Ren Wanding played a role in two separate pro-democracy movements in China, a decade apart: the 1978 protests around the Democracy Wall and the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement. His writing champions transparency and freedom of speech, and criticizes the Chinese government for failing to deliver the rights guaranteed in its constitution.
For his activism in the first democracy movement, he was held in solitary confinement in a small cell for four years. A decade later, he was sentenced to seven years and endured the same conditions. The court explained its decision to give Ren the longest sentence by claiming he “showed no repentance.” In cramped quarters that left him exposed to the elements, Ren Wanding’s health suffered and he developed cataracts.
In 1998, the journalist Nicholas Kristof asked Ren how he had managed to face the threat of prison a second time after all he had been through. Ren replied: ''I went through some very frightening experiences. But China has no democracy and no human rights, and its living standard is too low. These are even more frightening.''