China dissident's release raises a mother's hopes Perhaps it portends freedom for jailed son

November 21, 1997|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- Wang Lingyun spends nearly a third of her $120 paycheck to travel 10 hours by train every month to a prison to see her ailing son, Wang Dan, a jailed student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

With the release this week of China's most prominent dissident, Wei Jingsheng, she wonders if her son could be next and if her misery and his will end.

"It's really difficult to predict it, the Chinese government always surprises you," she said yesterday. "I feel very painful and worried, because he's so young."

Last weekend, Chinese officials suddenly released Wei, regarded as the father of China's fledgling democracy movement, so he could receive medical treatment in the United States. This week, a government official said that such medical paroles ought to continue, spurring speculation that Wang might be released soon.

In an interview yesterday, Wang Lingyun talked about her son's condition and her life as the mother of one of China's most prominent dissidents.

Wang Dan, 28, is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion in a prison in China's northeastern province of Liaoning. He had previously served four years for his leadership of the Tiananmen protests, where he criticized government corruption and called for democratic reforms.

Wang Lingyun says her son suffers from stomach problems, a chronic cough and an inflamed prostate. She is most concerned, though, by his continual headaches, which she fears could be caused by a tumor. The prison hospital does not have a CT scan and won't send him to one that does, she said.

"If he stays there, his health will become worse and worse," Wang Lingyun said. "The life in jail is really too bitter for a man in his 20s."

Until six months ago, Wang Dan had told his mother that he would not leave China for medical treatment unless the Chinese government guaranteed that she could go with him and that he could return. Wang Lingyun said he has changed his mind rTC because of his health and is now willing to leave without conditions.

"I just kept telling him that so long as you have a chance to leave the country, you should go," his mother said.

When Wang Lingyun visited her son last week, his spirits were fine, she said. During their monthly meetings, they speak for about 90 minutes as government officials listen. When the subject strays from family matters, officials intervene.

While Wei Jingsheng has complained of being beaten in prison and living under constant watch, Wang Dan's conditions sound better. He shares a cell with six criminals, shows no sign of physical abuse and has a guitar, his mother said.

In recent months, Wang Lingyun has written the Ministry of Justice asking officials to release her son or move him to a prison in Beijing, because the family won't always be able to afford monthly trips to visit him, she said.

Wang Lingyun, 62, dresses in simple black pants and a brown jacket with a navy blue sweater underneath. She works part time researching modern history at the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, which borders Tiananmen Square. Her husband, Wang Xianzeng, also 62, is a geology professor at Beijing University, the premier university of China.

She pays a price for being the mother of a dissident.

Policemen have followed her by car and motorcycle, taking photographs as they go, she said. The surveillance often comes during major political events, such as last summer's handover of Hong Kong or this fall's 15th Communist Party Congress.

Sometimes, she said, she hasn't known why surveillance has been stepped up until she turned on the television news to learn that a delegation from the United States had arrived in Beijing. When former Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited in 1996, the government cut her phone service.

While China's government has branded her son a criminal and his imprisonment has been "a disaster for this family," Wang Lingyun said she supports him.

"What Wang Dan has done is good for the country," she said. 'He's no danger to society."

While some have hailed China for freeing Wei, 47, who has spent most of the past two decades in prison, it remains unclear whether his parole is a real sign of change, or a token gesture after Chinese President Jiang Zemin's recent summit with President Clinton in Washington.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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