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On 5 December 1978, Wei Jingsheng, an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, posted an essay to a brick wall on Xidan Street called “The Fifth Modernization,” which stated:
“Democracy is our only choice. . . . If we want to modernize our economy, sciences, military and other areas, then we must first modernize our people and our society. . . . Without democracy, society will become stagnant and economic growth will face insurmountable obstacles.”
Wei’s rare, public appeal for democracy struck a chord with the Chinese people, who were exhausted by the failures of communism and the Cultural Revolution. The brick wall on Xidan Street was soon filled with other criticisms of the regime and became known as the “Democracy Wall.” However, the “Beijing Spring” was short lived. Wei was arrested on 29 March 1979 and imprisoned for fourteen-and-a-half years. He was released in September 1993, only to be detained again in February 1994 for engaging in political activities. He was deported to the United States in 1997 when the international community succeeded in pressuring China for his release. Having lived in exile for nearly fifteen years, Wei discussed his views of China with the Journal’s Rebecca Chao.