A few months after my friend Chris moved to Salinas, she called me in a panic. Her husband was still in China, in the interminable wait for spousal visa, and she’d just found out he’d been arrested. As any spouse would be, she was upset. He’d been arrested for practicing Falun Gong: it’s incomprehensible for Americans that someone would be arrested for a philosophical practice, but that’s the way of totalitarian regimes. My Russian friends had told me stories of being arrested (during the Andropov era) for stupid things like not having a doctor’s note while taking a sick day off from work, and for wearing Western (black market) clothes instead of Soviet-made ugly, shoddy and overpriced smocks. But the scariest thing is also that when you get arrested in such a regime, even for the most stupid of reasons, you can very easily disappear forever. And anyone who questions it can very easily be made to disappear down the same black hole, so most people remain silent, or worse, deny it all together.
I think the fact that Tian Bo had an American wife, in the United States, must have made a difference. He finally got his Visa, and now he’s a U.S. citizen, living in North Las Vegas with Chris and their daughter. Recently, he was quoted in a newspaper story about his experiences. He’s a pretty quiet guy, so I know he’s not exaggerating: sometimes we forget how awful other places can be for their citizens.