Detained Chinese blogger Hao Wu

Bruce Einhorn

Last month I wrote about an unnamed Chinese blogger who had been detained by security forces in Beijing. Now, after a month of keeping a low profile in the hopes of winning his release, bloggers and other activists in the West have decided to go public with the news about Chinese born documentary filmmaker Hao Wu, who lived in the U.S. for a dozen years before moving to Beijing in 2004. Rebecca Mackinnon, the former CNN reporter who has been at the forefront of the campaign against Internet censorship in China, is one of the bloggers leading the Free Hao Wu campaign. The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a statement calling for the government to release Wu, who had been working on a documentary about an underground Christian church in Beijing. Reuters reports that Wu's sister believes that the Public Security forces detained him because he had recently met with human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng or because of critical comments Wu had posted on his blog, Beijing or Bust.

I interviewed Wu a few weeks before the police detained him. This was when the debate was raging in the U.S. about Google, Yahoo and their role in facilitating censorship of China's Internet. Wu was surprisingly upbeat. Yes, there were problems, but Wu said that censorship wasn't a huge issue thanks to "work arounds" that enabled him and others to avoid the Chinese firewall. And in his blog, Wu hasn't been shy about addressing hot-button topics. In one post, he describes a conversation with a cabdriver denouncing China's high-flying Communist leaders as "worse than the Kuomintang," the notoriously corrupt regime of Chiang Kai-shek that Mao's army kicked out of the mainland to Taiwan back in 1949. In another post, Wu (who is gay) mentions how a favorite high school teacher cut him off after he came out to her. Blogging about an argument with his mother, he writes about how Chinese are expected to behave as deferentially toward their governent as they are toward their parents: "However, is the government really a surrogate of our great dear ephemeral Motherland whom we should forgive for any wrongdoing and defend from any badmouthing? Should this devotion be as unconditional as that to our own mothers?....This government is not our mother. My mother, despite her great difficulty dealing with me being whom I am, still loves me and always worries about me. I came from her and I once ran away from her smothering love. But that love is real and now I’m back, I can accept the suffocating Confucian teachings just for her. Not with this government. Not with a government that demands loyalty with no love in return."

Will the public campaign to win Hao Wu's release work? The timing might be right. Chinese President Hu Jintao will soon be visiting the U.S., a trip that was supposed to take place last September but was put off because of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. The Chinese government very much wants this visit to go well, so the leaders might decide that letting a lone blogger go free in the lead up to the summit might be an easy way to score some points.