Top Chinese dissident gets visa, comes to U.S.

January 07, 1993|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,New York Bureau

NEW YORK -- China's most-wanted man, dissident Zheng Yi, arrived here yesterday after being smuggled out of the country by an underground railroad of anti-government sympathizers and spending five months waiting for a visa to enter the United States.

The 45-year-old novelist was accompanied by his wife, Bei Ming, who told reporters of their 3 1/2 -year odyssey: "In the past, under the totalitarian system, it would have been impossible for a wanted person to hide for three years. But the party has lost the heart of the people."

Asked how he felt about China's future, Mr. Zheng said, "From my experience over the past three years I am very optimistic."

Mr. Zheng, a high-profile spokesman for China's democracy movement that nearly was crushed in June 1989 in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, spent nearly three years underground in China, being passed from one safe house to the next, until he arrived in Hong Kong five months ago.

When Mr. Zheng applied for a U.S. visa, he was told to try the Canadians instead, according to Liu Pinyan, an exiled Chinese journalist who met Mr. Zheng here. Three and a half months passed before the Canadians turned him down and the dissident then reapplied to the U.S. Consulate, Mr. Liu said. The visas were issued two days ago and they left Hong Kong immediately.

His escape was almost overshadowed by documents he brought that allege the Chinese Communist Party sanctioned cannibalism of opponents during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The documents, which stem from a 1980s investigation into cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution in southern Guangxi Autonomous Region, say that local party officials made use of the reigning mass hysteria and paranoia to kill at least 100 opponents and serve up their flesh to locals, who ate the meat either as a punishment or to prove to officials that they hated the dead.

Robin Munro, who studies China's human rights situation for Asia Watch in Hong Kong, said he believes the documents are authentic and were not concocted by the ruling government to discredit the ousted supporters of Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, who died in 1976.

"The crimes by Mao Tse-tung have never been disclosed. We need to discuss them and remember them so they never happen again," Mr. Zheng said last night.

Mr. Zheng plans to move to Princeton, N.J., where about 10 other exiled Chinese writers have a workshop, the Princeton China initiative.

Mr. Zheng is known in China for his novel "Old Well," a sympathetic but somber view of peasant life that was made into a popular film. In the West, he is best known as a spokesman for intellectuals during the pro-democracy protests of 1989. He wrote a manifesto calling Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping "a senile and fatuous autocrat."

When troops moved into Beijing to quell the protest, Mr. Zheng fled the city and was protected by sympathetic officials and citizens. The police jailed his wife for 10 months but when he didn't resurface they released her. She then joined him and they went to Hong Kong.

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