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The blessings of liberty

By Doug Patton
web posted January 6, 2003

"We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
- Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

Most Americans probably believe that the words of our founding documents are somehow almost mystical, plucked from the air by special people at a peculiar juncture in history to establish a nation like no other that had ever existed.

That, indeed, may be the case, but it begs the question of whether or not others instinctively yearn for the same liberties Madison, Franklin and the others quantified in 1787 after long years of war. How can human beings who have never tasted freedom, who have always had their lives managed and structured and restricted, know intuitively that they desire it?

At 59, Xu Wenli was a little boy when Mao Tse-tung enslaved his native China. This is a man who grew up under some of the most brutal and restrictive Communist oppression the world has ever known. He was five years old in 1949, when, after twenty years of civil war, Chiang kai-shek was driven from the mainland into exile on the island of Taiwan. The Chinese people were simply imprisoned by tyranny and grinding poverty. There was no escape, and like prisoners on a chain gang, few tried.

Yet, Xu Wenli refused to accept a life lived under the boot of totalitarianism. He yearned for more, for himself, for his family and for his people.

Xu spent the majority of the last two decades behind bars. His crimes? The last time, he was convicted of endangering state security. It is a charge increasingly used by the government against China's leading dissidents in recent years, but Xu's confrontations with authorities go back to 1979, when he was arrested for advocating greater political freedoms during the Democracy Wall movement. He also was imprisoned from 1982 to 1993 on charges of counterrevolution, and once received a 13-year sentence for tying to set up the opposition China Democracy Party, which the government then crushed.

Xu Wenli, left, a leading Chinese pro-democracy activist, smiles alongside his wife, He Xintong, after arriving at LaGuardia Airport in New York on December 24
Xu Wenli, left, a leading Chinese pro-democracy activist, smiles alongside his wife, He Xintong, after arriving at LaGuardia Airport in New York on December 24

Xu Wenli is out of prison now and planning to start a new life in the United States. He was freed last month after intense lobbying by Clark Randt, the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, and repeated requests for his freedom by U.S. legislators visiting China. Xu and his wife were flown to New York to meet their daughter, who lives and teaches school in Rhode Island.

Xu Wenli says he is in awe of the task of starting his life over at 59. His story should humble and inspire every American. After fighting for the liberation of his own people for a quarter of a century, he now finds himself in a land where its citizens take incredible freedom for granted every day in every area of life.

Xu Wenli should have his name chiseled in the ages next to William Wallace, Patrick Henry and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, men who refused to accept anything short of freedom.

It is probably safe to say that Xu Wenli is more appreciative of his freedoms than most of us will ever be. As we face the uncertainty of another new year, when tyrants once again force free people to confront despotism, we would do well to regard the words of our own Founders, who called us to pursue the blessings of liberty.

© 2002 by Doug Patton

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