June 2, 2017
“It was a very serious interrogation.” Detained by Chinese agents on his way home to Australia in April, activist Dr Chongyi Feng might have faced imprisonment. Instead, safely back with his family, the former Communist Youth League member is speaking out for those who want reform in China – and want it soon.
“It’s over,” thought the compact, bespectacled man as he approached the final departure barrier at Guangzhou airport. His academic mission had been a success, the interviews conducted during the month’s field trip providing valuable new material. Dr Chongyi Feng’s subject, which had preoccupied him for two years, was human rights lawyers and their role in the new China.
A Chinese citizen, well-connected in the Chinese Communist Party of which he remained a member, Chongyi Feng was flying back to academic life in Sydney after another return visit to his homeland. It was a journey he had made nearly every other year since 1993 when he and his family migrated to Australia, where the chirpy professor was now a permanent resident, and his wife and daughter citizens.
What Feng had not expected on this March trip was that he himself would be subjected to hours of interviews over ten days by agents of Chinese state security. They had followed him after a first round of interrogation in the southern city of Kunming and announced their intention to continue questioning the China specialist after Feng’s trip took him eastwards to Guangzhou. The operatives resumed their task, ranging widely across a variety of subjects – some of which, the 56-year-old assistant professor at the University of Technology in Sydney admits, surprised him.
Now, as Feng walked through the airport, he believed all of that was behind him. Which is when he was stopped, to be told he was going nowhere. In fact, Feng was blocked from boarding Australia-bound flights on two occasions until, on April 1, after considerable international media attention to his unfortunate circumstances, he was permitted to return home. It was the first time in Feng’s history of travel between his adopted Australian home and the country in which he was born that an attempt had been made to restrict his exit.