University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and faculty are searching for answers after, they say, an assistant professor who had been accompanying students on a study abroad trip was detained by Chinese authorities for an undisclosed reason.
Weixing Li, assistant professor of practice management at the university’s College of Business Administration, last was seen by students in early June — right after the four-week summer program concluded. Based on information obtained from his family, university officials believe Li, a citizen of China, remains in Chinese custody.
Eighteen students joined Li on the trip, and 11 remain in China completing internships and outside work, independent of the university, but university spokeswoman Kelly Bartling said none of the students was accompanying Li when he was arrested.
“They’re on their own, completing their internships or their travel in China, so Dr. Li wasn’t really accompanying them at the time,” she said.
The university maintains that students’ safety won’t be jeopardized by the incident, but those who have doubts are free to return at any time.
“They’re going to end their working arrangements like they had intended,” Bartling said. “If they are fearful or want to return, we will be helping them, or finding them earlier flights to help them get back to the U.S.”
Bartling said Saturday that the university continued to do all it could to find out more about Li’s arrest, but that nuances of the Chinese justice system had made the situation difficult. Because Li is a citizen of China, local authorities are not required to inform outside embassies of his arrest.
Still, Bartling said, the university will remain vigilant in its search.
“We want to do whatever we can to find out what may have happened to him, try to get some help and find out where he is and get him returned,” Bartling said.
Michael Dubray, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, called obtaining information through Chinese authorities “impossible,” adding that “they probably wouldn’t even tell you that he’s locked up.”
A similar situation could have been avoided, Dubray said, had Li been traveling on an outside passport.
“If Professor Li did have a U.S. passport and entered on it, then we would know about it and we would visit him there,” Dubray said. “If they enter on their Chinese passport, to China, then the Chinese government will not notify us. We will find out through family or a reporter.”
Despite the lack of information surrounding the case, Bartling remained optimistic Saturday.
“We don’t have any reason to believe that he won’t be returning,” she said. We’re hopeful that through whatever sources, we can work to find out where he is and rectify the situation that resulted in him being apprehended.
“We’re going off of very little information, but there’s no reason to speculate or make an assumption that he won’t be returning to the university.”