Distributed January 21, 2003
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Watson Institute for International Studies

Chinese dissident Xu Wenli to serve as visiting senior fellow at Brown

Xu Wenli, the Chinese pro-democracy activist whose Christmas Eve medical release from prison allowed him to emigrate to the United States, has been appointed a visiting senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Xu Wenli, the Chinese dissident and civil liberties advocate who recently emigrated to the United States, has been named a visiting senior fellow at Brown University’s Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies. Xu will hold a six-month appointment through June 30, 2003.

“Mr. Xu’s activities as a proponent of democratic values in the People’s Republic of China, along with the imprisonment and deprivation he has endured, have given him an extraordinary perspective on social and political life in China,” said Thomas Biersteker, director of the Watson Institute. “We welcome him to Brown University as a colleague and look forward to a semester of productive collaboration and discussions.”

The Watson Institute has long offered appointments as senior fellows to individuals outside academe whose knowledge, expertise and experience will help advance the research agenda of the Institute. Senior fellows hold appointments for fixed terms ranging from several weeks to a semester or more, collaborating with scholars and research groups in specific areas of international studies.

At the Watson Institute, Xu will join three other visiting Chinese scholars currently in residence. Although not fluent in English, Xu will be able to work with several bilingual Chinese and Chinese-American students who will assist him with translation. In addition to his activities at Brown, Xu plans to begin learning English. “We hope Mr. Xu’s appointment at the Institute will be useful to him as he and his wife begin their new life in the United States,” Biersteker said.

Xu’s release on medical grounds by Chinese authorities came suddenly on Christmas Eve 2002. Prison officials took him by van to the Beijing airport and delivered him to a runway where a United Airlines plane was awaiting takeoff. He was reunited with his wife, He Xintong, who was already aboard, and the couple flew directly to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where they were greeted by their daughter, Xu Jin. Xu and his wife have settled initially in Pawtucket, R.I., with their daughter, who is an art instructor at a private school in Providence.

Western diplomats and human rights groups have long recognized Xu as one of China’s most prominent advocates for democracy. He was arrested for the first time in 1979 during the Democracy Wall movement as an outspoken proponent of political freedoms. Charged with “illegally organizing a clique to overthrow the government,” he began serving a 15-year prison sentence in 1981. He was paroled in May 1993 after serving 12 years and 48 days, much of it in solitary confinement. His health suffered significantly.

Xu, now 59, was arrested again in 1998 after he tried to set up an opposition political party, the China Democracy Party, and, among other efforts, called for independent labor unions. He was convicted on charges of endangering state security and sentenced to 13 years. His health, which had begun to return after his 1993 parole, deteriorated rapidly, particularly from the effects of malnutrition and infection with hepatitis B. International human rights groups, the American ambassador and visiting Western officials pressed urgently for his release.

“I was educated in my family to believe that I have responsibility for society,” Xu has said. “Someone has to give up their freedom to fight for the whole country’s freedom, and I believe I was the one.”

Xu’s arrival at Brown comes 13 years after the University provided sanctuary for three dissident Chinese writers in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. In December 1989, Brown President Vartan Gregorian welcomed Ma Bo, Bei Ling and Xue Di to appointments as writing fellows in the Graduate Writing Program for the spring semester.