Just a day ago, Chen's mind seemed made up to remain in China after he was allowed a pair of phone calls with his wife, who had been brought with their children to Beijing via bullet train, U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke said Thursday.
"He spoke with his wife on the phone twice and then we asked him what did he want to do," Locke said. "He jumped up very excited and said, 'Let's go.'"
The alternative, Locke said, was a protracted negotiation, with Chen stuck in the embassy and his family at home and at risk.
"He knew that — and was very aware that he might have to spend many, many years in the embassy," Locke said.
On the way to the hospital, Chen was "emotional, happy about the fact that he was going to be reunited with his family," a U.S. official said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Photos of the reunion released Thursday by the U.S. show Chen in a wheelchair in a bright hospital hallway smiling warmly as he greeted his wife and two children. His 6-year-old daughter, Kesi, wore pigtails and his son of about 10, Kerui, was dressed in a T-shirt and sweat pants. In a second shot, Kerui rested a tentative hand on his father's wheelchair.
The moment marked the first time in two years that the boy had seen his father, diplomats said.
The separation was never by choice.
"They broke up and hurt Chen Guangcheng's family," Chen's lawyer, Li Jinsong, said Thursday. "It was the local government officials who wouldn't let the son go home because he was getting older and was better able to understand things, and what the local officials most feared was that Chen Guangcheng and his family would be able to communicate with the outside world. So, he was left with his maternal grandmother."