HUANG SHUN-SHING is a quirky, self-styled "freeman of the world."
That is why, he says, he got involved in opposition politics in his native Taiwan, came to mainland China eight years ago, and joined the rubber-stamp National People's Congress (NPC). But he later quit in disgust, and plans to return to Taiwan next month.
As China's national legislature begins its annual two-week session this week, Mr. Huang, one of the few voices to enliven the bromidic proceedings in recent years, will be missing.
Last year, after attempts to debate the controversial Three Gorges dam project failed, Huang resigned from the legislature, brandishing his deputy's badge and declaring to reporters, "This is the last souvenir. I won't be an NPC deputy."
Earlier, he says, in attempts to spur democracy, he unsuccessfully opposed special privileges for showcase economic zones in southern China, called for Premier Li Peng's resignation after the 1989 crackdown on democracy protesters, and pushed through a measure for a secret ballot. But when it came time to exercise the new power, Huang was alone among the almost 3,000 deputies in casting a confidential vote.
Now, Huang, 70, says he is going home, disillusioned but with no second thoughts. "It is the Communists who should have the regrets because they didn't expect that I would refuse to go along with their demands," he said in an interview in his dusty, cluttered NPC office, where he also lives. "I made some breakthroughs for democracy within the parliament so it is the Communists who should have the regrets."
In a mixed mood, China's puppet legislature opened yesterday amid calls to loosen further economic controls, moves to tighten the Communist Party's political grip, and stormy rhetoric against Britain over Hong Kong. In his opening day speech, Prime Minister Li accused Britain of fomenting disorder in Hong Kong by advancing its plan for political reform in the colony due to return to Britain in 1997.
N tandem with the Congress sessions, China's Communists are expected to unveil a reshuffled leadership that is supposed to cement Communist control by placing top party leaders in government positions. Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, who also holds the post of chairman of the Central Military Commission, is expected to take over the largely ceremonial presidency from Yang Shangkun.
Huang says joining the NPC in 1988 was considered illegal by Taiwan and thus Taipei blocked his return to the island. Now that he has resigned, he can return without recrimination.
While in the legislature, Huang says he never feared arrest for his maverick ways, even during 1989 when he spoke to protesting students in Tiananmen Square. Unlike many of the other 13 Taiwanese deputies who have family connections but never lived on the island, Huang, a bona fide Taiwanese, was valued and courted by the Communists.
Despite his exile, he says joining the legislature was worth it since it gave him a platform. "There's an old saying that if you want to capture the cub of a tiger you have to go into the cave where the tiger lives," he says, rejecting suggestions that joining a rubber-stamp legislature may have been a waste of time for a democracy crusader in China.
Although a native Taiwanese and active in political protests against government repression there, he says that nostalgia and fascination for the mainland first drew him to China. Despite his disillusionment, his belief that Taiwan should be linked to the mainland has not dimmed, says Huang, who has written commentaries for newspapers in Taiwan and assisted Taiwanese businessmen investing on the mainland.
But the elderly legislator with long, gray hair admits he is returning to a changing Taiwan, whose leadership is widening the political distance from the mainland even as it moves closer economically.
As a result, reunification is unlikely soon, he admits. "Mainland democracy is important to world peace because out of every five people, there is one Chinese," he says. "Without democracy on the mainland, reunification is inconceivable."