NAN was peeling ginger while watching CNN. The TV, hung up in a corner behind the counter, had tiny refulgent spots on its screen. As the camera shifted to a street crowded with Asian faces, the anchor-woman with kohl-rimmed eyes said, “A Chinese dissident was arrested yesterday afternoon in Beijing. Mr. Bao Yuan, an exiled artist living in New York City, returned to China last week with the intention of publishing a literary magazine in his homeland. The charge is still unclear, but our CNN source reports that he’s accused of the crime of sabotage…”
Nan was flabbergasted and stopped the peeler in his hand, his eyes fixed on the screen. He was eager to see Bao’s face, but it never appeared. Instead, a scene that didn’t directly bear on his apprehension emerged: a group of policemen frog-marched four handcuffed criminals toward a six-wheeled truck, whose back was canvased, as if they were heading for an execution ground.
At once Bao became the topic at the restaurant, though neither Pingping nor Niyan had ever met him. Nan told them how he had lived off Wendy and how she had called in her brother, who threw Bao out of her house. They all felt that Bao might have planned to get arrested for the sake of publicity; otherwise only a fool would have run the risk of sneaking back into China, where the police were awaiting him. Shubo stopped by on his way to work and left a copy of World Journal for Nan, saying Bao Yuan must have been out of his mind. He had to hurry to Grand Buddha and couldn’t stay to join them in their conversation. Before Nan could tease him, saying Shubo’s unshaven face brought to mind a koala today, his friend was already outside, striding away toward his car. Shubo’s bald patch was more eye-catching when viewed from behind.
Nan opened the newspaper. The front page listed Bao’s arrest as a major piece of news. On the third page was a long article about the incident, entitled ” China ‘s New Human Rights Violation.” Together with the writing was Bao’s photo, in which he wore a sardonic grin as if trying hard to fight down a wild laugh. The article reported that he had taken with him a hundred copies of New Lines and intended to distribute them in China. He also wanted to explore the possibility of publishing the journal on the mainland, but before he could find a business partner, the police seized him and confiscated all the copies of the journal. Rumor had it that the authorities were going to put him on trial, which Nan doubted would ever take place, because it might raise more international uproar. He was sure Bao already had a green card, so it would be difficult for the government to imprison him like a regular Chinese citizen. More troublesome for the authorities, the dissident communities in major U.S. cities were already on the move, launching protests and staging condemnations. The article stated that a group of freedom activists in New York and Washington, D.C., had started collecting signatures and appealed to some U.S. congressmen to intervene on Bao’s behalf.
Nan talked with Dick on the phone about Bao’s trouble. Dick chuckled and said, “I’ve heard about it. He’s famous now, and even my colleagues in Asian Studies have been talking about his bravery.”
“What? Zey believe he’s brave?” asked Nan.
“Sure, how could they think otherwise?”
“He might have meant to attract attention.”
“Probably. Still, it takes a lot of guts to smuggle the journal into China personally, don’t you think?”
“I guess all zer copies must have been back issues. Zer journal was dead long ago, you know zat.”
“Maybe he meant to resurrect it in China.”
“Well, I’m not sure.”
“Jeez, Nan, you’re too cynical. Come to think of it, the guy might do many years behind bars just because he believes in free speech and free press.”
“It’s not zat simple. I don’t feel he’ll become a prisoner of conscience.”
“What makes you think that way?”
Nan couldn’t explain it in detail on the phone, so he suggested they meet and talk about it. Dick was busy going through his copy-edited poetry manuscript, which he had to send back to his editor that weekend, so he couldn’t come until the following Wednesday.