However, he told the Post that he would probably remain as busy as ever when he returned to the US. His first project will be to launch the think tank he has been discussing with some of his friends for nearly two years.

He hopes to attract other talent, especially Chinese students who are currently studying in the US, to discuss and suggest policy changes for China.

“Change in China could happen at any time, and it will happen suddenly,” Wang said. “It is not right for us always to want China to change, but not be prepared for it when it happens.”

The political academic said he expected Donald Trump’s presidency would create harsher economic conditions for China’s already slowing economy, which he believed would threaten political stability on the mainland.

Young actors embrace the spirit of Wang Dan

He said that when he was a Peking University student in round glasses, speaking through a megaphone to thousands of his peers in Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing 27 years ago, he would have never imagined himself organising a policy discussion platform in his middle-age.

“When I was young, I was all about rebelling. It was all that I could do. But I am no longer young and I now think it is more important for me to do things that are constructive,” he said.

“My goal is always to do away with the Chinese Communist Party and not let it ruin China.

“I will work hard from wherever life takes me. But apart from work, I am already planning to travel to Japan, Greece and Argentina,” he added excitedly.