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Chinese Activist Arrested By Police Mid-Interview


We often hear about repressive measures taken by the Chinese government against citizens who oppose its policies. Last week, the world got to hear Chinese security forces in action as they arrested an 84-year-old academic as he was giving an interview to the U.S. government broadcaster Voice of America.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing that the police barged in at a time when President Xi Jinping is facing mounting criticism.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: For the past half century or so, Sun Wenguang has been a tenacious critic of China's government. On a VOA talk show last Wednesday, Sun took aim at President Xi Jinping's recent trip to Africa, where he pledged billions of dollars in loans and investment.


SUN WENGUANG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "Ordinary folks in China are poor," he said, "we shouldn't be throwing around money in Africa." As he was speaking, around eight security personnel barged into Sun's home in eastern China's Shandong Province.

VOA China Branch Chief Ernest Torriero says VOA was concerned about professor Sun's safety.

ERNEST TORRIERO: He indicated he was not being harmed, but he was keeping the police at bay with a butcher knife.


SUN WENGUANG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "What are you doing," Sun angrily asked the intruders. "Listen, it's illegal for you to come into my home like this."

TORRIERO: His last words were, I am entitled to express my opinion. This is my freedom of speech.


SUN: (Speaking Chinese).

TORRIERO: At that point, the landline went dead.

KUHN: VOA reports that Sun is currently being detained in an unknown location. VOA has not gotten any answers out of China's government, but Torriero says he intends to get some.

TORRIERO: We will continue to aggressively pursue this story, to pursue what has happened to him.

KUHN: In Beijing, Zhang Lifan is another outspoken scholar and frequent guest on VOA shows. He says the authorities recently paid him a visit, too.

ZHANG LIFAN: (Through interpreter) They just demanded that I not improperly criticize the top leadership, especially not by name, over the next month or so.

KUHN: As the trade dispute with the U.S. has escalated, critics have accused President Xi Jinping of taking the country in the wrong direction. His propaganda has exaggerated China's strength, they claim, and his move to scrap presidential term limits has erased one of the few meaningful political reforms China has made in the past 40 years.

ZHANG: (Through interpreter) This pushback is apparently not just coming from ordinary people. It also reflects the mood of some within the political establishment.

KUHN: Zhang Lifan says that authorities are apparently responding by trying to silence critics but also by toning down some of their own propaganda.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.