- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2001

Gao Zhan had just visited her family and was about to board a plane home when she was taken into custody at the Beijing airport on Feb. 11. The American University researcher had no idea why, but in China officials can arbitrarily declare scholarly publications secret and against the law to distribute.
It was the beginning of a grueling five months in which Mrs. Gao, 39, was held captive and repeatedly interrogated, sometimes for 12 hours at a time. She said publications and papers about differences in women's rights, Chinese culture and Taiwan were laid out in front of her, and she was told to point out portions she contributed to those publications and papers.
"I had no trouble because I didn't think they were state secrets. The state says it is a state secret, it is a state secret," Mrs. Gao said during an interview at her McLean home yesterday.
It's a long way from the intense talks now going on between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and top Chinese leaders. But her ordeal and those of other scholars are prominent in Mr. Powell's comments about raising wider human rights issues with Beijing.
Mrs. Gao had celebrated the Chinese New Year with her family and the family of her husband, Xue Donghua. Mr. Xue, 39, and their 5-year-old son, Andrew, also were detained, although they were released after 26 days.
The formality of her arrest came April 2, Mrs. Gao said, and she was accused of traveling to transmit intelligence — in other words, spying or espionage, which Mrs. Gao called "ridiculous."
After a three-hour trial last Monday, Mrs. Gao was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, but she was released on medical probation two days later and immediately returned to the United States. Her case was similar to that of Li Shaomin, a friend and management professor at City University of Hong Kong who was convicted of spying and deported.
Mrs. Gao was accused of passing information to Mr. Li, accusations she disputed yesterday.
"None of the materials I presented for Mr. Li was a government secret. There has never been a guideline about what can be collected I did not pass any information."
What Mrs. Gao gave Mr. Li "was only a small part of my research."
American University records indicate her writings have been published in six journals and she has presented papers at six professional meetings. One of the most significant may be "Male Sphere Invaded: Taiwan Women's Political Participation," because China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.
She said she has tried to contact Mr. Li, who flew into San Francisco last week, but was unable to reach him.
She also said she is concerned about a longtime friend, Qu Wei, who was sentenced to 13 years for providing documents to Mrs. Gao.
Mrs. Gao plans to continue her assignment to establish an Asia Forum at American University, continue research on immigration, women and cultures, and write a book or two about her experiences.
Nervous and hesitant to talk about her detention, Mrs. Gao did say she had "absolutely no contact with the outside world."
She fears for her family, and the vengeance they may encounter.
"I have a very close relationship with my father. I love him very much," Mrs. Gao said, adding that she called her parents after returning home but was guarded in their conversation.
"I think I have every right to see my parents," Mrs. Gao said, wondering whether she can ever return to China.
Happily back home in "this beautiful country" and the secluded apartment in McLean, Mrs. Gao recounted how she got through those five months.
"I decided I should not be sad, although I had every reason to be sad," said Mrs. Gao, a permanent U.S. resident awaiting naturalization. "I have a Ph.D. degree. I have had a meaningful life, a wonderful marriage. I have a wonderful son."
"The only thing to do is survive. And the only way to survive was to keep my [happy] experiences."

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