Deng Xiaoping leaves behind not only a legacy of economic liberalization and reform, but of authoritarian repression that has systematically suppressed all demands for human rights and democracy in China. The citizens gunned down on the streets of Beijing in 1989 and the thousands of individuals held in labor camps and jails from Beijing to Lhasa for the peaceful expression of their political views are also the legacy of Deng Xiaoping. According to the Chinese government's own statistics, there are at least 3,000 "counterrevolutionaries" being held in Chinese prisons today. Human Rights in China believes this figure is grossly underestimated because it does not include thousands of prisoners of conscience in China and Tibet being held on other charges, especially those sentenced without trial to reeducation through labor terms. Human Rights in China urges the current Chinese leadership to release all political prisoners in order to demonstrate its intention to make the post-Deng era an age of genuine, comprehensive reform in which economic liberalization is accompanied by political democratization.
Mr. Deng's vision for China was "to get rich is glorious," but this glory never extended to human dignity. The Chinese people deserve and demand the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the right to participate in the political decisions that effect their lives. Human rights for Chinese people is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Political suppression only creates potential instability for society and jeopardizes the gains in economic development the country has achieved in the past two decades. As Wei Jingsheng said in 1978 before Deng Xiaoping sentenced him to his first lengthy prison term, "without democracy, there can be no true modernization for China." Now is the time to free Wei's vision of a prosperous and democratic China from behind prison bars and allow it to flourish among the nation's 1.2 billion people.