A Chinese flag waves in front of Shanghai's Pudong financial district, December 2015.
Aly Song / Reuters

China’s first petition for democratic change after the death of Mao Zedong came in the Democracy Wall movement of 1978–1979. Responding to Deng Xiaoping’s call for four modernizations, a dissident named Wei Jingsheng used his eloquent writing brush to produce a wall poster demanding a fifth modernization—democracy. He was sent to prison and later into exile in the United States. The demand for democracy was raised again in 1989 by students in Tiananmen Square. When the leader of the Communist Party at the time, Zhao Ziyang, advocated for dialogue with the students, he was purged and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Again, in 2008, the writer Liu Xiaobo led hundreds of intellectuals in calling for the Chinese regime to obey the letter of its own constitution by allowing the people to exercise political freedoms. For leading this movement, Charter 08, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in

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