Hongkongers yesterday recalled Fang Lizhi as an inspirational leader and expressed disappointment that he was never able to return to the mainland from exile in the United States.
'He was the representative of intellectuals of his generation who strove for democracy in China,' said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.
Lee said Fang had supported students striving for democracy in China since 1986.
'He was inspirational and enlightened many students. But I was saddened and felt regret at the fact that he has not been able to return to his homeland while he was alive,' said Lee, who urged the Beijing government to allow other exiled dissidents to return to the mainland.
Ching Cheong, a veteran journalist who was imprisoned on the mainland accused of spying for Taiwan, said: 'His enlightened thoughts on democracy could have helped China. His forced exile for the past 20 years has been a great loss to China's democratic development.'
Veteran democrat Dr Yeung Sum said Fang's keynote quote from the 1980s that, 'Democracy is not something that can be granted', had influenced the younger generation on the mainland at that time.
'In the Chinese constitution, it was thought that democracy and freedom were granted by the government and the Communist Party. But Professor Fang pointed out to the students that those values should be people's natural rights, rather than be granted by the authorities.
'It had great ideological impact among the students at that time,' said Yeung.
He said he was saddened by the fact that Fang was forced into exile and died in a foreign country. Yeung said he had met Fang when he visited the United States, and said he had kept a low profile in recent years.
'Professor Fang might have wanted to visit Hong Kong, but it was likely his entry would have been denied by the government after the handover in 1997, as was the case with attempts by other exiled dissidents to visit the city,' he said.