Mr Chen’s departure on Saturday afternoon will bring to an end an extraordinary saga that saw him at the centre of a diplomatic tug of war between Washington and Beijing, following his daring escape from house arrest on April 22nd.
Yet while Mr Chen, his wife and two children are headed for the safety of the US, where he is expected to take up a fellowship studying law at New York University, many of his relatives remain under arrest.
As late as Saturday morning, Mr Chen said he had no idea when he would be allowed to leave Beijing. But around 12.30pm local time, he left the Chaoyang Hospital where he has been held since May 2nd in a motorcade for Beijing airport and a fligth to New York.
So swift and unexpected was his departure that Mr Chen and his family arrived at the airport without passports and not knowing their ultimate destination.
“I still have no passport. I don’t know when I am leaving. I think I am going to New York,” he told reporters by phone.