Democracy Wall

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The Democracy Wall (Chinese: 西單民主牆(西单民主墙); pinyin: xī dān mín zhǔ qiáng) was a long brick wall on Xidan Street,[1] Xicheng District, Beijing, which became the focus for democratic dissent. Beginning in October 1978, in line with the Communist Party of China's policy of "seeking truth from facts," activists in the Democracy movement—such as Xu Wenli—recorded news and ideas, often in the form of big-character posters (dazibao), during a period known as the "Beijing Spring". The first posting on the Wall was by a poet from Guizhou province named Huang Xiang.

Huang Xiang[edit]

In October 1978, the poet and calligrapher Huang Xiang was feeling restless, and one day was moved to take out of concealment the political poems he had written during the Mao Years. He then conceived of going to Beijing to post them so people could see them, in spite of the danger still inherent in anti-Mao sentiments. Word of Huang Xiang's plan spread amongst his circle of friends, and soon three of them, Mo Jiangang, Li Jiahua and Fang Jiahua, decided to accompany him on the 1500 mile trip to Beijing. On October 11, 1978, with a bucket of flour paste, they went to an alley off Wangfujing Avenue in downtown Beijing near the offices of The People's Daily, and began to paste up the hundred-odd sheets of Huang Xiang's poetry. The four brushed as big characters Huang Xiang's epic poem "The Fire God Symphony." A crowd of onlookers gathered, and soon spilled out onto the avenue, causing a huge traffic jam. Sympathizers linked arms to protect the four from the surge of the crowd. Huang Xiang, encouraged by the crowd, recited all of his poems from memory (some six hundred lines). That night people crowded the alley trying to read the poems by torch light. On November 24, 1978 the four men returned and posted big-character posters on seventy yards of fence near Mao Zedong's mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. Huang Xiang then brushed two big-character posters on the spot, "The Cultural Revolution Must Be Reevaluated!" and "Mao Zedong was thirty percent right and seventy percent wrong!" Both were absolute heresies even two years after Mao's death. These provocative statements, in full sight of the usual people lined up to enter Mao's mausoleum, caused a sensation.[2]

"We 'set fire' on Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing. Myself and my three friends, Li Jiahua, Fang Jiahua, and Mo Jiangang, put up my poem 'The Fire God Symphony' in big-character posters. This first batch of posters lit a spark for seeking enlightenment and freedom in Communist China. We founded and published the first independent periodical ever called Enlightenment and staged a poetic campaign to advocate human rights and freedom of expression. This act sparked a movement that became known worldwide as "The Democracy Wall." -Huang Xiang [3]

These activists were initially encouraged to criticize the Gang of Four and previous failed government policies as part of Deng Xiaoping's struggle to gain power, but the wall was closed in December 1979 when the leadership and the communist party system were being criticized along with acknowledged mistakes and previous leaders. The shutdown coincided with suppression of political dissent. The Democracy Wall was moved to Ritan Park (日坛公园) prior to being closed down. As visitors to the wall then had to show identification to enter the park, the open and free access to the wall was curtailed.

The Fifth Modernization was a signed wall poster placed by Wei Jingsheng on December 5, 1978, on the Democracy Wall in Beijing. It was the first poster that openly advocated further individual liberties. It caused a spectacle, espousing that freedom was the only "modernization" that really mattered, rather than improved living standards. The poster was in response to the government's "Four Modernizations" campaign.

Nepal[edit]

Nepal had its own Democracy Wall, in Ratna Park, Kathmandu. After the establishment of democracy in 1990, the square became a rallying point for protesters, but the wall itself was demolished by the city government in August 2005, six months after King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government and assumed direct power himself.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jingsheng, 1999
  2. ^ Emerson, A. "A Bilingual Edition of Poetry Out of Communist China by Huang Xiang", (2004) New York, The Edwin Mellen Press
  3. ^ Xiang, Huang "Poet on Fire Inside Communist China", (2011) Pittsburgh, The Century Mountain Press

References[edit]