Welcome to America, Mr. Chen

So I stayed. I criticized the government, contacted other democracy activists, published protest petitions. And, as expected, I was arrested again in 1995. After long interrogation, I was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Three years later, President Bill Clinton was about to visit China, and he expressed hope that its officials might take some action toward improving human rights. On April 17, 1998, officials from the Jinzhou prison in Liaoning Province (where the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo is presently imprisoned) asked me if I was willing to leave for America.

This time I said yes. The reason was simple: I did this for my family. When I was imprisoned the first time, I was 20 years old. It was of course a heavy burden for my family, but they supported me. They knew I was doing the right thing, that I was making a sacrifice for our country. But they paid a high price for their support. My mother was even jailed for 50 days…

I have been in exile for 14 years, and have learned that there are many ways to exert influence in China from abroad. Although I very much would like to return, I have no regrets about my time here. I’ve studied at Harvard, I teach at universities in Taiwan and the United States and I continue to publish regularly about current events in China. My work circulates and is read extensively in China via the Internet and social media. I have tens of thousands of followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.