Chinese scholar Gao Zhan

Gao Zhan (second from left) and ICT Director Bhuchung Tsering (right) address China and Human Rights at a Georgetown University panel.

Gao Zhan, the scholar who was detained by China for five months in 2001 and released after pressure from the United States Government, said on February 26, 2002 that it was only after she regained her freedom that she understood the aspirations of the Tibetan people. Gao was addressing a panel discussion on China and Human Rights organized by the Georgetown University chapter of the Students for a Free Tibet in Washington, D.C.

Gao is a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. A Chinese citizen and permanent resident of the United States, Gao was detained in China from Feb. 11, 2001 until her release on July 25. She was accused of espionage, which she denied. The Chinese authorities sentenced her to a 10-year prison term on July 24 before releasing her.

Gao said she would fall under the category of “collaborator” in terms of toeing the official Chinese line on issues like Tibet and East Turkestan but her experience under detention in China gave her deep insight into the “tight control of people’s lives” that the authorities indulged in. She said she now believes that Tibetans and the Uighurs and others have the right to choose the way they want to live or even if they want independence.

Since regaining her freedom Gao said she had taken the additional role of a human rights activist because she felt that she owed it to people who still do not have freedom in China. Gao, however, did not see much hope in the present Chinese leadership or even in Hu Jintao, who is presumed to be the successor to Jiang Zemin. She said Hu Jintao’s conduct during his tenure in Tibet clearly showed that he was someone who does not respect freedom. She said the present leaders are from the existing system in China, which was so deeply entrenched. The system is arbitrary and the authorities define everything. No one was sure of what is legal and what is not legal in China today, she said. Gao said that is one reason why she has given the tentative title of “The Invisible Line” to the book she is writing.

Gao felt changes in China will be gradual and said she was pinning her hope on the new generation of Chinese, those who are in their 40s. Gao said the Chinese people saw hope from Taiwan. When China implements Taiwan-style democracy Gao said she would pack up and return to China.

Gao’s husband Xue Donghua and son Andrew were also present at the discussion.

Other panelists included Bhuchung Tsering, Director of the International Campaign for Tibet, Alim S., a Uighur human rights activist, and a Falung Gong practitioner.

The session included a lively discussion between the audience and the panelists on the concept of human rights, democracy and ideology with regard to China.

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Muslim Students Association.