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  • China Special Report
  •   Exiled Dissident, in Fair Health, Wants Eventual Return to China

    By Lena H. Sun
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, April 21, 1998; Page A03

    Exiled Chinese dissident Wang Dan, after getting a clean bill of health from doctors in Detroit, declared yesterday he hopes to return to his country as soon possible because "China is in my heart."

    Wang, known in China and around the world as the serious young man with glasses, red headband and loudspeaker during the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989, topped China's most-wanted list after the Chinese Army cracked down on protesters. He was serving an 11-year sentence on charges of conspiring to subvert the state when released on "medical parole" from a Chinese jail and flown into exile Sunday as part of a reported deal between Beijing and Washington to pave the way for a summit conference next June in China.

    "I'm free now, but I do not feel relaxed," Wang said in a statement issued from the Detroit hospital where he underwent tests and was fitted with contact lenses. "China is in my heart. I hope I can go back to my country soon."

    Wang, 29, was the second major Chinese dissident to be freed in the last five months. In November, Wei Jingsheng, China's most prominent government critic, also was released on "medical parole." Neither he nor Wang was found to suffer from life-threatening illness.

    State Department spokesman James P. Rubin lauded what he said is increased willingness by Chinese intellectuals to question the government recently, but he insisted that Wang should be allowed to return home if he wants to. "We believe there are many, many other political prisoners in China, and there is a long, long way to go if China is to enter the mainstream of nations that provide democratic freedoms to their people," Rubin said.

    The Chinese government has in the past released prominent dissidents to improve its image before important international meetings, leading human rights groups and dissidents to accuse it of playing "hostage politics." Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is due in Beijing April 29 to prepare for the summit between President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

    After arriving in Detroit Sunday, Wang was taken to Henry Ford Hospital for a medical evaluation. Wang has suffered for months from throat infections and persistent headaches, his family has said, and his parents were worried he had a brain tumor. Wang is a slender young man who appears underweight for his size and age, doctors said.

    After completing a medical workup, including a magnetic resonance imaging scan of Wang's brain, doctors ruled out brain tumors and any other neurological problems, said Thomas C. Royer, the chief medical officer at Henry Ford Hospital. "The MRI of his head was completely normal," Royer said in a telephone interview.

    Chest X-rays showed no tuberculosis, but a throat exam found a "mild cough asthma" that appears to be an allergic reaction, Royer said. Wang is being treated for the cough asthma, adding that the condition, while likely to be chronic, could easily be controlled. "Otherwise, we really don't have any real grave concerns for him," he added.

    Wang's headaches were a result of eye strain, and the hospital, at Wang's request, fitted him with new contact lenses, Royer said. Wang "looked tired," Royer said, and has had some tea, juices, fruits and vegetables. In his statement, Wang also thanked the staff at the hospital for their support and care.

    Wang, who is scheduled to be released from the hospital at 1 p.m. today, plans to fly to New York to meet with friends and hold a news conference Thursday at the New York Academy of Sciences, according to Human Rights in China, a New York-based human rights group.

    After completing his medical tests, Wang left the hospital briefly yesterday afternoon in search of a bookstore in downtown Detroit. Finding none, he window-shopped in a mall, according to Xiao Qiang, executive director of the human rights group.

    Even before the 1989 protests in Beijing that thrust him into prominence, Wang, a history student, was an organizer of a series of "democracy salons" at his prestigious Beijing University.

    During the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, Wang became one of the student leaders and was considered more thoughtful and reasonable than some of the others. He took part in a hunger strike that helped force a televised meeting with then-Premier Li Peng.

    His name and physical description headed the government's most-wanted list after the protests were crushed. Jailed and charged with counterrevolutionary incitement and spreading propaganda, he was sentenced to four years. He was released after about four months -- in February 1993 -- in a move aimed at wooing the Clinton administration as it prepared to decide whether to renew China's most-favored-nation trading status.

    Following his release, Wang continued to meet with fellow dissidents and foreign journalists and to criticize the government and Communist Party in essays published abroad.

    He was arrested again in May 1995 and then spent 17 months in detention without trial. In October 1996, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison on subversion charges.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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