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Liu Binyan: The Man Who Is Not Afraid To Be Different

LIU BINYAN is winding down a writer's tour, got lost on the way to his appointment, and has a plane to catch. But the strain of travel fades as China's most influential journalist (now in exile) warms to topics closest to his heart: the struggle for human dignity, the role of the printed word in that struggle, his life-long search for the man ``who is not afraid to be different.'' Excerpts follow:

What are the lessons of East Europe for China?

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The Czechoslovak intellectuals represented by President [Vaclav] Havel and their struggle against the communist regime are very useful to us.

There are no intellectuals in China who have made such profound research, who discovered such important characteristics of the Communist Party and transformed them into action.

Chinese intellectuals are not so independent. They always tried to maintain relations with the Communist Party, right up to June 4 [Tiananmen Square massacre]. Compare their situation after the Soviet invasion in 1968 and ours in 1979 when the Democracy Wall movement was crushed. Their tradition [of dissent] was handed down by intellectuals like Havel, but our tradition was cut off - because Chinese intellectuals placed their hope in intellectuals like [reformminded party official] Hu Yaobang.

Did you, as was often reported, write as freely as you did because of a personal relationship with Hu Yaobang?

Hu Yaobang did protect me and some of the old people in the party said he is my `backstage.' But I didn't have any personal contact with him. We didn't even ever have a long talk together.

Did the ``Democracy Wall'' reformers influence students in Tiananmen?

The generation that grew up with the Cultural Revolution are now in their late 30s and 40s. When they were young, they followed Mao's directives closely and made many mistakes, repented, and tried to reflect on the past. They learned about the life of ordinary people. They understand the difference between propaganda and the truth of life.

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The most prominent ones are still in jail, serving long sentences. Some of them became government officials, and they're trying to do something good for the Chinese people. Some of them, especially those teaching in universities, had great impact on the [younger] students individually.

The younger generation is more courageous, bolder.

You are often credited with influencing this generation. What did you say to students in classes you taught?

We journalists must speak out for the people, what they wish to say and could not say. We must speak out for them, tell the truth about society. People never knew the truth about their own society. I used to tell them not to be satisfied only reporting surface phenomenon: `Do some discovery and write in your own voice.'

How do you feel about President Bush's decision to extend most-favored nation status to China?

I don't understand why he did it. President Bush clearly knows about human rights abuses in China....He should have demanded that China meet human-rights conditions.

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