One of China’s premier nuclear physicists, a designer of the country’s first atomic bomb, joined 44 other scientists and intellectuals on Monday in calling on China’s leaders to lift the “counterrevolutionary” verdict from those who took part in the 1989 pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.
Wang Ganchang, who is now 88, led the elite group of Chinese physicists who developed and tested the explosive assembly and triggering system for the fission bomb that was exploded on Oct. 14, 1964. Since then, he has continued to play an influential role in China’s scientific institutions and as a senior adviser to the government.
His official biography says he was “one of the leading scientists responsible for the development of China’s nuclear weapons.”
Wang has added his name to those calling on the Communist Party to “release all those who have been imprisoned because of their thoughts, religious beliefs, or acts of speech, and boldly end the ignominious tradition of literary inquisitions that has persisted in our country since ancient times.”
The petition was signed by the largest and most prominent group of Chinese intellectuals since the pro-democracy appeals of 1989, when open political dissent led to the climactic confrontation in which troops fired on unarmed students, workers, and bystanders the night of June 3-4, killing hundreds.
In a letter addressed to President Jiang Zemin and Qiao Shi, chairman of China’s leading parliamentary body, the National People’s Congress, the intellectuals called on the government to treat all “political thought and religious belief with the spirit of tolerance and never again regard individuals of independent thought and independent views as ‘hostile elements’ and submit them to repressive attacks, surveillance, house arrest, and even detention.”
A cover letter identifies Xu Liangying, 75, as the drafter. Xu is a translator of Einstein’s collected works into Chinese. He said the draft of his appeal “received the support” of many of his colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, including that “of my respected teacher,” Wang, who served as a representative of China’s scientists in the People’s Congress during the 1980s.
In a telephone interview, Xu said separate letters to Jiang and Qiao were mailed on Monday. Copies were being distributed to news organizations this week.
Xu said party officials had apparently become aware of preparations to issue the document as it was circulating for signatures. Xu said he received a summons on Friday from the Communist Party secretary of his research institute. “He asked me not to engage in any activities, and not do to anything that will affect social stability,” Xu said. “I told him what we’re doing is good for social stability.”
A year ago, Xu was briefly placed under house arrest and later close surveillance after he and a half-dozen intellectuals publicly called on the government to end its harassment of dissidents, including Wei Jingsheng, China’s best-known political prisoner, who disappeared on April 1, 1994, and is being held at an unknown location.
The new petition, following several others that were presented to the People’s Congress in March, indicates that a significant number of Chinese intellectuals are seeking to press Communist Party leaders into opening a national debate on political reform as the country prepares for the death of the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping.
The timing is important because Deng, who is 90, appears to have lost the ability to speak on policy matters as his health declines. He has not been seen in public since February 1994. For the last six years, Deng’s adamant opposition has prevented the re-evaluation of the verdict.