Chinese Labor Activist Han Dongfang on Why China Needs Unions
Han's UCLA Regents Lecture is now available via streaming video.
Han Dongfang is best known for challenging China's government by organizing the nation's first autonomous labor union. He did this as part of the 1989 democracy movement. His efforts to promote the rights of workers have continued and in June 2005, 16 years after the Chinese army suppressed the democracy movement, he gave a UC Regents Lecture at UCLA on "Building 'Social Justice & Harmony' In China: What An Authentic Trade Union Movement Can Contribute."
Han Dongfang has been described as China’s Lech Walesa. A railway electrician, he organized China's first independent labor union in 1989, during the Tiananmen democracy movement, the Chinese government put him on its “most wanted” list. Unlike most dissident leaders, Han did not flee the country, but chose instead to surrender to the authorities. He was imprisoned for two years, during which time he contracted tuberculosis. Released in 1991, he was re-arrested in 1992. Later that year, after intense lobbying by members of the U.S. Congress and the AFL-CIO, Han was given medical parole and sent to the U.S. for treatment, where a lung was removed. In 1993 Han tried to return to China, but was turned back at the Hong Kong border, where Chinese authorities refused him admission.
Han took up residence in Hong Kong, where, since 1997, he has hosted an influential weekly program on Radio Free Asia that reaches an estimated 40 million people on the mainland. He is the director of the China Labour Bulletin www.china-labour.org.hk and is on the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy www.wmd.org. Han continues to promote workers’ rights in China, and is in contact via phone and e-mail with workers throughout the mainland.
In recognition of his many years of activism, Han has received the National Endowment for Democracy’s “Democracy Award,” presented by President Bill Clinton in 1993, as well as the Gleitsman Foundation’s 2005 “International Activist Award.”
The Regents of the University of California established the Regents’ Professors and Lecturers Program, which permits the appointment, on a visiting basis, of distinguished leaders from fields outside the traditional boundaries of the academic world to enrich our instructional program. Han's lecture was sponsored by the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies and the UCLA Asia Institute.