Wei Jingsheng Wins 1998 Melcher Book Award for "The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings"
Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President John Buehrens recognized author Wei Jingsheng for his courage and his writing as he presented to him the 1998 Melcher Book Award for his book, The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters From Prison and Other Writing. The Award was conferred at a ceremony held at UUA headquarters on February 2, 1998. (Melcher Book Award citation below.)
Arrested in 1979 for demanding democratic reforms from the Chinese Communist Party, Wei Jingsheng was imprisoned for nearly 18 years. From his solitary confinement cell, he continued to dedicate himself to the cause of democracy and human rights in China through his writing. His letters—some addressed to family members and friends, some to party officials, some even to Deng Xiaoping—express with breathtaking boldness and idealism his views on economic and social reform, foreign relations and investments, and Tibet. They have been translated and collected for the first time in The Courage to Stand Alone.
Never afraid to criticize party officials, Wei Jingsheng skillfully turned party doctrine upon itself in his letters from prison. His words are always calm, intelligent, and compassionate yet at the same time obstinate and unwavering—from his calls for an end to tyranny, to his simple requests for family visits or that the light in his cell be turned off at night.
Wei Jingsheng was released and exiled from China in November 1997 so that he could be treated in the U.S. for his medical conditions, worsened by years of imprisonment. Now, as an exile traveling throughout the United States and Canada, he continues to lift his voice to speak out against China's government and to remind all who will listen that the people in China are not free.
Buehrens said of Jingsheng, "As he has commented, 'Generations of martyrs sacrificed themselves in order to obtain democracy in Europe and North America and many other places in the world. But people should not be satisfied with this. Those who already enjoy democracy, liberty, and human rights should not allow their own personal happiness to lull them into forgetting the many who are still struggling against tyranny.'
"We are honored to give the 1998 Melcher Book Award to Wei Jingsheng for The Courage to Stand Alone. And we particularly recognize the timeliness of this award as the president of our country currently visits China—the first visit by a US leader since the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. May Jingsheng's words motivate our president to be steadfast in his urging for China's improvements in human rights and motivate us to continually fight our own complacency."
1998 Melcher Book Award Citation to Wei Jingsheng
Wei Jingsheng, your letters, written during eighteen years of imprisonment by the Chinese government, are an enduring testament to the human spirit. Since the days of the Democracy Wall in 1978, you have been an outspoken advocate of human rights and critic of government policy. Through brutal confinement, isolation, and ill health, you maintained courage, intellectual vigor, tender concern for your family and country, and—perhaps most amazingly—a sense of humor. With a plain-spoken faith in humanism you made heroic self-sacrifice seem a matter of modest common sense. Released for half a year and re-imprisoned, you never let the light of your resolve grow dim. It shone out to inspire your compatriots, discomfort your government, and win the admiration of freedom-loving people around the world.
We congratulate you now on your release and bid you welcome to the United States. For you, we wish a return to health and life's everyday pleasures. We need not wish you continued undertakings in the name of human rights, for these will surely follow. For ourselves, we wish a measure of your courage and tenacity as we continue to journey hard toward a world in which all people are free.