A dissident astrophysicist who died in 2012 offers rare, revealing glimpses inside the opaque Chinese communist system.
Fang (b. 1936) wrote this memoir while he and his wife, Li Shuxian, were offered refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing over the course of 13 months following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, after which he eventually settled as a professor of physics at the University of Arizona. In this eloquent memoir, Fang has utterly shed his illusions about the Communist Party, which the Beijing-born author joined at age 12. Enamored by physics, he gradually came to grasp that the communist formula was anathema for the practice of independent thinking that science required. As an idealistic youth in the Institute of Modern Physics, at Peking University, Fang organized meetings and “class-struggle campaigns.” Denounced as a “rightist” in 1958, he would be exiled from his physics work four different times between then and the 1970s and sent to the farm fields because his “thinking needed reform.” In between, he was assigned to teach at the University of Science and Technology of China in Beijing. It wasn’t long before Fang realized the absurdity of “socialism saving China,” one of numerous ironic slogans during the brutal years of famine, Cultural Revolution, and Mao Zedong’s “self-proclamation as emperor” when Fang was often separated from his wife and children. His lectures in the field of cosmology stimulated “counterrevolutionary” criticism, and his sense of urgency for reform and getting modern science accepted in China (“opening in all directions”) was denounced as “bourgeois liberal thinking.” His support of his students and writing of a letter urging amnesty for political prisoners in 1989 helped ignite the Tiananmen Square uprisings that spring, leading to his taking refuge in the U.S. Embassy. Throughout the book, Fang is candid about the development of his thinking, and his prose is clean, readable, and often forceful.
A wonderfully crafted memoir, shimmering with intellectual honesty.