Tiananmen Square at 35: top Chinese dissident looks back

Thirty-five years ago, Wang Dan was number one on China's most-wanted list. The student leader, who headed months of mass protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square, was arrested after the army violently removed the demonstrators and spent years in jail. Now living in exile in the US, he reflects on how the crackdown proved a turning point in Chinese history.

Following the military crackdown on 4 June 1989, Wang Dan was listed among the 21 most-wanted student leaders.

He was imprisoned on 2 July of that year and spent nearly two years in custody before being tried, in 1991, for "spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" and was sentenced to four years in prison.

He was released in 1993, likely due to China's bid for the Olympic Games, and immediately continued promoting democracy in China.

As a result, he was arrested again in May 1995 after interviews with the US-based Beijing Spring and other magazines, where he advocated to build civil society in a more democratic environment.

He was held for 17 months before being charged with "plotting to overthrow the government" and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

In 1998, Wang was released for "medical reasons" and sent to the United States, following an agreement between the US and China, under which the US withdrew support for a resolution criticising China in exchange for the release of political prisoners.

Wang visited Paris in May and RFI interviewed him in our studios.

RFI: How did 4 June 1989 change China?

In the 1980s, everybody talked about China's future. But today, people talk about the future of themselves.

Read more on RFI English

Read also:
China's ban on Tiananmen massacre commemorations extends to Hong Kong
Hong Kong in the sinister shadow of Tiananmen on 31st anniversary of crackdown
One democracy activist's detention in mental health facility belies China’s legal reforms