Web changes China and exile for Tiananmen leader

Wed Jun 3, 2009 4:00am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Internet has helped Chinese dissident Wang Dan span the distance from his exile home in Los Angeles to Beijing, where 20 years ago he shot to fame as a leader of the Tiananmen democracy protests.

Wang -- still youthful-looking at 40, but fleshier than when the reedy Peking University history major rallied the masses at Tiananmen -- also believes information technology will help civil society change China in the ways for which he fought, even in the face of persistent official censorship.

"The Internet has changed the meaning of exile," he said in a wide-ranging interview days before the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown in the heart of China's capital.

"I don't think we're really in exile because I use the Internet, MSN, Skype, Twitter, Facebook ... so I have a lot of contact with mainlanders," said Wang, who was jailed twice and has not been allowed back to China since being exiled in 1998.

Wang, who now is chairman of the Chinese Constitutional Reform Association and has a Harvard doctoral degree, spoke to Reuters some hours after chatroom protests broke out across China as a result of the blocking of access to Twitter and the e-mail service Hotmail in the mainland.

The clampdown came two days ahead of the 20th anniversary of the day when tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing to quell weeks of protest by students and workers.

Wang concedes the China of today is far richer, more powerful and influential than the country he left.

But he insists that Communist Party rule by force and deception remains the norm and "the basic characteristic of this government never changed."   Continued...