Daughter’s Search for Her Dissident Father Inspires Fictional Retelling

June 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ti-Anna Wang is the daughter of a once prominent Chinese dissident, who named her in honor of the deadly protests in Tiananmen Square. The story of Wang's search for her father, who was arrested in 2002, inspired a new young adult novel. Gwen Ifill talks with Wang and The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt, author of "Nine Days."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, this week marked the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Gwen Ifill has our book conversation about a young Chinese woman named in honor of that revolt and her fictional counterpart.

GWEN IFILL: Fiction collides with fact in “Nine Days,” a new novel that takes young adult leaders to China and back. In it, two American high schoolers, a girl and a boy, set out to find a missing political dissident. The fictional girl and the real-life woman who inspired this story share the same name, Ti-Anna.

Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt is the author of the book inspired by the search for Ti-Anna’s father, who has been held by Chinese authorities since 2002.

Ti-Anna Wang, Fred Hiatt, thank you both for joining us.

FRED HIATT, Author, “Nine Days”: Thank you.

TI-ANNA WANG, Daughter of Imprisoned Chinese Dissident: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Fred, tell me how you two met.

FRED HIATT: We met about five years ago when Ti-Anna came to Washington right after graduating from high school to try and bring attention to her father’s case.

And she submitted an op-ed to The Washington Post, of which we get about 100 a day. But this one was extraordinary. We published it. And then I said, “Would you have a cup of coffee with me?” And that’s how we met.

GWEN IFILL: How did you know that your father’s story could get that kind of attention?

TI-ANNA WANG: I came to D.C. I’m from Canada. And so I really didn’t know how things worked in this town.

But I was willing to try anything to bring attention to my father’s case. And submitting an op-ed was one way that someone else told me that I should try. And so I did. And I didn’t — I never thought that it would be published and that later on a book would come of it.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Ti-Anna, tell us the story of the real Ti-Anna, including the origin of your name.


So, my name — I’m named after Tiananmen Square, June 4, and I was born in 1989. And my father, who was a well-renowned political dissident at the time, decided that he wanted to name me in commemoration of his colleagues who died that night, and also in celebration of the ideals that the students were — had sacrificed their lives for.

My father was a political dissident. He moved to the United States in 1982 to found the overseas Chinese democracy movement, a cause that he gave himself to. And he — for 20 years, he advocated for democratic change in China, until 2002, when he was kidnapped from Vietnam, forced into China, and eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison, where he has been ever since.

GWEN IFILL: How do you compare yourself to your fictional counterpart?

TI-ANNA WANG: I can’t compare at all.

She’s — it’s kind of strange to be fictionalized into a heroine of sorts. You can’t help but make a sort of comparison. And the fictional Ti-Anna, she’s pretty great. She’s…

She’s smart and courageous and very filial.

And I think it’s good, because it’s a — I think it’s good to have someone — kind of almost someone to look up to in this book.

GWEN IFILL: But, Fred, why a young adult book? This could have been a children’s book. This could have been an adult novel. Why this particular — I know you have a child who is reading teen lit by now.


GWEN IFILL: But what about this story lends itself to that?

FRED HIATT: It’s a story of adventure and of a friendship between these two that I thought would work for kids.

But I did also think that, you know, there are a lot of young readers who are interested in the world and interested in human rights, interested in human trafficking, which also comes into this story. And I don’t have anything against zombies and vampires, but for kids who might want to move to something else, it would — it might be good to have a story that deals with some of these issues.

GWEN IFILL: Do you feel that, in your using this — this way of telling the story as a way of getting to an issue that otherwise we don’t talk about that much, and imprisoned dissidents and human rights issues in a place like China, where the U.S. is trying very hard to work with these days?


And this story was a way that might provide an opening for kids to start thinking and talking about those issues.

GWEN IFILL: Ti-Anna, now you live in Taiwan? You’re studying language?

TI-ANNA WANG: Correct.

GWEN IFILL: Mandarin.

But tell us about your father. When is the last time you saw him? What is happening with him?

TI-ANNA WANG: So, my father, he’s being — serving his sentence in a prison in Shaoguan, which is about five, six hours away from Hong Kong.

GWEN IFILL: He’s 65 now?

TI-ANNA WANG: He’s 66 years old, so no — no longer a young man. He has some chronic health issues and has had three strokes in the last 10 years in — during his imprisonment.

I last saw my father in December 2008. And I went — obviously went to see him. And — but since then, I haven’t been able to get a visa to go to China. And I assume it’s as a result of — the result of things I might have said and done in support of his release. We exchange letters quite frequently. I got a few letters from him just last month.

GWEN IFILL: Does he know about the book?

TI-ANNA WANG: I’m not sure.

I wrote him a letter when it came out in April. But there’s — when you write a letter, there’s a lot of censorship. So, when you send it, it’s held at the prison for about a month or two before he actually gets it. So I don’t know. I don’t know if he knows about it just yet, but hopefully soon.

GWEN IFILL: What do you hope, Fred, to accomplish by writing this story this way?

FRED HIATT: You know, at the back of the book, there’s an afterward by Ti-Anna and by me for young people who might want to get involved in any these issues, talks a little bit about how.

Of course, the best thing would be, you know, if, when the paperback comes out, we could write a new afterward about his — her father was freed.

GWEN IFILL: The name of the book is “Nine Days.” And it is written by Fred Hiatt of The Washington Post. And it tells the fictional story of the real life Ti-Anna Wang.

Thank you so much for joining us.

FRED HIATT: Thank you, Gwen.

TI-ANNA WANG: Thank you.