The reluctant exile

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 1995, 12:00am

YOU didn't have to witness the pain of June 4, be thrown into a mainland jail for 22 months, expelled by your own country and be miles away from your family to appreciate a man like Han Dongfang. His experience speaks for itself.

But why the former labour leader has chosen to stay on in the territory instead of joining his wife and two young sons in the United States is a decision many have yet to comprehend.

'The Chinese are accustomed to hardship and pain. I cannot see any reason to return to the US, and I will never go back to the US before returning to China,' Mr Han said when he first arrived in Hong Kong two years ago.

Today, as he talks about himself and his country on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the 32-year-old stands by his decision. And he knows that a return to China is far from imminent.

Working as the chief co-ordinator for the China Labor Bulletin and a full-time researcher for the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee on China's Labour Movement, Mr Han has made Lamma island his temporary home.

'1997 is drawing closer and that should be the time when the Chinese Government makes its final decision on how to deal with me. It is at that time I'll see whether it will let me return to Beijing or throw me out,' he says.

'I hope my wife can accompany me back to China one day, but I can't force her because returning is dangerous for both her and the children. They may be detained, so I'd have to ask for her views on that.' Born in Shanxi province to an impoverished farming family, the former railway worker is tall, fit and has the air of a scholar rather than a labourer. His 71-year-old father still lives in China.

'Having graduated from high school, I first wanted to take a university entrance test, but this decision didn't go down too well with my mother,' Mr Han recalls.

'But at that time [in 1980], comrade Deng Xiaoping had just introduced a system whereby intellectuals were categorised according to their qualifications.

'Ever since I was a child I have been stubborn, and because my family is poor I became rebellious. I wanted to show that a person's ability is not determined by a piece of paper. So I refused to go to university and joined the army.' His career there lasted for four years, and in 1984 he got a job with the Beijing Railway Bureau.

But it was his role as a labour leader and the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square that changed his life and subsequently led him to jail.

Time has not healed old wounds. His view of China remains dim.

As he attends the candlelight vigil organised by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China tomorrow night, Mr Han knows that fellow dissidents in China will be either detained or closely watched by the police.

'Detaining political dissidents in China is nothing new. Every year, from March to June the Chinese Government gets nervous. In March you have the National People's Congress, then it's April 5, May 4 and June 4,' Mr Han says.

But this year is different, he adds. Six years since June 4, there are more problems within society, and therefore there is greater pressure on the Chinese Government than ever.

'These internal social problems are building up. Unemployment and inflation have worsened, the country's economy is in a situation where it can neither advance or go backward.

'Today, there is mounting dissatisfaction among workers. There are a lot of strikes, and therefore a lot of pressure is coming from the bottom stratum of society. On top of June 4 is this growing pressure.' Mr Han believes it is this growing discontent among the mass population that makes the government more frightened and determined to quash any possible activities by dissidents this year.

Having left the mainland more than two years ago, can he still justify his views and comments? Mr Han says he does not want to speak without facts; he feels responsible for what he says. To support his points, he cites a recent conversation with a friend who had contacted workers in China recently.

'He asked them: 'During the years of economic reforms, do you think your standard of living has gone up or down; do you have hope in the future?',' Mr Han says.

'All of them said they could not see any future and there was less and less hope. I also have information on mainland labour conditions. Their lives are miserable and they have to face more and more problems. They are an abandoned lot.

'Information I collected in the past led me to conclude that if the present reforms were to go on, the country would move into a dead end street. As a result there will be serious social eruptions.

'I've had no chance to speak to any workers myself, but what my friend told me recently confirmed that my conclusions were right.' Mr Han further warns that if the Communist Party does not do something to balance the power in society, it will be overthrown by spontaneous opposition from the people.

'The Communist Party cannot be overthrown by just a few individuals. Wei Jingsheng couldn't do it, Wang Dan couldn't do it,' he says.

'But if people cannot find work, they will fight back and then they can overthrow any party.

'Therefore, China is like a time bomb and the time to explode is getting closer.

'The Communist Party is not there to defuse it but to heat it up.' Mr Han argues that the Chinese Government is doing little to address unemployment. He says it should introduce a policy to train and retrain workers, and those who are out of work should receive unemployment benefit.

'According to official statistics, the number of unemployed in provincial towns is between 4.7 and 4.9 million. These are conservative estimates. Only one million receive unemployment benefits,' he says.

'And the benefit money is so little that it is impossible to live on it in any mainland cities. Having paid their rent, there would be nothing left for the workers.' However, both training and unemployment benefits need money, and Mr Han believes the Government has no money for these purposes.

But he adds: 'China's financial budget is not transparent. China spends a lot of it on its military and the making of nuclear weapons because these are more profitable.

'So the money is not being placed where it is needed. For instance, expenditure on education is extremely low. It is as little as three per cent of the budget.' Back in Hong Kong, where he has to renew his work visa every three months, Mr Han is spending his time gathering and analysing information on the labour conditions in China.

'Telecommunications are more advanced in Hong Kong and I can exploit that to get more information which you can't get in China. When I return to China, I will not be out of touch and will be prepared for my work,' he says.

Mr Han is grateful to the Hong Kong people for their support and encouragement, though he sometimes finds that the locals have little understanding of his country.

'At times, I feel that Hong Kong people don't really understand the situation in China, and think our mainland comrades are all bad. But they are not. I don't know why this is so but that is how I feel,' he says.

'I have adapted to living here now. My wife couldn't, that's why she doesn't want to live here. Besides I don't think I can afford to maintain a family here. But we talk on the phone regularly and I visit them twice a year.

'For now, all I can do is prepare myself for my return and wait until 1997 to see where the Chinese Government is going to put me.'