ELSAH — The Principia College Speaker Series will present pro-democracy activist Dr. Yang Jianli as the Ernie and Lucha Vogel Moral Courage Lecturer at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, in Wanamaker Hall.
Though a rising star in the Chinese Communist Party in the early 1980s, Yang quickly became disenchanted by the corruption he witnessed in the communist system, so he left China to pursue an education in mathematics. While earning a graduate degree at the University of California-Berkeley in 1989, his fellow Chinese students elected him to return to Beijing to support the demonstrations for democracy taking place in Tiananmen Square. Yang arrived in time to witness the massacre of hundreds, if not thousands, by the Chinese army, and narrowly escaped capture himself. He returned to the United States to study democracy, earning a doctorate in political economy at Harvard University. He also holds a PhD in mathematics from Berkeley.
In 2002, Yang returned to China to observe labor unrest and support the labor movement with nonviolent strategies. He was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, spending much of his captivity in solitary confinement. Following an international outcry for his release, including a United Nations resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the U.S. Congress, Yang was freed in April 2007.
Seeking ways to bring greater attention to human rights issues and democracy in China, Yang returned to the United States and formed Initiatives for China, a pro-democracy movement. He is a signatory to Charter 08, a manifesto of Chinese intellectuals calling for political reform in China. In 2010, Yang co-chaired the Committee on Internet Freedom at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance, and Democracy. In 2011, he spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council to question China’s human rights practices. He is widely recognized as an international advocate for a peaceful transition to democracy in China.
Following Yang’s talk at Principia, audience members will be invited to participate in a question-and-answer forum. Admission is complimentary for Principia students, faculty and staff; $10 for alumni and Gold & Blue Athletic Club members; and $15 for the public. The event will also be broadcast live on Principia Internet Radio.