Chinese intellectual Fang Lizhi, who inspired a whole generation of student activists during the 1980s, passed away on April 6, 2012, at the age of 76. Fang had been in exile in the United States for 22 years.
As if the time he spent exiled wasn't enough, Chinese authorities were also quick to ban the news of his death from appearing online in China, and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece media declared that Fang has been forgotten.
Born in 1936, Fang joined the CCP underground network when he was just 12 years old, entering the Beijing University School of Physics in 1952, following which he became an astrophysics professor. Similar to the fate of many intellectuals of his generation, Fang was prosecuted during the Anti-Rightist Campaign in the 1950s and again during the Cultural Revolution for expressing his opinions.
In 1986, Fang openly supported the student's democratic movement and was expelled from the CCP and removed from his position as vice president of the University of Science and Technology of China. Nonetheless, Fang remained politically active and even criticized then statesman Deng Xiaoping‘s Four Cardinal Principles when interviewed by foreign media in 1988, following that with an open letter in January 1989 urging Deng to release political prisoners of the 1978 Beijing Spring.
After the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, Fang and his wife, Li Shuxian sought asylum in the U.S embassy in Beijing and went into exile the following year.
As a well-respected teacher who lived his life in defense of his beliefs, Fang is recognized for having inspired a whole generation of university students. Chinese authorities, however, would rather see him forgotten. As news of his death spread out in the Chinese speaking world, the name, “Fang Lizhi” became blocked throughout the Chinese internet, leaving netizens only able to use “Mr. Fang” to express their condolences and feelings. At the same time, Hu Xijin, chief editor of Global Times, another CCP mouthpiece, has apparently been granted the privilege of writing Fang Lizhi's full name in Sina Weibo, and to propagate that Fang has been forgotten in China [zh]:
Hu's comments left many infuriated and has drawn thousands of angry replies. Below are some of the typical ones:
Human rights blogger Mo Zhixu explained the political meaning behind Hu's statement:
@mozhixu 胡锡进的所有观点其实都可以归结于一句话：“老子吃定你们了，请识相点！” 对此，我也只有一句话：走着瞧，你Y不就是有几辆坦克吗。。。。
The social media censor machine's filtering of the name “Fang Lizhi”, and the removal of condolence messages as many netizens are struggle to remember him, reflects how threatening Chinese authorities find the spirit Fang represented: