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China's Political Time Warp

On June 1, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, a surgeon at Beijing 301 Military Hospital, and his wife, Dr. Hua Zhongwei, both seventy-two years old, left home to pick up a visa at the American Embassy. They have not been heard from since.

Family and friends assumed that Public Security Bureau police detained them and that the couple would be released after the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of fifteen years ago passed. But on June 8, unnamed officials asked the doctors' son to collect some personal effects for his parents, including dentures, and deliver them to the authorities. This was not, of course, the first time someone had been detained without explanation in China, so it was not a good omen.

With China's economy booming, foreign investors flocking, and the country's role in global markets ever more central, the disappearance of this elderly couple hardly caused a break in China's hectic march. But the disappearance underscores the ongoing imbalance between economic and political reform.

Jiang Yanyong is no ordinary doctor. He is someone who had long since reached the point in life when he felt compelled by duty and patriotism to step beyond the role of a surgeon and become a public citizen. His odyssey began on June 4, 1989, when he spent a horrific night trying to save hundreds of wounded and dying victims who flooded through his hospital's eighteen operating rooms as the People's Liberation Army opened fire on its way to Tiananmen Square. Dr. Jiang, traumatized and anguished, nonetheless kept his silence.