Freedom

Yabin, Tian’s business manager, helped him find a furnished one-bedroom apartment on Thirty-Fourth Avenue in Flushing, which was near a bus stop and within walking distance of the 7 train. Yabin leased the apartment in his own name, on a monthly basis, because Tian feared being tracked down by someone employed by the Chinese government. Yabin often called him to check on whether he needed anything. Tian could navigate the city on his own and had enough money for three or four months, so he told Yabin he was fine and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

He revealed his predicament to Yabin partially, saying that some of his colleagues in Beijing had become jealous and that the Ministry of Culture wanted him to surrender his passport, so he had come to New York and planned to stay there for a few months. He meant to show his superiors that he was not someone they could kick around at will and that he had dignity and principles. Ideally, he hoped he could work out an agreement with his leaders and gain more freedom for himself, specifically the freedom to travel and perform abroad.

Yabin shook his head sympathetically but didn’t speak. They were lounging in armchairs in Tian’s living room, which had a wide south-facing window that let in a flood of sunlight in the mornings. Yabin’s reticence annoyed Tian, so he asked, “You think I’ve overreacted?”

“To be frank, Tian, you’re being kind of nearsighted. If you love freedom so much, you shouldn’t think about going back. How can you get more freedom for yourself while all your colleagues are lackeys or servants of the state? If you go back, you won’t be different from them. You’ll be either a slave or an accomplice.”

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