Chinese civil liberties advocate to speak at URI

Talk is part of URI’s Honors Colloquium, China Rising

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 8, 2007 — Xu Wenli, known as one of China’s most prominent civil liberties advocate, will explore the rise of the Chinese Communist Party during a talk at the University of Rhode Island. The talk, free and open to the public, will be held Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 271 of the Chafee Social Science Center, 10 Chafee Road, Kingston.

His visit is part of the URI Honors Colloquium, China Rising. The semester-long series explores China’s dramatic transformation during the past three decades, a transformation that has returned that country to the leading role it has played throughout most of world history.

Xu’s talk, “China’s Rise Under the CCP’s One-Party System – Tragedy or Blessing?” will discuss the Chinese Communist Party’s ascension to power in relation to the economy. Contrary to popular belief, the current economic boom in mainland China is not a recent phenomenon, according to Xu. China saw its economy pick up during the 1930s and 1940s. The CCP’s rise to power, however, sharply curtailed the economic progress in the 1950s. Now, as China seems to be back on track to economic prosperity, it seems unjustified to attribute the current success to the CCP’s methods of governance. Xu will discuss whether economic progress under one-party rule is necessarily something to be celebrated.

Western diplomats and human rights groups have long recognized Xu as one of China’s most prominent advocates for democracy. He was arrested for the first time in 1979 during the Democracy Wall movement as an outspoken proponent of political freedoms. He began serving a 15-year prison sentence in 1981. He was paroled in May 1993 after serving 12 years, much of it in solitary confinement.

In 1998, Xu was arrested again after attempting to set up an opposition political party, the China Democracy Party, calling for independent labor unions. He was convicted on charges of endangering state security and sentenced to 13 years. His health deteriorated quickly from the effects of malnutrition and infection with hepatitis B. Xu was eventually released on medical grounds by Chinese authorities. Prison officials took him to the Beijing airport where he boarded a plane and flew to the United States.

Xu and his wife initially settled in Pawtucket, R.I., and now live near Brown University, where he is a senior fellow at the university’s Watson Institute of International Studies.

Major sponsors of the colloquium are the Mark Ross ‘64 and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment, the Tom Silvia ’83 and Shannon Chandley ’83 Honors Colloquium Endowment, URI’s Honors Program, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Confucius Institute at URI, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, and the Division of University Advancement.

For further details on the colloquium, including an updated schedule, information on parking, and on how to support the series, go to or contact the URI Honors Center at 401-874-2381 or