Updated at 6.50 a.m. EST on 2012-07-10
Chinese authorities have allowed a dissident Chinese writer, who was held under house arrest in a crackdown last year, to leave for New York with his family under strict instructions not to speak out in public or to get involved with overseas activists, sources said Monday.
The move is seen as an attempt to remove dissident voices ahead of a key Chinese leadership transition later this year.
Gu Chuan, his wife Li Xin'ai, and their two children were escorted to their flight by China's state security police and arrived in New York at the weekend.
"They arrived in New York [on Saturday night]," a friend of the couple who declined to be named told RFA's Mandarin service. "He will be a visiting scholar for a year at Columbia University."
Gu's friend said police had issued him with two warnings before he left China, where the couple was held for several months in their own home during last year's crackdown on dissidents following online calls for a Middle East-inspired "Jasmine Revolution."
"The first was not to give interviews to the media, and the second was not to get involved with [Chinese] overseas pro-democracy groups or to have contact with anyone from those groups," Gu's friend said.
"Neither of them can say anything in public."
Gu and Li, who had both signed the controversial Charter '08 document calling for sweeping political change in China, were starting a new life in New York from scratch, as they had arrived with only their baggage allowance, he said.
"Friends have been giving them stuff they no longer need, and they are also in need of other help," the friend said. "They'll have to take it gradually."
Gu's exit from China comes hard on the heels of a daring escape from house arrest by blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng, who negotiated his and his family's exit from China during a stay in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
Hubei-based author Liu Yiming said he found it hard to believe that the authorities would ever allow Gu's return to China.
"I'm sure they wouldn't have agreed to let him leave if he were planning to return," Liu said. "I'm sure the conditions were that they wouldn't let him come back."
He said Gu's hasty exit was likely linked to the forthcoming 18th Party Congress later this year.
"I think this definitely has to do with the 18th Congress," Liu said. "There have been so many sensitive dates, and I don't think the police can handle keeping an eye on everyone, even if they want to."
"I think that when someone says they want to leave, they just let them," he said.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia agreed, saying that the Chinese government was anxious to safeguard social stability ahead of the crucial leadership transition.
"Gu Chuan and his wife are far more able to make their voices heard and make contacts inside China than they are overseas," Hu said.
"They are an unstable factor, so it's probably better to let them leave."
He said the manner of the Gu family's departure had been far more face-saving for the government than a high-profile political asylum case, which was apparently averted.
"It seems more humane, more relaxed, but in reality it is neither," Hu said. "This is a very calculated decision."
Reported by Wei Ling for RFA's Cantonese service, and Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
CORRECTION – RFA has deleted the amount of salary Gu will receive from the university as it was based on unverified information.