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China's political crackdown: How my visit with Li Datong was thwarted by police

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David Gray/Reuters

(Read caption) Bicycles sit parked on a footpath in front of locals reading Chinese newspapers displayed on a public notice board in central Beijing on March 23.

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I got a close-up perspective of what the current political crackdown in China means on Tuesday, when I went to interview Li Datong, once an editor at a Communist party youth magazine but out of work since he was fired from the post a few years ago for being too daring.

I couldn’t find the cafe where we had agreed to meet, so my translator rang his cellphone to get instructions. His wife, Jiang Fei, picked up. Li Datong, she explained, had been taken away by five policemen an hour or so earlier.

So we went to meet Ms. Jiang instead. “If you are writing an article about human rights you’ve come to the right place,” she told us.

She recounted how a secret policeman had telephoned earlier to tell Mr. Li that he wanted to talk to him that morning. Li explained that he was busy and hung up. Five minutes later, the policeman called back to say that it could not wait and that he was already in Li’s residential compound.

“My husband went to take our son to kindergarten and he was gone quite a while,” Jiang told me. “Then I heard some voices downstairs. I looked out of the window and saw him talking to two men.

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