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.

Last Updated: April 3, 2014

The Real Deng

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
When a scientific experiment uncovers a new phenomenon, a scientist is pleased. When an experiment fails to reveal something that the scientist originally expected, that, too, counts as a result worth analyzing. A sense of the “nonappearance of the...

My ‘Confession’

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
From reading Henry Kissinger’s new book On China,1 I have learned that Mr. Kissinger met with Deng Xiaoping at least eleven times—more than with any other Chinese leader—and that the topic of one of their chats was whether Fang Lizhi would confess...

The Past and the Future

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
Concerning the Past:I have maintained that China should move forward with the reform of society. In many speeches before 1988, I openly expressed my advocacy of reform in China.I acknowledge that the following are my principal views:Marxism—whether...

The Hope for China

Fang Lizhi & Perry Link from New York Review of Books
1.“Some people,” declared Mao Zedong in 1959, “say that we have become isolated from the masses.”1 By “some people” Mao meant Peng Dehuai, a subordinate who had dared to criticize Mao’s “Great Leap Forward,” which was just then creating in China the...

The Chinese Amnesia

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
The following was written while Fang Lizhi was staying in the American Embassy in Beijing, before his release last June.In November 1989, during the fifth month of my refuge inside the American Embassy in Beijing, I received two letters from New...

Keeping the Faith

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
I am proud and deeply moved to have this opportunity to speak with you here today; but at the same time, I am also filled with a sense of sorrow and shame. I am moved because you have chosen to honor me with the 1989 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights...

Letters from the Other China

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
During the student demonstrations that swept China toward the end of 1986, the brilliant astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was then vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, emerged, through his speeches to student groups, as the...

China’s Despair and China’s Hope

Fang Lizhi from New York Review of Books
Nineteen eighty-nine is the Year of the Snake in China. It is not clear whether this snake will bring any great temptations. But this much is predictable: the year will stimulate Chinese into deeper reflection upon the past and a more incisive look...