Cultural Revolutions

A Brazen Plan

Shortly after midnight on May 24, the ship Pai Sheng slipped into San Francisco Bay. With at least 200 people jammed below deck, the ship docked at Fort Point, at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. The 19th-century fort, built to guard the city against invaders and once a Coast Guard station. has long since been reduced to a tourist attraction. But the occupants of the boat, swarming ashore, were not tourists. Mostly citizens of China's Fujian and Guangdong provinces, these "visitors' had paid $20,000 apiece to book passage. However, the Pai Sheng was no luxury liner, but a 250-foot freighter, its occupants crammed together below deck like cattle. They were mostly men, but included a few women and children, all of whom had turned over their life savings for what they hoped would be a one-way trip to the United States.

It was a brazen plan, the landing expertly executed in less than an hour, and they almost got away with it. Early reports said that the police "stumbled" on the operation; later news accounts claimed that the ship's passengers were "practically delivered into the waiting arms of federal agents." In fact, the Coast Guard had been tracking the vessel for a month; when it showed up near San Francisco Bay, the Coast Guard tried to reach the ship by radio, but there was no response. The captain did nothing, explaining that only Coast Guard and Navy ships and ships carrying...

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