HUANG LI, CITIZEN of China and resident of the United States, lives a double life.
By day, he is a doctoral candidate in sociology at a large East Coast university. By night, he helps write and publish a Chinese journal critical of his country's economic policies and human rights violations.
With all but his most intimate friends, he uses the pen name of Huang Li, for he wants to return to China and knows what his nighttime activities in America could cost him if his government ever found out. But he also wants a chance to stay in this country if the prospects in China do not look good.
Full of patriotic fervor, a lust for information and a distaste for bureaucracy and repression, Huang represents a new phenomenon in American relations with China and with communist states.
No other closed socialist society -- certainly not the Soviet Union -- has ever before risked sending so many scholars and students to this country as has China in the past three years. The State Department estimates about 10,000 are here now, and, as anyone could have predicted, many have decided to stay. This poses consequences for Sino-American relations that policymakers have just begun to consider.
Peking has threatened to reduce cultural exchanges when celebrated Chinese like the tennis player Hu Na defect to the United States. But beneath the surface, Chinese officials seem as blas,e about the massive student exodus as Vice Party Chairman Deng Xiaoping seemed four years ago when he said China could stand to lose 10 percent or so of the student horde.
In the words of one American official, the Chinese "are getting more than their money's worth." Peking has used student exchanges to crack open the rich nut of American technology, political contacts and financial resources. Some Chinese students trying to find American jobs or spouses that would allow them to stay are being quietly reassured by Chinese with official connections that Peking understands and counts on them to help the motherland as best they can.
Of course, the student exchange has offered the Chinese some crude espionage opportunities. But it has also opened up innocent links to American culture, finance and politics that are even more important to Peking's diplomatic initiative to encircle the U.S.-supported island of Taiwan.
Chinese students and scholars here absorb a great deal of information at little cost to the Chinese government. Chinese living allowances are notoriously small. Many of the students have American relatives. By letting them leave China, Peking acquires the goodwill of their often wealthy and influential uncles and cousins here. The student exchange program also provides opportunities for the children of the powerful in Peking. The son of former foreign minister Huang Hua is now studying at Harvard. Deng's son has studied physics in Rochester, N.Y.
"I think the Chinese government knew the risk they were taking, exposing their people to a different system. But all things considered, they were willing to take the risk," said Gregory Tsang, a counselor at North Seattle Community College who has become a key figure in Chinese cultural exchanges with the Pacific Northwest.
Whatever Peking's attitude, the dangers for Chinese who choose to remain here and for U.S. officials who have to accommodate them still remain.
Many who wish to stay are lured by the comfortable apartments, the free and easy culture and the high salaries which China may never be able to offer them, Huang said. But what drew them to America initially is the chance to learn more about the arts or sciences to which they have devoted their lives. What disturbs them is "the fear that we will not be allowed to be useful when we return to China, and perhaps in the future might be punished for just have studied in America." He hopes for better, Huang said, but adds, "my country is not very stable."
It is unclear just how many Chinese have decided to defy government wishes and try to stay. Celebrated defectors, such as tennis player Hu Na, have received much attention. The Immigration and Naturalization Service reports an astonishing 1,030 applications for political asylum from Chinese pending at the end of fiscal year 1982. Eight more had been granted asylum that year and 94 denied. That figure could represent 10 percent of all Chinese studying here. It has caused some reported distress among officials in Peking.
Recently, university administrators here said, some Chinese admitted to American universities have been denied exit permits from China because of apparent concern over loss some of the country's best young minds.
Because of federal privacy rules and INS procedures, it is difficult to say how many of the asylum applicants are actually recent arrivals from mainland China. An official at the State Department China desk, which usually reviews most such applications, said the numbers he is aware of have yet to even reach the hundreds. INS spokesman Duke Austin said the category of "Chinese" applicants includes anyone who was born in China, even if they have spent most of their lives in Japan, France or Taiwan (which has more than 20,000 students in the United States.)
Paula Kuzmich of the State Department's bureau of human rights and humanitarian affairs said INS takes a long time to process applications and few have reached her department. So far, she said, while some of the applicants reviewed by her office are actually from Taiwan they are outnumbered by those from mainland China.
INS and State Department spokesmen said asylum applications are kept confidential, so that anyone turned down can return to his homeland without being punished for simply trying to defect. Officials familiar with the applications from Chinese say many cannot prove that they risk political persecution on their return and only want to remain here to improve their living standards.
In the meantime, Chinese here remain patriotic in a special way, committed to the ideal of China regaining a place as a great power. "They resent questions like, 'Well, are you going back? Don't you want to stay here?' It's insulting," said one California university professor who has sponsored some Chinese students here.
"Not everything in this country is just fine," Huang said. The crime rate is much higher in poverty-stricken American cities than it is in China, he said. Also, "sometimes I find the relationships between people here are very cold," he said, adding that he had still managed to make many friends.
Harvard junior John Day, who knows several of the Chinese studying there and has roomed with one of them, said they tend to be uncomfortable at a normally uproarious American college weekend party and often stick to themselves. They like concerts and plays, but study so much harder than their American counterparts that their social lives seem thin by comparison. None of the Chinese he has met, Day said, has ever expressed a desire not to return to China.
Although Chinese react to the attractions and temptations of American life in many different ways, their basic response can often be predicted by simply asking who pays their bills. According to the State Department, about 4,500 of the students and scholars here are government-supported -- what the Chinese call gong fei. An additional 5,500 are zi fei, or self-supported, which usually means friends or relatives in this country have agreed to act as their financial sponsors and help pay their tuition and living costs.
The zi fei students tend to be younger, more influenced by the economic attractions of American life, and freer to plan a strategy for staying on. Huang Li came to the United States under the sponsorship of an American teacher he had met in China and an American university. He acknowledges that "people who are not supported by the government -- many don't want to t ago back." They include many young people whose scholar-, landlord-, and capitalist-class families once suffered discrimination in China and who lived under a cloud just for having relatives in America. They may make up the bulk of asylum applicants.
Gong fei students, often part of some formal exchange program between the Chinese and American governments, have tended to be older and often have wives and children who remain behind in China.
"The gong fei students really have no chance to stay, so they don't even want to think about it," said Janet Yang, an American who previously worked in Peking and now studies at the Columbia University business school. One professor at a California campus said he sees such students "trying to prolong the experience as long as possible," soaking up U.S. technology and research that will help them in their fields. They also buy cassette tape recorders and other favored items at a record clip to ship back home.
Some crumble emotionally under the pressures of American life. "In China, everything is taken care of for you," said Tsang. "The choices are limited, and you can get used to that. In the United States, you have a lot of choices, but a lot of confusion. How to make a telephone call, how to get downtown, how to see a professor. This is the American spirit, but to some Chinese it's terrible."
Many Chinese here labor under severe language difficulties, particularly those who were selected for study abroad through political connections rather than merit. In at least two cases, Chinese studying here have committed suicide out of apparent despair that they were not keeping up in their studies.
Added to this is the usual sense of political intrigue that follows Chinese wherever they go. On campuses where large numbers of Chinese are studying, officials from Chinese consulates have occasionally visited to warn against dangerous associations with Americans of the opposite sex, or attendance at political meetings where life in China might be criticized. Some zi fei students, bothered by the close government connections of some gong fei students, have tried to keep their campus addresses a secret.
American security authorities have long suspected that many of the huge numbers of Chinese (as well as Taiwanese) students here also played a part-time espionage role. One California professor said a friendly FBI agent told him the bureau had the Chinese consul in San Francisco under investigation for attempting to steal high-technology secrets with the help of Chinese scholars on some campuses.
But most of the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere involves Chinese vs. Chinese, looking out for each other in a way that duplicates their lives back home.
"Who is to know that in 10 or 15 years having studied in the United States might be considered politically dangerous? So how do you cover yourself?" said one California professor who has lived in China and knows several Chinese here. Some suspect that an emotional attack on the display of a Taiwan flag at the International Center at the University of California at San Diego by several Chinese scholars grew in part from this need to display unflagging loyalty to Peking and its government.
"You have to be harder on the issue than you have to be if you are back in China," said a California professor who said an upcoming trip to China would be jeopardized if he was identified. "When people go back, they are more or less obliged to hold briefing sessions and make remarks critical of the United States and life here. It's a sad world, but it's the world they have to live in."
Richard T. S. Hsu, a Chinese petroleum ministry official studying law at the University of Washington, said visiting Chinese scholars "could have a better life here, but they don't admire this country. . . . I find among intellectuals, even those who suffered during the cultural revolution (as Hsu himself did), they want to return to help the motherland."
Thomas Fingar, director of the U.S.-China relations program at Stanford University, notes that almost all the Chinese students there wear the drab brown and blue slacks and jackets they brought from home. They don't have much money and often don't care about clothes, Fingar said, but added, "who wants to explain when you go home why you wore American clothes, why you wanted to be different from your comrades?"
Some still hope to change their homeland, including the small band of six students from the Chinese mainland and six ethnic Chinese from other parts of the world who edit the new magazine "China Spring" in New York. Led by Wang Bingzhang, a 33-year-old Chinese physician who defected after reaching Canada on a Chinese government scholarship, the group has dedicated their journal to the notion that "although the democracy movement within China has been suppressed, it is not dead."
Huang said the group distributed 6,500 copies of the first issue in this country. It included articles supporting Chinese political prisoners, especially the young Chinese who were involved in the Democracy Wall movement of the late '70s. It also contained criticizing the Chinese economic "readjustment" policy and the lack of "legal perspective" on the part of Chinese leader Hu Yaobang. Another 20,000 copies are scheduled to be distributed in Hong Kong this month so that residents can take them to relatives inside China during their traditional Chinese New Year visits. Huang said the magazine has received more than 2,000 letters -- less than 10 of them critical, and many from Chinese students studying here.
Now in his 30s, Huang was sent to a rural village and then a city factory during the cultural revolution. He insists his country is ripe for the same kind of workers revolt that led to the Solidarity movement in Poland. He has two years left on his visa and sees no difficulty in extending it. But, he adds, "I will go back before my study is up if the situation changes" and China seems ripe again for economic and political reform.
Huang has sifted the letters to the magazine from Chinese here. "Some are not very happy to go back. Life does not look so good for them there," he said. "But some are like me, they very much want to go back. They want to do something for China."