Ten years ago, Jared Genser and Yang Jianli camped out on the steps of Harvard University’s Memorial Church and went on a hunger strike to protest the visit of Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Both protesters were students at the Kennedy School of Government, but that’s all they had in common. At 34, Yang was a seasoned Chinese dissident who had left the safety of his doctoral studies in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, to document the atrocities at Tiannanmen Square. The 25-year-old Genser was a well-intentioned Jewish American kid, until then mainly drawn to domestic causes. At the end of their 48-hour hunger strike, Genser and Yang helped to lead a 5,000-strong rally — according to The Boston Globe, one of the largest at Harvard since Vietnam.
Since then Yang and Genser have found their lives intertwined. Genser was inspired by Yang to become a lawyer and then to found Freedom Now, a group dedicated to freeing prisoners of conscience. And it was largely thanks to Freedom Now that Yang was able to leave a Chinese prison earlier this year and to return to the United States on Saturday as a free man.
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