Saturday, January 12, 2002, South China Morning Post

Leading voice of dissent dies of cancer


Dissident Wang Ruoshui, a leading voice in China's struggle to come to terms with the catastrophic Cultural Revolution, has died of lung cancer. He was 75.

Wang died on Thursday in a hospital in Boston, the New York-based group Human Rights in China said.

As deputy editor-in-chief of the People's Daily in the 1980s, Wang used the Communist Party mouthpiece to explore one of the most painful periods in modern Chinese history.

Wang's exposes of Cultural Revolution-era atrocities and stinging criticisms of party shortcomings finally cost him his job in 1987. He was forced to resign from the party that same year.

"He reported cases of suffering in the Cultural Revolution despite the damage that did to the Communist Party's image," said Ding Xueliang, a Chinese social scientist who knew Wang in the 1980s.

"What was surprising was these accounts were brought to light not by the underground press but by the People's Daily itself," added Mr Ding, who now teaches at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Wang outraged conservatives by writing that Mao Zedong should be held personally responsible for atrocities committed during his rule, particularly the Cultural Revolution, which ended soon after his 1976 death.

Wang was also one of the first to argue that the party should not hold itself above the law. He called for the creation of an independent legislature and courts to serve as checks on power.

A dedicated Marxist, Wang did not challenge the party's legitimacy. But he wrote that communism needed democracy to function properly.

Born in October 1926 in Changde, Hunan province, Wang studied at Peking University before joining the People's Daily as an editorial writer in 1950.

After leaving the paper permanently in 1987 he went to Boston as a visiting scholar at Harvard. He returned to China in the early 1990s, though he could not publish on the mainland.

Mr Ding recalled Wang as being widely admired for his intellectual honesty and moral courage to state his beliefs. "He was the last of the idealistic intellectuals," he said. "Not many people today of his rank would risk their careers like he did."