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Opinion

How exile Feng Zhenghu is taking on China's bullying -- from an airport

Feng Zhenghu, the activist stuck at a Japanese airport, is igniting hope to other exiled Chinese.

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To fight for their right to return home, affected Chinese citizens in the West have tried almost everything. They have launched petitions and staged hunger strikes and protests in front of Chinese embassies. Some have even kept silent, hoping to quietly negotiate their way back home. So far, that hasn’t worked.

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In 2002, Yang Jianli, a Chinese scholar and human rights activist, used an altered passport to board a flight and managed to get back into China. He was soon captured and thrown in a Chinese jail for five years.

Before his death in 2005, exiled writer Liu Bingyan had contacted the Chinese authorities, begging to go home for cancer treatment. The government turned him down and he died in a foreign land.

Consistently met with such failure, those in exile had all but given up the fight to return home.

But, through his heroic effort, Feng has energized a “return home movement” for Chinese exiles all over the world.

He has found a perfect international venue, free of the harassment from Chinese police and free from the threat of Chinese prisons. He has attracted attention from inside as well as outside China.

At the airport, passing passengers hear about his story and give him water and food. Chinese activists from Hong Kong and the US fly in to bring supplies and offer him encouragement.

Several technology experts inside China secretly helped him set up a Twitter account so he could broadcast his situation. He has received thousands of Twitter and text messages from well-wishers throughout the world.

The Chinese government has not yet responded nor has it offered any concessions, but with the increasing media coverage the pressure is building. Significantly, the issue was brought up by reporters at a recent Chinese Foreign Ministry press conference.

It wouldn’t be too difficult to lift the ban and allow Feng to go home. What the Chinese leadership fear is that any concession regarding Feng will open a floodgate for hundreds of other Chinese like me who are stuck in a similar limbo. Allowing activists to return home could mean more threats to a regime that has been built on suppression and persecution. But since the issue has come to the forefront of human rights campaigns, inaction could pose problems for China on the international scene.

Feng’s brave efforts have ignited hope among those in exile of a change in the Chinese government. His high-profile protest will no doubt only increase. China cannot emerge as a respected international voice if those who have unjustly been forced into exile or prison continue to be a thorn in its side.

Chinese in exile must fight until the day when we are allowed to go back to our home country and reunite with our families.

Xiaoping Chen is studying for his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison. He is formerly a journalist and Niemann Fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Wen Huang translated the piece from Chinese to English.

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