Wei Jingsheng and the Democracy Wall

The Democracy Wall movement of 1978-1979 provided an early challenge to Deng’s leadership. A simple brick wall in an unremarkable Beijing neighborhood became the focal point of a pro-Democracy movement that spread when the central government did not clamp down immediately. Deng, in fact, initially supported the wall, calling for “emancipating the mind” and “seeking truth from facts.”

The central figure of the movement was Wei Jingsheng, an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, who posted a small flyer calling for “The Fifth Modernization–Democracy, etc.” Wei was the first prominent member of a new breed of Chinese dissident, who challenged the idea that restoring China to wealth and power justified the use of any political means.

But with China embroiled in a border dispute with Vietnam and his leadership position solidified, Deng decided the movement had gone far enough. Wei was arrested, tried and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.