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I met Hao Wu a few years ago. At the time he was an aspiring screenwriter working for an internet company. From Sichuan via Beijing, Hao had been in the US for over a decade. I was really impressed by the quality of his prose – in English, his second language, mind you – his passion, heart and vision.
Hao followed his dream in spades. He decided to return to China, to Beijing, to see what had happened to the city he’d once known and experience China’s changes first-hand. He took a month long trip along the Silk Road and sent back regular dispatches. Then he produced his first film, Beijing Or Bust, a documentary about the lives of Chinese Americans trying to navigate contemporary Beijing. He then started a blog by the same title, in which he writes about his own navigations through today’s Beijing. There are some truly wonderful essays: evocative, original and informative, covering aspects of contemporary China that you will rarely find elsewhere.
One continuing thread was Hao’s search for a new documentary subject. He’d finally settled on “family churches,” not quite legal but not really underground religious congregations – go here for Hao’s vivid and scary post about his visit to one such church when the police show up.
The last email exchange I had with Hao was on Feb. 21st. I’d owed him an email. We chatted about various things, his new position as editor for Global Voices Online and the need for volunteers to post about what’s happening in the Chinese blogosphere.
Hao Wu (Chinese name: 吴皓), a Chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. On that afternoon, Hao had met in Beijing with a congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.
Hao had also been in phone contact with Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer specializing in human rights cases. Gao confirmed to one of Hao’s friends that the two had been in phone contact and planned to meet on Feb. 22, but that their meeting never took place after Gao advised against it. On Friday, Feb. 24, Hao’s editing equipment and several videotapes were removed from the apartment where he had been staying. Hao has been in touch his family since Feb. 22, but judging from the tone of the conversations, he wasn’t able to speak freely. One of Hao’s friends has been interrogated twice since his detention. Beijing’s Public Security Bureau (the police) has confirmed that Hao has been detained, but have declined to specify the charges against him.
The reason for Hao’s detention is unknown. One of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained Hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of China’s underground Churches. Hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. Therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being.
For more information on Hao, go here, where Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices are spearheading efforts to publicize his situation. I would urge any of you who blog and who care about free speech and who just want to help a really great person to consider putting up a post about Hao Wu and a blog badge to help get the word out.
If you have any doubts, go to Hao’s blog and read some of his writing. His is a unique voice, one that deserves to be heard, not silenced by fearful authoritarians.