Originally created 01/31/00

Freed scholar returns to America on flight from China



PHILADELPHIA -- A college librarian held in China for nearly six months on charges of smuggling state secrets returned to the United States on Saturday.

"During the past 30 years, I never cried, but last night I cried all night," said Song Yongyi, looking tired but smiling broadly as he arrived at Philadelphia International Airport.

Song was detained in August and later charged under China's vague secrets law. He had been collecting newspapers and documents concerning the Cultural Revolution, the period from 1966 to 1976 when Mao Tse-Tung unleashed a wave of violence against opponents and a million people were killed.

Song, who is from Shanghai, spent five years in prison during that time, accused of being a "counterrevolutionary."

He moved to the United States in 1989, earned master's degrees in Chinese literature and library science and has worked at Dickinson College since 1997. He has written articles and a book in Chinese on the Cultural Revolution.

Song received the unexpected news that he was being released on Friday.

"I am feeling very tired because during the last 36 hours I never got sleep," Song said before heading home to Carlisle, 110 miles west of Philadelphia.

He praised his wife, Helen Yao, for helping organize a campaign among academics for his release. More than 100 China scholars in the United States and elsewhere petitioned Chinese President Jiang Zemin, saying Song was engaged in normal academic work, not espionage.

Though Song said the items he collected had all been published, he was accused by the Chinese Foreign Ministry of "purchasing or illegally supplying intelligence" to people outside China.

China's ambassador to the United States, Li Zhao Xing, said Friday that Song was released as a show of leniency after he "admitted all the facts related to his criminal activities ... and also voluntarily revealed evidence against illegal activities of others."

Song said he admitted nothing.

"In China we have a saying that the small officer gives small lie, bigger officer gives bigger lie and the state department gives the biggest lie. In my case, it's exactly true," he said.

He said he was tormented but not physically abused during his detention.

"They didn't touch me physically. But I should say they mentally touched me. It is very ruthless," Song said. "For instance, they not only arrested me, at the same time they arrested my wife. My wife knows nothing about my project. She is an artist."

Yao had been detained with her husband on Aug. 7, but was released in November.

"Every time they question me, they always say, 'Your wife said such and such, your wife identified such,"' Song said. "So I take them seriously. I say, 'I believe this is not true, bring my wife in.' Then they suddenly say, 'OK, we'll move to the next topic."'

Song, who suffers from colon cancer, said the Chinese denied his requests to see a doctor. He planned to arrange a physical examination on his return home.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., who has introduced a bill to grant Song U.S. citizenship, said he thought the release was an effort to smooth U.S.-Chinese relations. China would like Congress to stop reviewing its low-tariff trading privileges annually and grant the rights permanently as part of a deal to join the World Trade Organization.

"China's record has not been good on human rights," Specter said. "If China wants to be a respected member of the community of nations, they have to respect human rights."