Fang Lizhi, Chinese activist who inspired Tiananmen Square protests, dies at age 76


Visitors have their photos taken in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on August 17, 2011.


Peter Parks

Fang Lizhi, a Chinese dissident who inspired the famous Tiananmen Square protests, has died, BBC News reported today. He was 76.

Fang died in Tucson, Arizona on Friday, Wang Dan, a leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, announced.

"My most, most respected teacher Fang Lizhi has died," Wang wrote on Facebook, according to CNN.  "I am immensely sad. I hope that the Chinese people will forever remember him."

Fang, an accomplished science professor, had initially been a loyal member of the Communist Party. But he was expelled from the party in 1987 on accusations of stirring up unrest, according to the BBC.

He became China’s most famous dissident in the 1980s, the New York Times reported. In 1989, he published an open letter asking China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, to release political prisoners. The letter inspired a pro-democracy student movement later that year and a series of huge protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

On June 4, the Chinese Army gunned down the demonstrators, killing 400 to 800 civilians, the Times reported in 1989. Fang feared he would be arrested. 

More from GlobalPost: Promises, pitfalls await investors in Burma’s frontier

He lost his job at the University of Science and Technology of China because of his pro-democracy views, The Himalayan Times reported.

He and his family then lived in exile in the United States Embassy in Beijing. In 1990, the Chinese government finally allowed Fang to leave the country, the Times reported in 1990.

Fang later became a professor of physics at the University of Arizona in Tucson and spoke about human rights until the end of his life, the Times reported.

"What made being with him strangely uncharacteristic of my experiences in China was his complete lack of the self-censorship that renders many other Chinese intellectuals of his generation incapable of speaking their minds," The Atlantic wrote about Fang in 1988

Fang said of the Chinese Communist Party, according to the BBC: "Marxism is like a worn dress that must be put aside."

The Times said that Fang remained resistant to authority throughout his life, even after he was able to escape China. After leaving the American Embassy for the West, he publicly accused the United States of "holding China to a lower human rights standard."