Jianli Yang is a Chinese pro-democracy activist. Jianli was born in Shandong Province of northern China and graduated from Beijing Normal University. Despite being viewed as a member with high potential for the Chinese Communist Party, Jianli left China to study mathematics at U.C. Berkeley, California, after experiencing the corruption and deception within that party.
In 1989, he was selected by Berkeley graduate students to travel to Beijing to support the Chinese students protesting for democracy in Tiananmen Square. There, Jianli witnessed the massacre of thousands of civilians at the hands of the Chinese army. Jianli was able to escape and return to the US to complete a doctorate in political economy at Harvard University, Massachusetts.
In 2002, Jianli returned to China to investigate labor unrest in the northern region. However, he was blacklisted by the Chinese government for his participation in the previous protests. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for “spying." Following an international outcry for his release, led by the legal non-profit organization Freedom Now, including a UN Resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the United States Congress, Jianli was freed in 2007.
After these experiences, Jianli became even more committed to pro-democracy activism. He established Initiatives for China, an organization dedicated to democracy in China; formed the Foundation for China in the 21st Century; created the Interethnic/Interfaith Leadership Conferences; founded China E-Weekly (also known as Yibao magazine) and is the co-author of A Constitution for a Democratic China.