Skip to main content

Wang Bingzhang is seen a Feb. 6, 1998 file photo.SAM MIRCOVICH/Reuters

Chinese authorities allowed the son of a jailed dissident to visit his father on Friday, after blocking his Canadian daughter from entering the country earlier this week.

Times Wang spent 40 minutes speaking with Wang Bingzhang at the Shaoguan Prison in southern China’s Guangdong province.

The visit came two days after officials at the Hangzhou airport denied entry to China for Ti-Anna Wang, who had hoped to see her father for the first time in a decade.

Instead, Chinese authorities ordered her out of the country and placed her on a plane to South Korea, a decision her father called “extremely cruel,” Times Wang said Friday. “He said ‘this is worse than not giving her a visa in the first place.’”

Speaking through a telephone receiver from behind sound-proof glass, Mr. Wang said he was nonetheless pleased that his daughter’s inability to enter China has renewed overseas media attention to his incarceration.

“With anybody in his situation, there’s fear of being forgotten,” Times Wang said. “It gives him some satisfaction that the Chinese authorities can’t just trample on rights and get away with it.”

It’s not clear why Ms. Wang could not enter China, where officials have not provided a reason. The family says it may be related to ongoing frictions with Canada over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive whose extradition the U.S. has sought. Times Wang is also Canadian, but entered China on a U.S. passport.

However, China has for nearly 10 years denied visas to Ms. Wang, while Times Wang has met his father more than a dozen times since he was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison. Mr. Wang was convicted of espionage and terrorism, accused of advocating kidnappings and bombings. His family believes he was locked up for advocating a democratic alternative to the Communist Party.

As a political prisoner, Mr. Wang has been held in quasi-solitary confinement, barred from speaking with other inmates. His only conversation is with guards, and the long years of isolation have taken a toll. He has experienced strokes, severe depression and erratic moods. In a meeting with another family member in December, he said he feared for his life. He warned that if he died in prison it was unlikely to be of natural causes.

But on Friday, Mr. Wang, 70, made no mention of those fears. Instead, despite the disappointment of not seeing his daughter, he was in “quite a good mood,” Times Wang said, particularly after being told that his son had quit his job as a lawyer to write a memoir about the father he has come to know primarily through brief prison conversations.

“We mostly just talked about the book I am planning to write,” Times Wang, 33, said.

For that book, he intends to explore the transformation in his relationship with a man who was largely an absent father but whose vision for China has come to take on renewed meaning as the country’s leadership pursues an increasingly authoritarian bent.

“Eventually you come to appreciate that the thing that he did devote his life to — Chinese democracy — the nobility of that pursuit kind of resonates,” Times Wang said. “And I think that’s a reason that we’ve been able to develop this relationship.”

The very process of visiting Mr. Wang illuminated the shifting political undercurrents in China. Before the meeting, prison officials required Times Wang to sign a document pledging, among other things, that he would not express opposition to the Communist Party in his brief conversation.

That was not a problem. In prison, Times Wang said, his father has occupied himself with studying the Bible and Chinese etymology.

Still, he stands as one of China’s most prominent political prisoners, a man whose fervour for democracy was stoked in part by his studies in Canada, where he was a brilliant medical student.

Mr. Wang is not, however, a Canadian citizen, which has made it difficult for the Canadian government to effectively lobby for his release. That stands in contrast to the concerted international campaign that Ottawa has led to pressure Beijing over the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians seized by Chinese state security days after the arrest of Ms. Meng in Vancouver. Both Canadians have been accused of endangering Chinese national security.

”What’s happening to them is pretty abhorrent. But in a way I’m glad that the Canadian government is having to deal with this in a very public way. Because it just drives home that China is a dictatorship, and I think the Canadian government needs to always keep that in mind,” Times Wang said.

Ottawa has for many years urged China to release Mr. Wang. But his son is struck by the current situation, with his father and the two Canadians in Chinese custody while Ms. Meng, the Huawei executive, is out on bail in Vancouver. Her movements are restricted, but she is able to live in a multimillion-dollar home as she awaits the next step in the case against her.

“People like my father, the democracy activists, their vision is of a China where the rights of these Canadians would be entitled to justice, and as much protection as the Huawei CFO is enjoying in Canada,” Times Wang said.