This is the story of an unassuming electrician working hard at a city zoo. He was not known as the kind to stir up trouble, but as mounting injustice swirled around him, he couldn't help himself. He wrote and published a couple of essays expressing his beliefs - and was promptly arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a violent prison.
The man is Wei Jingsheng, communist China's most famous and revered political prisoner. His journey from layman to legendary crusader holds a valuable lesson about the strength of Vision. Wei's vision for a democratic China has granted him the courage and willpower to overcome countless unspeakable obstacles. Today he lives a free man and continues to fight for human rights.
The lesson we can learn is this: There is power and courage inside each one of us, waiting for an excuse to escape.
In 1978, Wei dared to stand apart in order to be heard. He had the nerve to sign his name and address to his posted essay. This was unheard of in a country where "many Chinese people…have even grown accustomed to being oppressed."
He spent eight months on death row and five years in solitary confinement with little light or food. He was tortured. He was beaten by other prisoners who hoped for the reward of a reduced sentence. Still he did not give up.
Instead, he wrote and smuggled out articles and letters that fanned the flames of the growing democratic movement. He took money from international human rights awards he won while in prison and supported other political victims.
After 14 years, Wei was released - and was arrested again after six months. The beatings continued. Almost all of his teeth fell out. He had high blood pressure, heart problems and arthritis, but was not allowed medication. He went on a hunger strike for a heater. Still he did not give up.
Finally, in 1997, China sent Wei to the United States. However, his release was not freedom, but exile from the country he loved in return for economic concessions. Still he does not give up. To this day, Chinese activists fighting for democracy still rally around his writings, while he lectures and lobbies for their human rights.
The man who has been called the "Chinese Mandela" did more than cope with the world that found him. He conquered it, both in fact and in spirit. When Wei posted his essay, he had no idea of the destiny that awaited him. Fortunately for the world, the strength of his vision gave him the courage and drive to rise to the challenge.