Fu, who helped engineer Chen’s escape and describes himself as Chen’s “ambassador,” has since been besieged with media calls, rumors and tips in half a dozen languages. At 6 a.m. Wednesday, American officials called Fu from Beijing to inform him that Chen had made a deal with Chinese authorities — a deal that appeared to quickly unravel. Now, Fu is rushing to Washington to testify on Capitol Hill about Chen’s unfolding case.
“Bob is our hero, but before this we were mostly below the radar. Now everyone in the world is trying to reach him,” said Celia Harris, the white-haired secretary at China Aid. Like many local supporters, she is a member of the large Christian community church in Midland that helped Fu settle when he fled China in 1997. He is now a pastor there as well as the founder and director of China Aid.
Fu, a scholar and activist who grew up in communist-ruled China, said he found God after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Disillusioned by the crackdown, he said he was full of hatred and despair until he read a book smuggled into China by a Christian teacher. He began teaching in secret Bible schools and was arrested by the secret police in 1996. A year later, he escaped from his apartment and fled to the United States with his wife, partly to save her from a forced abortion after she failed to receive a pregnancy permit at her workplace.
Fu was born in the same rural province as Chen, who is not Christian but who has long been a passionate and outspoken opponent of Beijing’s policy of forced sterilizations and abortions. The issue is at the heart of U.S. religious groups’ criticism of China.
“I always felt a natural connection with Chen,” said Fu, speaking in short snatches between a barrage of phone calls late Tuesday. The queries intensified as midnight approached and rumors swirled across the Internet that Chen was about to make a deal. “I chose a peaceful life in the United States, but he believed the system in China could change, and he wanted to stay and be part of it, even after suffering so much. He believes that a million ants can move a hill. He is a symbol of courage for all of us.”
Far from being an armchair activist in his remote Texas outpost, Fu is intimately engaged in human rights work in China. He helped organize a group of volunteers who formed an underground railroad to spirit Chen 300 miles from his farmhouse to the U.S. Embassy last week, and he stays in constant touch with a close network of activists, though he declined to describe all their methods of communication.