Yang Jianli is a Chinese pro-democracy activist. Jianli was born in Shandong Province in northern China and graduated from Beijing Normal University. Despite being viewed as a member with high potential in the Chinese Communist Party, Jianli left China to study mathematics at U.C. Berkeley, after seeing the corruption and deception within the communist party. In 1989, he was selected by Berkeley graduate students to travel to Beijing to support the Chinese students protesting for democracy in Tiananmen Square. There, Jianli witnessed the massacre of thousands of civilians at the hands of the Chinese army. Jianli was able to escape and return to the US to complete a doctorate in political economy at Harvard University. However, he was blacklisted by the Chinese government for his participation in the protests. In 2002, Jianli returned to China to investigate labor unrest in the northern region. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment for spying." Following an international outcry for his release, led by the legal non-profit Freedom Now, including a UN Resolution and a unanimous vote of both houses of the United States Congress, Jianli was freed in 2007.
After these experiences, Jianli became even more committed to pro-democracy activism. He established Initiatives for China, an organization dedicated to democracy in China, formed the Foundation for China in the 21st Century, created the Interethnic/Interfaith Leadership Conferences, founded China E-Weekly (also known as Yibao magazine), and is the co-author of A Constitution for a Democratic China. Most recently, Jianli co-chaired the Committee on Internet Freedom at the Geneva Human Rights and Democracy Summit.
Jianli believes that the path to democracy in China lies in the kindling of a unified Citizen Power among all Chinese citizens and that the US has the responsibility to hold China accountable for its political and human rights violations. Jianli was elected by Chinese independent intellectuals as one of the top 100 Chinese Public Intellectuals of 2009, and is recognized by Chinese Twitter users as one of the 50 Most Respected Chinese Citizens of 2009. Jianlis views on the impact of Internet censorship inside China and on world security have stimulated widespread discussion and have recently been published in The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Foreign Policy magazine.