Despite spending almost two decades in prison, Wei JingSheng has remained one of China's most prolific and famous dissidents. Originally jailed in 1979, Wei JingSheng was incarcerated for his participation in Beijing's Democracy Wall movement, the first public forum for political discussion in the history of the People's Republic of China. It was his direct, unrepentant challenges to the Chinese Communist Party's notion of democracy that drew the attention of the nation's populace, as well as its leaders.
His essay, "The Fifth Modernization--Democracy," challenged the idea that economic and social progress could take place in China without full participation of its citizens in the political process. His arrest as a "counter revolutionist" and subsequent 18 years imprisonment were meant to send a message to those harboring similar feelings about the government.
Despite long spells in isolation and harsh prison conditions that weakened his health, Wei continued to send his message. He composed long, critical letters to the political leadership and, upon his brief release in 1993, immediately continued to publicize his vision for a democratic China.
Though forced to live in exile since his final release in 1997, Wei continues his work for human rights and democracy in China as Chairman of The Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, trusting in the belief that "democracy and human rights begin in the hearts of the people themselves. If you go on pushing for a humane social system, you will succeed sooner or later." Wei JingSheng was the 1998 recipient of the AFL-CIO's George Meany Human Rights Award.