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Spy novels, ‘daigou’ and democracy: the many lives of Australian writer held in China

Spy novels, ‘daigou’ and democracy: the many lives of Australian writer held in China

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BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A Chinese language-born Australian author detained by authorities in Beijing for suspected espionage has lengthy been a divisive determine amongst abroad Chinese language dissidents and activists.

FILE PHOTO: Yang Hengjun, writer and former Chinese language diplomat, who’s now an Australian citizen, gestures in an unspecified location in Tibet, China, someday in mid-July, 2014 on this social media picture obtained by REUTERS

To his supporters, Yang Hengjun is a devoted democracy activist who believed that China’s autocratic system would, with time, essentially liberalize. His detractors say he had lengthy since deserted criticizing the ruling Chinese language Communist Celebration in favor of defending his private and enterprise pursuits.

Yang, 53, whose authorized title is Yang Jun, was detained in southern China’s Guangzhou whereas ready for a switch to Shanghai earlier this month, after flying in from New York.

He was taken to Beijing, the place China has stated the town’s State Safety Bureau is holding him underneath “coercive measures”, a euphemism for detention, as he’s investigated on suspicion of “endangering state safety”.

Yang’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping, advised Reuters his shopper was suspected of “espionage”, and was being held underneath “residential surveillance at a delegated location”, a particular detention measure that permits authorities to interrogate suspects with out essentially granting entry to authorized illustration.

Though his current writing has largely keep away from Chinese language politics, Yang first turned distinguished within the early 2000s when he earned the nickname of “democracy peddler”.

Earlier than censorship of China’s microblogs intensified, Yang’s essays on matters starting from Chinese language nationalism to the destiny of ethnic minorities in Tibet, made him a preferred commentator. He additionally wrote a trilogy of spy novels set in China.

Extra not too long ago, Yang had largely steered away from points deemed delicate by the Communist Celebration, solely sometimes writing about U.S. politics, and as a substitute had thrown his power right into a “daigou” enterprise, procuring abroad merchandise for Chinese language consumers.

His retailer on China’s standard cell platform WeChat bought U.S.-made luxurious luggage, nutritional vitamins, child system and watches.

An worker of the shop, who declined to be named, stated that Yang began the shop on the request of his readers, who wished to purchase actual and pretty priced items. Requested what would occur to the shop now, he stated he was ready for directions.


For the final two years, Yang, who pals describe as an affable, jocular however tutorial determine, had been dwelling in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia College.

“He was fairly aloof from politics and tended to maintain his private information to himself,” Yang’s former landlord, New York-based businessman Yi Gai, advised Reuters.

“About 75 % of his power and time was spent on his daigou work,” added Yi, who can also be a good friend of Yang’s.

One other good friend, who hadn’t spoken to Yang in a number of months, stated the Australian author believed his views weren’t a problem to China’s rulers.

“He performed inside the system. He had by no means known as for the underside to stand up. He needs reform solely,” stated the good friend, who declined to be named for worry for his security.

Feng Chongyi, an educational on the College of Know-how in Sydney, who was himself detained throughout a 2017 go to to China, stated he believed Yang’s detention was associated to his worldwide connections.

Tensions have risen in current weeks between China and a few Western international locations after two Canadians, a diplomat on unpaid go away and a guide, have been arrested in China on suspicion of endangering state safety.

These arrests have been broadly seen within the West as retaliation by China for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei Applied sciences government, on Dec. 1 on the request of america for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Australian officers have known as on China to deal with the matter “transparently and pretty”, however have downplayed the connection between Yang’s case and people of the Canadians.

“He’s well-connected in China and internationally. He is aware of high-profile individuals within the Communist Celebration and he believed that meant he may journey to China with relative impunity,” Feng stated.


Yang got here from a poor background in China, however studied political economic system at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan College, in response to his personal accounts of his time there.

Yang had usually advised pals that, earlier than his writing profession, he labored for China’s International Ministry. However ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying advised Reuters that Yang had by no means been employed there.

He would additionally inform pals that he knew Wang Huning, the Chinese language Communist Celebration’s chief of ideology, whereas at Fudan, in response to two sources.

Associates say he turned an Australian citizen within the early 2000s.

Xia Yeliang, a former professor at Peking College who now lives in Virginia, stated Yang was a controversial determine amongst China’s abroad dissident group.

Yang was believed lately to have married a well known nationalist blogger, Yuan Ruijuan, souring his repute amongst abroad democracy activists, Xia advised Reuters by telephone.

At instances Yang had stated his spy novels, which have been serialized on his web site, have been based mostly on his plentiful private expertise inside the Chinese language system, Xia added.

The novels pit China’s spy company in opposition to the CIA and FBI and embrace double-agents, clones, and a major character who, like Yang, wrote fictional spy novels and attended Fudan College.

FILE PHOTO: Yang Hengjun, writer and former Chinese language diplomat, who’s now an Australian citizen, is pictured in an unspecified location in Tibet, China, someday in Tibet, China, mid-July, 2014 on this social media picture obtained by REUTERS

Yi, the owner and good friend, stated Yang “was not keen to maintain in shut contact with radical dissidents, and positively wouldn’t cooperate with them, so it’s pure that radical dissidents could be suspicious and speculate about him”.

Earlier than Yang left for China this month, Yi and a few pals met him and the subject of his safety got here up, however everybody thought he could be advantageous.

“It seems like we misjudged,” he stated.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd and Colin Packham; Extra reporting by Philip Wen; Enhancing by Alex Richardson

Our Requirements:The Thomson Reuters Belief Ideas.

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