With the Chinese prison system, as Liu Qing's preface notes, an ""iron curtain behind the iron curtain,"" the publication of...

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THE COURAGE TO STAND ALONE: Letters from Prison and Other Writings

With the Chinese prison system, as Liu Qing's preface notes, an ""iron curtain behind the iron curtain,"" the publication of letters written from prison by one of the most celebrated and courageous human-rights activists in China is indeed unprecedented. Wei came to prominence in 1978 when he caused a sensation by adding a poster to Beijing's Democracy Wall in which he insisted that the government's Four Modernizations (in industry, agriculture, defense, and science) were inadequate without the addition of a fifth, democracy. It was the culmination of the growing disillusionment of one who had described himself as having been ""a fanatic Maoist."" After a farce of a trial (captured here in part by a secret tape recording), he was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. For two of those years he was not even allowed to leave his tiny cell, the light was left on all night, his food became increasingly meager, and his health declined precipitously. In 1993, confronted by worldwide criticism of the country's human-rights record, and in an effort to have Beijing declared the site of the next Olympic Games, the Chinese authorities released him. He refused to accept release until they allowed him access to his letters to the Chinese authorities written during confinement. It is remarkable reading--for the skill with which he uses the Communist classics to indict the regime, for his forbearance, for his savage wit, but most of all for his courage in telling the truth. A few months after his release he was arrested again, subjected to a trial where his lawyers had less than a day to review a 1,996-page dossier, and sentenced to another 14 years in prison. The letters gathered here, along with Wei's political essays, offer a unique perspective on the Chinese Communist system, as well as a fascinating record of dissent in modern China. Difficult, often painful reading, but an unforgettable portrait of a man of sublime courage.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997