Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will present Chinese democracy activist Wei Jingsheng with the 1998 Democracy Award of the National Endowment for Democracy at a ceremony this evening at 6:00 p.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 106 (Constitution Avenue and First Street, NE). A co-recipient of the award, Wang Dan, who remains jailed in a Chinese prison will also be honored. "Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan, and the other dissidents and prisoners of conscience in China are the legitimate heirs to the legacy of our founding fathers. It is an honor to be part of an event that pays tribute to these great men and women," Pelosi said.
Mr. Wei and Mr. Wang were chosen as recipients in recognition of their courageous and unflagging dedication to promoting human rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law in China. Together, these men represent the two generations of the post-Mao democracy movement in China--the generation of the Democracy Wall movement of 1978-79, of which Wei Jingsheng is the preeminent figure, and the generation of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, whose democratic aspirations and values Wang Dan has espoused with exemplary eloquence, integrity, and self-sacrifice.
Wei Jingsheng was an electrician when his talents as a writer and activist became evident in 1978-79. He was arrested in 1979 and sentenced to prison, where--until his release--he spent more than 17 of the past 18 years. His most famous essay, "The Fifth Modernization," argued that late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's economic reform program would not result in a genuine transformation of society unless accompanied by democratic political reform.
Wang Dan, formerly a history student at Beijing University, was one of the foremost student leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. He was arrested in June 1989 and sentenced to four years in prison. After his release, he resumed his efforts to promote human rights. He was arrested again in 1995, and, after being detained incommunicado for 17 months, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, where he remains.
The award to Mr. Wang will be presented by Representative Christopher Cox (R-CA), and accepted by Li Shuxian, who played an active role in the Chinese pro-democracy movement prior to her forced exile to the United States in 1989.
Other recipients of the award include Martin C.M. Lee (Hong Kong), Elena Bonner (Russia), Monique Mujawamariya (Rwanda), Violeta Chamorro (Nicaragua), Vaclav Havel (Czech and Slovak Federative Republic), Vesna Pesic (Serbia), and Sergio Aguayo Quezada (Mexico).
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