It is with great sadness that we report the death on April 6, 2012 of our distinguished colleague and Advisory Committee member Fang Lizhi of the University of Arizona.
Dr. Fang was a brilliant astrophysicist and influential proponent of human rights in his native China. His political ideals inspired the pro-democracy student movement in China that eventually resulted in the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Dr. Fang’s political activism began in the 1950’s when he confessed his views on human rights to the Communist Party and was therefore expelled from the party, removed from China’s nuclear program and sent to do hard labor for several months. In 1958, Dr. Fang was “rehabilitated” and assigned to the faculty of the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). By 1965 he was considered one of the most productive physicists in China.
Fang Lizhi, Chinese Physicist and Seminal Dissident, Dies at 76, New York Times, April 7, 2012
BBC News - Fang Lizhi, China dissident who inspired Tiananmen …, BBC News, April 7, 2012
Fang Lizhi 1936-2012, University of Arizona Physics Department
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During the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, the USTC and Dr. Fang were moved from Beijing to a rural province, where he was again sent to do hard labor, this time as part of China’s “re-education” program. During the evening he studied the theory of relativity and in 1972, when he was permitted to resume his scientific research, he wrote the first paper on modern cosmological research in China. His theories were considered to be contrary to dialectical materialism—the official philosophy of the communist party. However, he continued his controversial research and traveled to scientific conferences worldwide.
In 1984, Dr. Fang was appointed vice president of USTC. In addition to his teaching and scientific research, he wrote for popular magazines and gave lectures that advocated freedom of thought and speech and encouraged social responsibility of intellectuals.
Dr. Fang’s wife, Li Shuxian, a physics professor at Beijing University, shared his political beliefs and endured similar sanctions for her activities in support of the fundamental rights of the Chinese people.
In 1987, widespread student demonstrations for political and economic freedoms inspired by Dr. Fang’s ideas led to his expulsion from the Communist Party for the second time and his removal from his position as Vice President of the USTC.
After the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, Dr. Fang and his wife sought refuge in the U.S. embassy because the Chinese government blamed them for the demonstrations. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1990.
Once in the U.S., Dr. Fang did not stop advocating for the fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people. Until his death last month, he continued his life’s work in teaching, scientific research, and the protection of human rights as a faculty member at the University of Arizona.