The announcement last week that Knopf Canada will publish Jiang Weiping’s blockbuster work about the rise and fall of the Chinese official Bo Xilai is the happy conclusion of a David-and-Goliath story that has a distinctive Canadian angle to it.
Mr. Jiang is the Chinese journalist who was the first to expose the less savoury activities of Mr. Bo, the high-ranking party secretary of Chongqing city who seemed poised to join the all-powerful nine-member standing committee of the Politburo, but then suffered a spectacular fall from grace in April. Mr. Bo was ousted from his position, and his wife, Gu Kailai, was named the prime suspect in the poisoning of a British businessman who may have been helping her transfer illicit funds overseas.
This lurid tale would have come as no surprise to Mr. Jiang, who first began documenting the corruption of high-ranking Chinese officials, including Mr. Bo, in the 1980s while working for a state press agency. His reporting was upsetting enough to Mr. Bo that he had Mr. Jiang tried and sentenced to eight years in prison in 2001. This is where the Canadian angle comes in. Along with other international human rights groups, PEN Canada began lobbying on Mr. Jiang’s behalf and was instrumental in getting his wife and daughter to Canada in 2004.
In 2006, after persistent efforts by PEN Canada and others, Mr. Jiang was released from prison and placed under what amounted to house arrest. And then in 2009, the international pressure paid off when Mr. Jiang was suddenly granted a Chinese passport, and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney signed a special ministerial permit allowing him to come to Canada under exceptional humanitarian circumstances. He was reunited with his family in Toronto in February, 2009, where he has lived ever since and is currently the Scholar-at-Risk at Massey College.
And now he is going to publish in Canada a book about Mr. Bo, and about the China in which they both fell from grace, that has already been snapped up by publishers in other countries. The announcement is a testament to Mr. Jiang’s courage as a journalist, to Canada’s immigration system, and to PEN Canada’s determination to defend the freedom of expression of an important voice that is about to be heard around the world.