Fang Zheng Dances in Name of Democracy

Olympic hopeful gets back on his feet after losing legs in 1989 Tiananmen riots.

ByABC News
October 7, 2009, 11:34 AM

Oct. 7, 2009— -- Fang Zheng sent a human rights message to China today, by way of a waltz. Fang, 42, was back on his feet -- and dancing, no less -- for the first time today since a tank sheared off his legs in the uprising at Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

Then a 22-year-old university senior and accomplished sprinter with Olympic ambitions, Fang joined the demonstrations for democracy in 1989. He and his fellow students were agitating against the Communist government, hoping to win democratic rights. But on June 4, 1989, the Chinese regime issued a crackdown, and Fang was one of the casualties.

"In the blink of an eye, the tank was approaching the sidewalk and closing in on me. It seemed as if the barrel of its gun was inches from my face. I could not dodge it in time. I threw myself to the ground and began to roll. But it was too late. My upper body fell between two treads of the tank, but both my legs were run over," he said in a testimony before a human rights commission. "The treads rolled over my legs and my pants, and I was dragged for a distance. I used all my strength to break free and to roll to the side of the road."

Fang's legs were crushed beneath the tank; his right leg was amputated midway at his thigh and his left below the knee. A newspaper photo taken moments afterward captured the horrific, bloody scene. Chinese doctors were able to save Fang's life but not his legs, leaving him wheelchair-bound -- and blacklisted as a political dissident.

Fang said that authorities investigating the case urged him to deny the government's role in his accident, and blame his disability on a random event.

"They wanted me to keep quiet about the fact that a tank had crushed students. But I refused," he testified.

Despite his disability, Fang managed to find his way back to track and field, participating in the third All-China Disabled Athletic Games in Guangzhou in 1992, where he won two gold medals in discus throwing.

But he was still seen as a troublemaker by the Chinese government, and he says the government refused to give him a passport to leave the country. The government also kept him under close surveillance, and Fang said he was often harassed by Communist officials.