In the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, China issues a warrant for a leading Chinese dissident who had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The diplomatic standoff lasted for a year, and the refusal of the United States to hand the dissident over to Chinese officials was further evidence of American disapproval of China’s crackdown on political protesters.
In April and May 1989, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Beijing to call for greater political democracy in communist China. On June 4, Chinese soldiers and police swarmed into the center of protest activity, Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and arresting thousands. The Chinese government used this brutal crackdown as a pretext for issuing an arrest warrant for Fang Lizhi, an internationally respected astrophysicist and leading Chinese dissident. Although Fang had not participated in the Tiananmen Square protests, he had been a consistent advocate of greater political democracy and a persistent critic of government policies. In February 1989, more than one hundred Chinese security personnel forcibly prevented Fang from meeting with visiting President George Bush.
In the June arrest warrant, Fang and his wife, Li Shuxian, were charged with “committing crimes of counter-revolutionary propaganda and instigation.” Fang and Li immediately took refuge in the U.S. embassy. Chinese officials demanded that the American government hand over the pair, but the U.S. refused. Almost exactly one year later, Fang and Li were given free passage out of the country and they left the U.S. embassy for the first time since June 1989. The action was part of a wider effort by the Chinese government to repair some of the international damage done to its reputation in the wake of the Tiananmen Square incident. In addition to Fang and Li, hundreds of other political prisoners were also released. Fang and Li traveled to the United States and took up residence. Fang continued his dissident activities against the Chinese government and taught in both America and Great Britain.
The incident indicated that feelings about what had occurred in Tiananmen Square ran high, both in the United States and China. For America, the brutal attack on the protesters repulsed most people and led Congress to pass economic sanctions against the Chinese government. In China, the refusal to hand over Fang and the U.S. criticisms of what the Chinese government considered to be a purely internal matter generated a tremendous amount of resentment. The issue of human rights in China continued to be a major issue in relations between the U.S. and China throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.