A paragraph from the Declaration of Independence? A commentary on the state of American politics in the wake of the Trump presidency? Neither. This is an excerpt from an essay by Wèi Jīngshēng 魏京生, titled “The Fifth Modernization,” posted on Beijing’s “Democracy Wall” in the early hours of December 5, 1978.
Democracy Wall was in the neighborhood of Xidan, just west of Tiananmen Square along Chang’an Avenue. Walls in public places had long been spots for posting notices and spreading news in China, and before television (never mind the internet) people would assemble in city or town centers to gather news and announcements. The Kangxi emperor had his Sacred Edict posted across the Qing empire in this way; more recently, newspapers would be posted in their entirety at city intersections (in the 1990s, I would trek each week to the center of town in hopes of seeing the China Daily with the latest scores from American baseball and football.) The wall at Xidan was part of this tradition, and it was one of the most prominent in China — a 12-foot-high, 200-yard-long gray brick wall at an important transportation hub near the center of the capital.