Yu Miao, the former owner of the legendary Jifeng bookstore in Shanghai, never imagined that his wife’s trip to China to care for her sick mother would turn into something of a hostage situation.
The 50-year-old ex-bookstore manager, who moved to Florida with his family in 2018, received an unexpected phone call from his wife, Xie Fang, two days before her Aug. 1 flight back to the U.S. Fang had been with her mother in China since January last year, with the intention of returning in the summer.
But those plans never materialized.
“They told her to save time and money and not bother going to the airport,” Miao told The Daily Beast from his Florida home in his first interview about his wife’s predicament. “They told her they think her husband published some political commentary articles in the US under a pseudonym and they want me to go back for questioning.”
Miao said he was “completely shocked” when his wife called to tell him she was summoned to a police office by the Shanghai City Security Bureau, where she was told about the travel ban. Fang, her husband said, tried to board her flight on Aug. 1 but was denied at Pudong Airport.
“I never thought something like this could happen to my wife,” he said. “I do not know what to do. We had already planned to celebrate my wife’s birthday in August. Now everything has changed.”
Miao told The Daily Beast that — over the next six months — he tried to cooperate with authorities in the hope that the problem would be resolved “rationally” and without putting himself at risk by returning to Shanghai, according to state authorities. allow Fang’s return.
“So they asked my wife to send questions to me and I would answer through my wife. I thought they would give my wife freedom after they clarified everything, he said, rejecting accusations that he had published political articles under an alias.
The former bookstore owner decided to take matters into his own hands this month after Chinese authorities rejected a letter Fang had written to them asking for the travel ban to be lifted.
“She gave that letter to the police officer to express her attitude and attitude and ask permission to let her go. But after the letter was submitted, for two weeks, there was no positive feedback,” he told The Daily Beast. “So I felt hopeless and angry. So I decided to publish the letter.”
In the letter, published on the Chinese messaging app Wechat last week, Miao’s wife made an emotional plea to the authorities.
“For the past five months, I have missed my three children and my dear husband every day. I missed our silver wedding anniversary (25), New Year’s Day, my daughter’s birthday in January and Chinese New Year,” she wrote. “As an innocent person, I have been deprived of my freedom of travel; as a wife I have been kept away from my dear husband; and as a mother I have been prevented from caring for my children… I humbly ask you to restore my freedom as soon as possible so that I can finally be reunited with my family.”
She said in her memo that authorities told her she had “”violated certain “national entry and exit requirements” and “threatened national security,” adding that she had been questioned by Shanghai Municipal Police several times about whether her husband ” had published or uploaded articles under a pseudonym in the United States in the first half of 2022.”
“I have never heard of such activities. Every time I finished talking with the Shanghai police, I actively cooperated and sent a message to my husband according to their requirements,” said Fang. “During the many years he managed the Jifeng Bookstore in Shanghai, I asked him never about or participated in any of the bookstore’s activities.”
The couple had made the decision to leave China after the Jifeng bookstore – long known as an intellectual and cultural hub for liberal scholars – was forced to close in 2017. Miao, who owned the bookstore for five years, was denied a lease extension at the store after pressure from the city government. Efforts to find other locations were similarly hampered, until Miao realized that the bookstore can no longer “get a foothold” in Shanghai, as he wrote in a blog post about the closure.
It now appears that the Chinese government’s watchful eye on the Miao did not end with Jifeng Bookstore.
“It is grave against modern civilization and morality to use my wife as leverage to demand that I return for their investigation,” Miao told The Daily Beast. “Every moment I am anxious and worried about her safety … for 25 years I have been married to my wife. My children are the only pillar in my wife’s life. She is used to being with us to take care on their children and talk to me every moment. We have never been apart for so long.”
The publication of Fang’s letter has further increased tensions between the family and the Chinese authorities. Fang was told that “things will be more difficult since I made everything public,” according to her husband.
The US State Department and the Chinese Embassy in the US did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast by the proposed deadline. Maio told The Daily Beast that he has recently contacted local representatives for support in bringing his wife back to the United States, but has yet to receive a response.
For Maoi, every day without his wife by his side has been a struggle. “She is resilient and optimistic,” he said. “But I know she feels alone.”