Yang Jianli, Chinese dissident, former political prisoner, and survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre who founded Initiatives for China, addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy as a panelist on the Champions for Change panel – see quotes below.

For the full text of the Champions for Change panel, click here.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 8, 2021

On joining the Communist Party in the 1980s:

“I joined the party with high hopes and an open mind. But, very soon, I came to regret my decision. I found that it’s the other way around. It’s not we, the reformed-minded intellectuals, who change the party; it is the party that changes us.”

On Tiananmen Square Massacre:

“I went through the massacre in front of my eyes. The Chinese tanks ran over students. Eleven students died right away there. There’s screaming and then silence.”

“In that moment, I was determined to do everything possible in the rest of my life to change the country, to make the country our country, a place where these kinds of things at least would not happen again.”

“That made me become a full-time, lifetime devoted activist.”

On leaving China after the Massacre:

“Three days after the massacre, I managed to get to the international airport at Beijing, and the police actually did not perform their duty — as a way to protest. Actually they were also protesting the massacre.”

“When we all got on the plane again and the plane took off, every passenger just applauded. So they felt lucky. They could leave China. Except for me, I was crying; I was in tears.”

On why its important to speak out against China:

“This is not only for the sake of the people of China, which is so. But China now poses a threat to the interests, security, and democratic life of democracies around the world. We have to do something about it.”

On supporting Chinese dissidents:

“The most important asset for us, for our cause, is the people back in our countries, and we have to find a way to support them — especially those who are in prison.”

“When you’ve come to the point where the ordinary people can take the risk and the price, then that’s the moment of change because ordinary people can do the work done by heroes.”

On China under Xi Jinping:

“China in the past ten years has become worse from being bad.”

“Human rights violations in China under Xi Jinping are at an all-time high.”

“At the same time that China is taking a very aggressive stand against the whole world.”

“The US can no longer play all high and mighty. That’s the message we should hear from Mr. Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat. I consider it a Sputnik moment, not only America but also the free world.”

“China is a threat, a threat not only — when we talk about threats — not only about South Sea confrontation, military confrontation, and things like that but also to the very democratic way of life.”

“I think, if we can do only one thing to help China, to help the people of China, is to help tear down the Great Firewall of China.”

On the toll on dissident’s families:

“We as dissidents have the strong sense of guilt toward our families. Because of us, they are forced to live turbulent lives with tremendous suffering, which may not be their own choice.”

On the Chinese people’s desire for freedom:

“So desire for freedom is intrinsic and universal. The people of China are not an exception.”