Wang Dan

This article is about the Chinese dissident. For other uses, see Wang Dan (disambiguation).
Wang Dan
Wang Dan
Born (1969-02-26) 26 February 1969
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Alma mater Peking University
Harvard University
Employer National Tsing Hua University
Wang Dan
Chinese 王丹

Wang Dan (born February 26, 1969) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, was one of the most visible of the student leaders in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Wang holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University. From August 2009 to February 2010, Wang taught cross-strait history at Taiwan's National Chengchi University, as a visiting scholar.[1] He later taught at National Tsing Hua University.[2] Besides conducting research on related topics, Wang is still active in promoting democracy and freedom for China. He travels the world to garner support from overseas Chinese communities as well as from the general public at large.

Wang Dan is a friend of fellow activists Wang Juntao and Liu Gang.


Wang Dan was born in 1969. He was a politically active student at the Peking University department of history, organizing "Democracy Salons" at his school. When he participated in the student movement that led to the 1989 peaceful protest, he joined the movement's organizing body as the representative from Peking University. As a result, after the Tiananmen Square protests, he immediately became the "most wanted" on the list of 21 fugitives issued. Wang went into hiding but was arrested on July 2 the same year, and sentenced to four years imprisonment in 1991. After being released on parole in 1993, he continued to write publicly (to publications outside of mainland China) and was re-arrested in 1995 for conspiring to overthrow the Communist Party of China[3] and was sentenced in 1996 to 11 years. However he was released early and exiled to the United States of America (see below).

Wang resumed his university studies, starting school at Harvard University in 1998 and completing his master's in East Asian history in 2001 and a Ph.D. in 2008. He also performed research on the development of democracy in Taiwan at Oxford University in 2009. He is currently the chairman of the Chinese Constitutional Reform Association.

Wang was interviewed and appeared in the documentary The Beijing Crackdown and the movie Moving the Mountain, about the Tiananmen Square protests. He also featured prominently in Shen Tong's book Almost a Revolution.

He was banned from setting foot on mainland China with his passport expiring in 2003. He attempted to visit Hong Kong in 2004, but was rejected. At that time he was invited by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China to talk about politics ahead of the 15th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown.[3] Due to a typhoon, Wang finally landed in Hong Kong for the first time, though he was confined to the airport's restricted zone as he had no Hong Kong visa.[4]

Arrest and incarceration

Following the People's Liberation Army's crackdown on the protests, Wang Dan was placed on a list of the 21 “most wanted” student leaders of the protests.[5] Imprisoned on July 2, 1989, Wang spent nearly two years in custody before his trial in 1991.[6] Wang was charged with spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison; a relatively mild sentence compared to other political prisoners in China at this time. This short sentence was thought to be caused by two things; the government was unsure of what to do with so many students, and felt pressure due to their high-profile nature.[7] While incarcerated, Wang spent two years at Qincheng Prison, known for its high number of political prisoners. Despite the usual cramped conditions, because of his high-profile case, Wang was given his own cell.[8]

Wang was released in 1993, just months before the end of his sentence. Wang Dan himself has noted this was most likely related to China’s first bid for the Olympic Games since he and 19 other political prisoners were released only a month before the International Olympic Committee was to visit.[9] Almost immediately after his release in 1993 Wang began to promote democracy in China and contacted exiled political activists in the United States. He was arrested for a second time in May 1995; two months after an interview with the US based anti-communist periodical Beijing Spring. In this interview he states “"We should clear a new path and devote ourselves to building a civil society by focusing our efforts on social movements, not political movements, self-consciously maintaining a distance from political power and political organs.”(document 3) Wang was held in custody for 17 months before receiving the charge of “plotting to overthrow the government,” and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.[7]

Instead of serving his entire sentence, he was released in ostensibly for “medical reasons” and was sent immediately to the US where he was examined in hospital, and quickly released to live in the United States as an exiled political activist.[6] His release was not a coincidence, as his release and move to the United States followed an agreement between the United States and China. In this agreement the United States removed its support for a resolution criticizing China at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and in return China released political prisoners such as Wang.[7]

Exile in the United States

Not long after Wang Dan arrived in the United States, he began to criticize the Chinese government once again. Wang believes the CCP must change its ways, and in an interview with the US newspaper The Weekly Standard he states: “The key to democracy in China is independence. My country needs independent intellectuals, independent economic actors, independent spirits.”[7] Wang received his PhD from Harvard University in 2008, and continues to be actively involved in fighting for change in China. Two of his works include: “20 years after Tiananmen” which takes a look at how economic change has affected the Chinese people, and contains suggestions for social and human rights changes.[5] Wang also wrote “Rebuild China with an Olympic Amnesty” after his arrival in the United States; the document has a more positive outlook, as he felt international events such as the Olympic Games could shed light on human rights issues in China.[9] In 2007 Wang's second sentence expired and he was officially "released" and the certificate was issued to his parents on Oct 2, 2007.[10]

Looking back at Tiananmen

Wang Dan felt there were many things that could have been changed about the movement, and he has raised these issues, both during and after the movement. In an interview with the New York Times published 2 June 1989, Wang states, I think that the student movements in the future should be firmly based on something solid, such as the democratization of campus life or the realization of civil rights according to the Constitution,… Otherwise, the result is chaos.[11] Another issue Wang raises is the involvement of intellectuals in the movement, expressed in the New York Times interview as well as a 2008 interview titled “Tiananmen Remembered.”[6] In this source he believes that intellectuals were not used early enough in the movement, and their involvement may have changed the course of events. Despite pointing out failures, Wang feels the protests affected the mentality of many Chinese people, arguing the hunger strike was necessary as it allowed greater attention on the movement. (Document 1) In addition to this Wang feels that the crackdown, and the promotion of democracy got the attention of the entire nation, educating many people on democracy, a completely new idea for many Chinese people.[7]

Wang Dan today

Wang Dan has been productive in the years after his release from China. Wang has been able to publish articles such as “Rebuild China with an Olympic Amnesty” and “20 years after Tiananmen” as well as give public interviews. His exile in the United States allowed him to attend Harvard University to finish his education, and become Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Association. Wang Dan is currently teaching the history of the PRC at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan. While he was teaching a class in November 2010, a woman carrying a knife entered the room, intending to stab Wang. He was able to remove the knife from the woman before she had a chance to stab him. He believes that “this was the first time he faced what looked like an attempt on his life.” The woman had allegedly been stalking Wang for three years.[2]

According to a Chinese-language article from Radio Free Asia, as of July 2009, Wang Dan has a Facebook page that he hopes to use to communicate with people in mainland China.[12]

On China's economic development

Wang commented at a May 31, 2009, press conference in Toronto on the so-called "Beijing Doctrine": "For the sake of economic improvement, everything can be done, even killing people ... [such a doctrine shows that] the Tiananmen Massacre is still going on, only in different ways: it was the students' lives being taken physically in 1989, but it is the mind of the world being poisoned spiritually today." [13]

See also


  1. "Wang Dan to teach history". Taipei Times. May 22, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  2. 1 2 Huang, Jennifer (November 13, 2010). "Wang Dan attacked by knife-wielding woman". Taipei Times. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  3. 1 2 SCMP. "Dissident to apply for visa to visit Hong Kong," South China Morning Post. Retrieved on 2008-05-12.
  4. MingPao:
  5. 1 2 Wang Dan. “Twenty Years after Tiananmen.” New Perspectives Quarterly. 2009. Accessed Through Wiley-Blackwell.
  6. 1 2 3 Wang Dan and Xinran. 2009. “Tiananmen Remembered.” Index on Censorship. Accessed From Informaworld.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 David Aikman, “Wang Dan’s Witness” The Weekly Standard. June 22, 1998. Retrieved from LexisNexis.
  8. Wang Dan and Xinran. 2009. “Tiananmen Remembered.” Index on Censorship. Accessed From Informaworld. Pg 4.
  9. 1 2 Wang Dan. “Rebuild China with an Olympic Amnesty” New Perspectives Quarterly. 2008.
  10. "王丹办理刑满释放证明" [Wang Dan Officially Released], Radio Free Asia, October 3, 2007. (Chinese)
  11. WuDunn, Sheryl (June 3, 1989). "A Portrait of a Young Man as a Beijing Student Leader". New York Times. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  12. Tang, Qiwei (2009-07-05), 王丹希望和大陆网民通过Facebook交流 (Wang Dan of hope and the mainland Internet users through the exchange of Facebook), Radio Free Asia, retrieved 2010-05-13
  13. Wang Dan, speaking at a press conference on May 31, 2009. Available on YouTube: "A Sunday with a Former Student Leader."
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