New Delhi: In January 1963, he apparently lost his way and entered Indian territory on the back of a Red Cross vehicle. Trapped for 54 years in India without any official documents, Wang Qi flew to China on Saturday to an emotional welcome amid intense media attention.
Wang, his Indian-born son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter landed at Beijing international airport to be greeted by relatives with hugs and tears of joy. The day of his arrival also fell on an appropriate date – the Chinese lantern festival, the main theme of which is family reunion.
“Today is the happiest day of my life,” Wang told Chinese officials who received him, according to a report of China Global Television News.
Wang’s story was first reported by BBC Hindi on January 31. It took less than 10 days to get documents sorted out for Wang to go home to china – which had seemed an impossible dream for his family for the last 40 years.
Since the news broke, Chinese media, both mainstream and social media, has been filled with posts about Wang and his Indian family. He got a passport from the Chinese embassy in 2013, but could not leave India as an exit permit was not issued.
After the publication of the news report, the Ministry of External Affairs pushed the Home Ministry to quickly expedite the documents for Wang’s reunion with his family in time for the Chinese festival.
It is still not clear why Wang’s repeated petitions to leave did not elicit any response in previous years. According to sources, his letters probably went into a “bureaucratic black hole”.
All his family were given passports on Thursday, February 9, but ultimately only three of them travelled with him.
“They were received by Chinese officials from ministry of foreign affairs and the provincial govt of Shaanxi province. From our Embassy, Second Secretaries Thelma John David and Siddharth Malik were present to receive them as well. Two of our Mission officials are also traveling with Wang Qi and family to their hometown,” MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
Wang Qi and his Indian family members arrived in Beijing today. They were welcomed by officials of Embassy of India. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/93xTKAlfsb
— India in China (@EOIBeijing) February 11, 2017
After reaching Beijing, they took a flight to Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province. After an overnight stay, they will be taken to Xianyang, Wang’s hometown, where his relatives are waiting for him.
This will be the first time Wang gets a good look at the new China – a completely different country from the one that he left in 1962.
Observers said that the interest in Wang was unprecedented, with 200 journalists waiting for him at Xian airport. His sojourn are being followed live, with posts and streaming video and TV channels broadcasting his every move.
— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) February 11, 2017
Welcome home! Veteran Wang Qi, 78, stranded in India for over 50 yrs, finally gets back to China on Lantern Festival – a holiday for reunion pic.twitter.com/7UOp26XNLc
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) February 11, 2017
A day before his travel, Wang went to the Chinese embassy in Delhi, where the former solider bantered with Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui that he understood Hindi better than the latter’s Beijing dialect.
Both the Indian and Chinese governments are projecting Wang’s story as a positive expression of India-China cooperation.
Wang was jailed for seven years after being caught by Indian authorities in 1962. On his release, he was brought to a small town, Tirodi in Madhya Pradesh, and told to settle down.
Seventy-eight-year-old Wang, who was a surveyor with PLA, had six siblings back home. He had managed to contact them through letters in the 1980s and a nephew met him in India in 2009.
His mother, with whom he had spoken several times over the phone and had long awaited his return, died in 2006. BBC had managed to patch him through to his 82-year-old brother, whom he saw for the first time through a video call.
It now remains to be seen if Wang returns to India after this overwhelming trip. He has repeatedly said that he would like to be back with his Indian family, but the pull of his remaining relatives may be strong too.
According to China Daily, the local government in Wang’s hometown has offered to give him a plot of residential land if he wants to live near his relatives.
The state-run paper also claimed that there was another former Chinese soldier in Tirodi called Liu Shurong from the Chongqing municipality. With no relatives left in China and a big family in India, Liu decided not to return to his childhood home, it reported. However, central Indian authorities are not aware about him yet.