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A brief history of the Chinese democracy movement in exile

U.S. and Western-based activity, 1989 to the present

John Patrick Kusumi

Note: This history begins in 1989. That is slightly unfair to those Chinese dissidents who were active even earlier. The stories of Xu Wenli, Wang Bingzhang, Harry Wu, and Wei Jingsheng are all compelling stories and important contributions to the movement for democracy in China. However, Americans and Westerners may remember only the Tiananmen Square atrocity of 1989 -- that event was broadcast around the world and into people's living rooms on global TV. For many Westerners, this is when Chinese democracy first came to their attention. Once it appeared on radar, then they will have curiosity. This article, a brief history, answers curiosity about "what happened in the post-Tiananmen Chinese democracy movement?"

1. Foundational times (1989): A great many groups and organizations began in 1989, in reaction to the student demonstrations on Tiananmen Square. Human Rights In China (HRIC), the China Support Network (CSN), and the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars (IFCSS) can all trace their beginning to 1989.

2. Badly organized times (1990-1997): Early attempts to establish strong central authority in the democracy movement failed. Even student leaders who escaped into exile were given to quarreling and disagreeing. They went to different campuses around the world to finish college, and an array of organizations became balkanized. The democracy movement was fragmented. It was without agreed-upon leadership. The news media made famous Wuer Kaixi, Li Lu, Chai Ling, and Wang Dan. The spotlight went to some others--Shen Tong and Yan Jiaqi--but, the others also failed to establish strong central authority. During this time period, in 1991, the Party for Freedom and Democracy in China (PFDC) was formed. Also, in 1992, Falun Gong was first introduced in China, as a spiritual practice of Buddha school origin, involving study and meditation (for spiritual benefits) and a series of Tai-chi type daily exercises (for health benefits) tracing their lineage to traditional Chinese "qi gong" (life force cultivation) exercises.

3. New attempts at organization (1997-1998): 1997 saw Wei Jingsheng freed from captivity and his arrival in exile. He formed the Wei Jingsheng Foundation and the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition. 1998 saw three things: formation of the Free China Movement with Lian Shengde as its head; formation of the China Democracy Party (CDP) inside China (and its immediate suppression, with dissidents going to jail); and, the freedom of Wang Dan, who emerged from captivity and joined exiles in the West.

4. New persecution, new media, new issues, and thin times (1999-2004): In 1999, the persecution and crackdown against Falun Gong began. Amid the response, new news outlets were formed -- Dajiyuan, a/k/a the Epoch Times; New Tang Dynasty Television; and, Sound of Hope Radio. Matters went from bad to worse as U.S. President Bill Clinton introduced PNTR ("Permanent Normal Trade Relations" or as called by CSN, "Permanent Normal Tyranny Reward") --no-strings-attached free trade between the U.S. and China. (That deal was signed in 1999 and passed by Congress in 2000.) And, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided, in 2001, to make Beijing into the host city for the 2008 Olympics. Meanwhile, America had been overtaken by political correctness and free trade. Chai Ling and Li Lu had quit working for the movement. Wuer Kaixi had moved to Taiwan. Newer leaders such as Wei Jingsheng, Harry Wu, and Lian Shengde were not being followed by American TV news. These were thin times for Chinese democracy, and Falun Gong was crying for help, to the craven indifference of American news media.

5. Jiuping, Tuidang, and the Organ Harvesting scandal (2004-2006): In November 2004, the Epoch Times published its 'Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,' a thorough expose on the evil ways and deeds of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). The Nine Commentaries are referred to as the Jiuping. In December 2004, a web site was opened to allow outraged Chinese to quit from the CCP. This "tuidang" campaign has continued ever since then, collecting over 12 million statements of resignation from now-ex-communists. In 2006, the news broke that China performs organ-harvesting out of live prisoners, who are executed just in time for transplant surgery. Their organs are sold for profit, and prisoners are killed in the process. 2005-2006 has also been a time with the emergence of Gao Zhisheng, a Beijing attorney, as a strong figure and leading dissident inside China. Other figures such as Chen Yonglin and Wenyi Wang have emerged.

Ms. Wang was the lady who yelled out to George Bush and Hu Jintao when Hu visited the South Lawn of the White House. As a campaigner in this cause, she is one of us. Her issue (that she was trying to raise) was the Organ Harvesting practice that ranks up there with Nazi medical experiments on prisoners, as a holocaust-like crime against humanity. The practice of organ harvesting was recently confirmed by an independent investigation, the Kilgour-Matas report out of Canada. Mr. Kilgour is a former Canadian MP and Secretary of State for the Asia-Pacific region.

The jiuping, tuidang campaign, and the practice of organ harvesting from live prisoners of conscience (Falun Gong practitioners) are today's ongoing backdrop for events in the Chinese democracy movement.

This brief history is a concise overview, not exhaustive, but it leads up to the present day and--like a map--it allows us to say "You are here."


John Patrick Kusumi is the Director emeritus of the China Support Network. See its support for Chinese freedom, democracy, and human rights at


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