December 18, 2014

Professor Li returns after being detained for two weeks in China

University of Nebraska officials confirmed today that Professor Weixing Li has returned to the United States, safely.

Li told university officials that he had been detained for two weeks by authorities in China’s Henan Province, about 400 miles southwest of Beijing, for what he calls a “personal accident.”

The university has released Li’s account to the news media, stating that the professor has declined numerous interview requests, and that the release would serve as his only statement.

According to the account, Li returned to Nebraska on Saturday. His detention in China caused him to miss a planned vacation with his wife and child in Alaska.

The assistant College of Business Administration professor was in China, leading 17 students and his graduate assistant on a four-week study abroad trip to China, visiting several cities, including Lhasa and Tibet. Li had planned to return to the United States June 12th.

Li said he borrowed a car June 6th to travel to his father’s hometown of Tangyin to perform a ritual cleaning of his father’s grave at his mother’s request. At a routine checkpoint 15 miles from Tangyin, authorities discovered pharmaceuticals that require a special license in the trunk of his car, a license Li does not possess. Li said he was taken to a facility about 90 minutes from the checkpoint where authorities took his watch, passport, personal papers and cell phone. Li was fingerprinted, but not mistreated.

“I was not free,” Tangyin said during an interview with University Communications. “I cannot just walk out.”

Li said he was allowed to call his wife twice and his sister after submitting a script to authorities, who did not allow him to tell relatives he was being detained. Authorities discovered the car owner had the proper documentation for the drugs and after a background check, let Li go.

“They told me my story checked out and that I could go,” Li said.

Li said his detention last from the 6th of June until the 20th. He continued to his father’s grave to perform the ritual cleaning, then returned to Beijing.

“I never worried that I wouldn’t get out because I know I am not a bad guy,” Li said in an interview on June 25. He said he did worry about his family and his students, whom he knew were probably trying to contact him.

Li has led similar study-abroad trips to China for the five years he has been associated with UNL. He has lived in the U.S. for 12 years and has a “green card” giving him lawful permanent resident status. He visits China twice a year.

“What happened to me, at no time were UNL students under any threat or in danger. They may have been worried about me, but their safety was not in danger,” Li told university officials. “What happened to me had nothing to do with UNL or the study abroad program.”

David Wilson, UNL senior international officer, said the university community is relieved that Li has returned safely and remains committed to studying abroad.