Fang Lizhi—who worked on his nation’s elite nuclear program in the 1950s—was one of the most brilliant Chinese scientists of his era. He was also the most courageous. In the 1980s, when he broke with communist orthodoxy and spoke out on human rights and democracy, he was the highest-ranking person in the People’s Republic ever to do so. His trenchant words inspired a generation of Chinese youth but led to his firing, expulsion from the Communist Party and forced exile, which lasted until his death. He once explained that it was the principles of science—which values doubt, independent judgment and egalitarianism—that led him to embrace human rights. How much did China lose by forcing a citizen with his gifts to live the last 22 years of his life in exile?
Link is an emeritus professor of East Asian studies at Princeton
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