Fang Lizhi (1936-2012) was an astrophysicist and political dissident. Early on, the Chinese Communist Party considered him a valuable asset because of his scientific training and therefore allowed him to continue his work in physics. However, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s he was assigned to a rural reeducation camp in Anhui province. Following his experience there, he shifted the focus of his career toward theoretical astrophysics and published a controversial paper that, among other things, accepted the Big Bang Theory and was thus deemed antirevolutionary for rejecting Friedrich Engels’ notion of the universe as limitless.
During the 1980s, Fang was active in the political and economic reform movement and was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Fearing arrest, he and his family sought asylum in the United States Embassy, where Fang and his wife ended up staying for nearly a year until the Chinese government granted them permission to leave the country in 1990. Fang became a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he taught until his death in 2012. After moving to the U.S., he continued to speak out in favor of Chinese democratization and implementation of human rights practices.
Fang received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1989.