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Fang Lizhi, inspiration to Chinese, dies at 76

Fang

– Fang Lizhi, one of China’s best-known dissidents whose speeches inspired student protesters throughout the 1980s, has died in the United States, where he fled after China’s 1989 military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. He was 76.

Once China’s leading astrophysicist, Fang and his wife hid in the U.S. Embassy for 13 months after the crackdown. In exile, he was a physics professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Fang inspired a generation, said his friend and fellow U.S.-based exiled dissident Wang Dan, who announced the death on Facebook and Twitter.

“I hope the Chinese people will never forget that there was once a thinker like Fang Lizhi,” Wang wrote.

Fang burst into political prominence during pro-democracy student demonstrations of 1986-88 when he became China’s most outspoken and eloquent proponent of democratic reform.

After the June 4, 1989, military crackdown that crushed the seven-week pro-democracy movement, Fang and his wife fled into the U.S. Embassy. Fang and Li had both been named in Chinese warrants that could have carried death sentences upon conviction. American diplomats refused to turn them over to Chinese authorities.

China’s decision to allow the couple to leave the country a year later eliminated a major obstacle to bettering China-U.S. relations.

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