BEIJING -- The mother and older brother of Chen Guangcheng, a prominent rights advocate who fled to the United States last year, were both granted Chinese passports on Friday, allowing them to start applying for visas to travel to the United States to see Mr. Chen.
His mother, Wang Jinxiang, and brother, Chen Guangfu, had applied for passports before but had been rejected, the brother said. Their most recent application, filed on May 27, was approved. To go to the United States, the two now need to get visas from the American Embassy in Beijing and to buy airplane tickets.
Mr. Chen said his mother had wanted to go to the United States to visit Chen Guangcheng since the spring of 2012, when he escaped from house arrest in the area of Linyi, in Shandong Province, and sought shelter in the American Embassy in Beijing before Chinese leaders eventually allowed him to go to the United States. Local officials in Linyi had kept him, his wife and their daughter under house arrest and intense harassment even after Mr. Chen, who is blind, had finished serving a four-year prison sentence for property destruction and organizing a mob to block traffic in 2010. Many say the sentence had been imposed for political reasons.
"I was very surprised to receive the passports today," Chen Guangfu said. He added that he would talk to his brother and review his family's personal finances before deciding when to go to the United States.
Hu Jia, a well-known rights advocate who recently completed a prison sentence, posted photographs of the two passports on Twitter.
The granting of the passports appears to be another concession made by the Chinese government in the run-up to a summit meeting between President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party leader, and President Obama in California. It is Mr. Xi's first trip to the United States since taking over last year as party leader. Earlier this week, Hu Zhicheng, an American engineer and entrepreneur who had been prevented from leaving China for five years after getting into a dispute with a Chinese business associate, returned home to Los Angeles after being released by Chinese authorities. Mr. Hu was born in China but had become a naturalized American citizen.
Chen Guangcheng had been keeping in touch with his family in Linyi through a telephone line that American officials had insisted be installed during negotiations with their Chinese counterparts. Chen Guangfu said Chinese officials recently cut off the line. Mr. Chen then bought a cellphone and regularly spoke with his brother in the United States that way.
Chen Guangcheng's nephew Chen Kegui is still serving a three-year prison sentence for assault. Mr. Chen had slashed at a local official with a knife after officials tried to enter his home at night to look for Chen Guangcheng around the time of his escape.
Chen Guangcheng's flight became the subject of an intense diplomatic standoff between the United States and China. It occurred at a particularly delicate time, when Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state at the time, was arriving in Beijing to engage in standard diplomatic talks with China.
She and other senior State Department officials spent long hours trying to persuade the Chinese to allow Mr. Chen and his immediate family to leave the country for the United States after he expressed fears that he and his family would suffer further harassment if they remained in the country.
Mr. Chen settled in downtown Manhattan and began studying English to attend law school at New York University, under an arrangement made by Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor at New York University and longtime friend. Mr. Chen now has a book contract to write a memoir.
Mia Li contributed research.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.