By Shaun Tandon (AFP) – Oct 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — Twenty years ago, a Chinese tank pummeled into student athlete Fang Zheng as he fled Tiananmen Square. He lost his legs and his livelihood as he was reduced to selling cigarettes at a street stall.
With the help of US supporters, Fang is once again on his feet through a pair of prosthetic limbs. And in his first public act, he did something he had never tried before -- he asked his wife to dance.
Before an audience including members of the US Congress and exiled leaders of the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, the 43-year-old Fang on Tuesday set aside his crutches and took his wife, Zhu Jin, by the hand.
His wife, who met him after the Tiananmen uprising, appeared more nervous than Fang. In her brilliantly green floral dress, she glided with him to a Chinese show-tune as their daughter happily took pictures.
"This is a feeling of new hope for me," a beaming Fang told AFP as he sat with his wife and daughter after the dance.
"But at the same time, it's also a feeling of new hope for China," he said.
Fang said he was an ordinary student and member of the Communist Party who was heading out of Tiananmen Square as the military crushed growing pro-democracy protests, killing hundreds if not thousands of people.
Fang said he was helping a frightened female friend over a railing when the tank hit him. His body was caught in the treads of the tank; he lost one leg from below the knee, the other all the way up to the thigh.
He continued to excel at sports, winning national discus championships for athletes with disabilities. But Fang said the government, fearful he would tell how he was injured, barred him from international competitions.
He eventually resorted to running a street stand on the southern island of Hainan. But he kept speaking to foreign journalists and last year, as officials feared he would come to Beijing during the Olympic celebrations, they granted him what his supporters doubted would ever come -- a passport.
"When I learned what happened to him and then I saw him, I had tears just pouring out because I said, that could be me," said Chai Ling, one of the top Tiananmen leaders who now lives in Boston.
She said she had ordered students to refrain from any violence in Tiananmen Square "because we love people."
"We even love the leaders of China. We're hoping that some day they will be able to understand what they're missing. With all their mighty power, all their economic resources, they don't have the love that we and that Fang Zheng have received here in America," she said.
The effort to fit him with prosthetic legs was supported by advocacy groups including China Aid, which fights for the rights of Christians in the communist country, along with Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Terrence Sheehan, who treated him at the Adventist Rehabilitation Hospital in suburban Washington, hailed Fang for his resilience.
"Most of the folks come to me to get their prosthetics within two or three weeks or months. They don't wait 20 years," Sheehan said.
Chinese dissidents plan to put a video of Fang's first dance on YouTube, hoping it will become a symbol of hope.
"This is a great moment of salvation," said Yang Jianli, another US-based Tiananmen leader who spent another five years in prison after sneaking back into China in 2002.
"In the past 20 years, in his spirit, Fang Zheng has been standing -- even without legs," he said.
"But today he is standing up. It is my sincere hope that we Chinese people will stand up with Fang Zheng."
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