November 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Chinese Dissident Offered Exile Instead Of Solitary Wei Jingsheng Admitted To Hospital In Detroit For Medical Evaluation

Judy Pasternak And Donald W. Nauss Los Angeles Times
 

The trip that Wei Jingsheng once vowed he would never take ended Sunday in Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital, where China’s most famous dissident was admitted after making a journey that freed him from prison but removed him from his native land.

Granted medical parole from a 14-year sentence, his second prison term, Wei was being treated for hypertension and evaluated for other health problems. A preliminary exam indicates Wei is in “fair but stable condition,” said Thomas C. Royer, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

The famous patient walked into the hospital without assistance, Royer said.

A videotaped interview with Wei, 47, that was screened at a July tribute in Los Angeles shows him insisting that he would remain in his homeland, where he had spoken out boldly for democratic change. A friend of Wei has written that he rejected an earlier freedom-for-exile bargain.

But less than two weeks after Chinese President Jiang Zemin returned from a state visit to the United States - facing barbs about human rights from protesters and from President Clinton - Wei boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 88 with a U.S. Embassy nurse as his escort.

Although Wei’s family members said in Beijing that he wanted to return to China, the terms of his release appear to indicate that Wei will not be allowed back as a free man. Although Wei had long resisted going into exile, his poor health and harsh prison conditions compelled him to leave, his siblings told reporters in Beijing.

State Department spokesman Elaine McDevitt said Washington had been told by the Chinese government that “any decision on Mr. Wei’s return to China would be made in accordance with Chinese law.” Under Chinese law, Wei is considered a criminal. The State Department official said Wei decided to leave on medical parole, “understanding the Chinese government position.”

As a result, Wei joins other Chinese dissidents who have been forced into exile in the United States in the last several years. By sending them out of the country, Chinese authorities are able to prevent them from political opposition activity on Chinese soil.

When his plane finally left Beijing, one hour and 25 minutes late, Wei was plied with V.I.P. treatment that must have offered a stunning contrast to the years of hunger, illness, sleepless nights and sanctioned beatings that he and his family have described in published writings.

Wei dined on steak in the 18-chair first-class section of the Boeing 747 during the 13-hour trip.

The courageous outspokenness that sent him to prison in China won him admirers here. Some made long pilgrimages to the airport.

Paul Xiong, for example, said he couldn’t sleep after hearing the news of Wei’s release on television late Saturday night. He and his wife, Min Jiang, both natives of China, left their home in Buffalo Grove, Ill., at 4:30 a.m.

They drove for six hours, arriving just in time to watch everyone but Wei filter through the customs exit door.

Chinese human rights activists flew out from New York. Liu Qiug, also a former political prisoner who said he met Wei in 1978, said he believes the release saved Wei’s life.

But he noted it did not herald a dramatic shift in China’s policy. “This is not a sign of improvement,” said Liu, chairman of the New Yorkbased group Human Rights in China. “This is another way to erase another voice for freedom in China.”

The group’s executive director, Xiao Qiang, agreed. Wei’s apparent exile “is in fact another form of persecution,” he said.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

WEI REFUSED TO LET PRISON BREAK HIS SPIRIT

During Wei Jingsheng’s years in prison, he often played a dangerous game.

Despite his untold suffering, his long stretches of solitary confinement and his hunger strikes, and even when his teeth fell out and his head ached, Wei regularly wrote to China’s senior leaders to tease and ridicule them.

In a humorous and deeply impertinent manner, he challenged China’s leaders to live by their words. He invoked his rights under China’s Constitution, like free speech.

“Dear Jiang Zemin:

“Although you looked fatter on television recently than you did when you were in Shanghai, I can guess that this is only an indication of your cook’s talents and not because you are having an easy time of things. Those who transfer to Beijing from elsewhere don’t usually have it easy because they don’t have a foothold in the local network of official connections. Nominally, you are the most senior leader in the country, but you’re still forced to say only the words of others - I’ve yet to hear your own voice once. …”

-letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Sept. 5, 1990

Creating his tragedy

“His tragedy did not simply befall him,” wrote Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of Chinese studies at Columbia University, in the preface to a collection of Wei’s letters published this year. “He created and shaped it.”

Wei stubbornly but politely turned down the urgings of family members to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, like ordinary people. But Wei was not ordinary.

“Wei Jingsheng (pronounced WAY JING-SHUHNG) is a natural-born hero,” said Liu Qing, a longtime friend and fellow activist. “The desire and impulse to accomplish great things burn in his veins.”

This sidebar appeared with the story: WEI REFUSED TO LET PRISON BREAK HIS SPIRIT During Wei Jingsheng’s years in prison, he often played a dangerous game. Despite his untold suffering, his long stretches of solitary confinement and his hunger strikes, and even when his teeth fell out and his head ached, Wei regularly wrote to China’s senior leaders to tease and ridicule them. In a humorous and deeply impertinent manner, he challenged China’s leaders to live by their words. He invoked his rights under China’s Constitution, like free speech. “Dear Jiang Zemin: “Although you looked fatter on television recently than you did when you were in Shanghai, I can guess that this is only an indication of your cook’s talents and not because you are having an easy time of things. Those who transfer to Beijing from elsewhere don’t usually have it easy because they don’t have a foothold in the local network of official connections. Nominally, you are the most senior leader in the country, but you’re still forced to say only the words of others - I’ve yet to hear your own voice once. …” -letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Sept. 5, 1990

Creating his tragedy “His tragedy did not simply befall him,” wrote Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of Chinese studies at Columbia University, in the preface to a collection of Wei’s letters published this year. “He created and shaped it.” Wei stubbornly but politely turned down the urgings of family members to keep his head down and stay out of trouble, like ordinary people. But Wei was not ordinary. “Wei Jingsheng (pronounced WAY JING-SHUHNG) is a natural-born hero,” said Liu Qing, a longtime friend and fellow activist. “The desire and impulse to accomplish great things burn in his veins.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email