BEIJING -- The wife of a Boston-area democracy activist jailed in China said yesterday she plans to seek medical parole for her husband after seeing him for the first time since he was detained in 2002.
Yang Jianli, who has served more than half of a five-year prison term on charges of spying for Taiwan and illegal entry into the country, became eligible for parole Oct. 26.
But Chinese officials have rejected appeals by American legislators and State Department officials for his release, saying his sentence conforms with Chinese law.
"I was so sad because he had lost so much weight. He looked much older," Christina Fu said by telephone from Boston after returning from Beijing, where she saw Yang for less than an hour this week.
"He had black rings under his eyes; his face had no color," she said. "He really looked, to me, not healthy."
Yang, who runs a foundation that advocates democratic change in China, was meeting with Chinese dissidents and laid-off workers when he was detained in 2002.
After being held at several detention centers, Yang was moved to the Beijing No. 2 prison in December and family visits finally were allowed, Fu said.
Yang, 41, had a stroke last year but did not realize it until a doctor performing a routine checkup found that the left side of Yang's body was not functioning normally.
"For someone at his age, if it happens again, it could be very serious," Fu said.
Fu met briefly with Yang on Monday in a small room in the prison, where they were made to sit at opposite ends of the room with a table separating them after they hugged each other.
The couple's 9-year-old son, Aaron, Yang's brother, and two guards were also in the room, Fu said. One guard took notes and forbade them to speak in English, she said.
"I had imagined that he would be very excited to see Aaron, but he was very sad," she said. "He talked in a very low voice; he didn't smile. The whole time he looked so heavy-hearted. It was not a happy reunion."
Fu said Aaron cried the whole time he was with his father.
"Our view is that this case needs to finally be resolved," Jared Genser, the family's lawyer, said.
"Yang Jianli has been for 1,000 days now held in detention. His health is a serious problem, and we are worried about his welfare."
The spying charges against Yang, a former Brookline resident and Kennedy School alumnus, apparently stem from four $100 grants to student researchers by a group that he founded in 1992 while attending the University of California at Berkeley.
Chinese prosecutors alleged that the grants by the China Youth Development Foundation were financed by someone in the Taiwanese government, but no evidence was given in court.
Yang's family denies the spying accusations but acknowledges he was traveling in China with a friend's identity card, which made his entry illegal. They say he was forced to do so because he was banned from China after participating in the 1989 protests in support of democracy in Tiananmen Square.
Fu said her husband told her he was warm and had enough food. He spends most of his days doing light exercises and reading classic Chinese books.
Yang now is able to receive postcards Fu sends but is not allowed to write back. She hopes that will change soon so that they can communicate until she can see him again.
"My visit was so short," Fu said. "I didn't have time to say a lot of what I wanted to say."