Sydney Morning Herald: How Devotion To Falun Gong Made Tang Yiwen A Spiritual Outlaw (Excerpt)
October 16, 2004
She had her legs and wrists bound, her mouth taped over and her body and soul battered, but, as Tang Yiwen tells Hamish McDonald, she never gave up her faith in the Falun Gong.
Tang Yiwen seems to materialise from nowhere when she approaches at the agreed rendezvous outside a Beijing restaurant. She cuts a nun-like figure in a girlish dress, white ankle socks and black shoes.
Tang's conversion to Falun Gong followed a familiar pattern. Tang, or Amelia as she also calls herself, had been an especially bright student at her high school in Maoming, a town in Guangdong province not far from the provincial capital Guangzhou. She won a place at a top foreign languages university in Beijing, emerging at the top of her graduating year in Japanese as well as teaching herself excellent English. Back in Guangzhou, she soon prospered as an interpreter for visiting Japanese delegations and, with a friend, invested in a new restaurant.
Tang, 37, says that as she headed towards 30 her life seemed empty. She suffered aches and pains which expensive visits to doctors couldn't cure. She had been estranged from her parents for years: her father, a Korean War veteran of the Chinese military, followed stiff patriarchal ways. She couldn't commit to marriage with her boyfriend of long standing, another Japanese translator.
"Most devastatingly it was a spiritual problem," she says. "Growing up in China, our minds were just stuffed with empty communist ideas. We didn't have any chance, like the Bible said, to get any education, any perceptions, any ideas about love, mercy, forgiving, and what was the meaning of life and humanity. Only very false, empty, shallow Chinese Government communist ideas."
Her sister, Lisa, who had lived in Sydney since 1989, meanwhile had taken up Falun Gong after hearing its founder, Li Hongzhi, speak in Sydney in 1996. Visiting Maoming, Lisa radiated a new serenity. Tang decided to try out the Falun Gong exercise routines and soon her aches faded, while the movement's moral code made her feel a new, "less selfish" person. She dropped her interpreting job, started teaching at a commercial college for much less money and married her boyfriend. "It changed me slowly," Tang says. "I am becoming the person I have always wanted to be. I have found the person."
Then, after Falun Gong was officially banned in 1999, she was pressured into quitting her teaching job. The next year she travelled to Beijing for Falun Gong's special date of May 13, which marks Li Hongzhi's claimed birthday (the same as Buddha's), and went out with other practitioners into Tiananmen Square to protest. She was arrested immediately and handed over to Guangdong police. She was released after seven days of a hunger strike.
The police came again, and on August 23, 2000, sent her for two years of reform-through-labour. They took her across the river to Chatou, where a few hundred Falun Gong women shared crowded barracks with female drug users, prostitutes and petty criminals. The days were spent in sweaty workshops, on 10-hour shifts processing goods brought in by Guangzhou manufacturers: artificial flowers, fluffy toys and tablewear.
Throughout her two-year sentence, extended by a year for recalcitrance, Tang says she was under daily pressure to sign letters renouncing Falun Gong. Periodically she and other practitioners were taken to detention rooms. The criminal prisoners would be drafted to read aloud for hours from anti-Falun Gong government tracts. Loudspeakers and monitors would repeat the same propaganda videos at high volume, accusing Falun Gong of murder and mass suicide.
"At the end of the day, you have to write your so-called homework before you're allowed to go to sleep," she says. "They give you a topic: what do you think of your position here as a prisoner? You are supposed to be a teacher, teaching outside, what do you think? What do you think of your master running away to America, having a good time, and you practitioners so foolishly suffer here? Don't you feel cheated by him? Don't you think you're doing terrible things against Chinese law."
For the first year, Tang says, she used the homework to try to explain her beliefs. "We thought we could communicate, get the police to understand us," she says. "But we found out they weren't really reading it, they were just trying to find out something they could use as a weapon to attack you back. In the last year I refused to write at all and told them it was no use ... It prolonged my sentence an extra year."
In October 2002 Tang was taken to a room. Her legs and wrists were bound, and her mouth taped over. Teams of interrogators forced her to stand up to 19 hours a time as they shouted insults, slapped and kicked her.
The two women leading the interrogation were Falun Gong specialists sent down from Beijing, named by Tang as Zhang Lijun and Yue Huiling.
"When they got tired they would chat to each other cheerfully, laughing loudly," she says. After long stretches of this punishment, she would be released, forced to stand up, then be tied up again even more painfully.
After three days Tang was sent back to her dormitory, barely able to walk. Cries came from other prisoners receiving the same treatment. The camp's staff were said to be trying to meet a quota of Falun Gong conversions linked to the Communist Party congress being held around that time. Two months later Tang went through the same experience, until a camp doctor warned interrogators they would have to let up. Her right leg has remained stiff and painful ever since.
Early last year the interrogators seemed to give up. In February her father had talked his way into seeing her. Shocked at her injuries and appearance, the old soldier began firing angry letters and queries to Guangdong officials. Released prisoners had also begun spreading the names of their oppressors in the camps and these were starting to appear on websites. Even the more strict jailers may have begun to realise they were prime scapegoats in any clean-up campaign that Beijing might launch to appease foreign critics.
In May last year Tang was shifted to a labour camp in outlying Shanshui, where the conversion effort continued, but with less violence. Her husband came to visit, telling her he wanted a divorce. He was tired and frightened by the constant police harassment. "Reality is more important than the ideal," he told her.
On her release from Shanshui in August last year he came to pick her up, then, with his mother ringing on his mobile urging him not to stay, he left her at a hotel.
Newly reconciled with her father, who had hugged her in Chatou for the first time she could remember, Tang went back to Maoming, but was under constant watch by the local 6-10 office, named for the date in 1999 when the then Chinese leader, Jiang Zemin, is thought to have decided on the crackdown. Potential employers and friends were warned off.
Then on February 23 she was picked up by a group of six officials as she walked on a Guangzhou street and was taken to the Guangzhou City Law School, a "brainwashing centre" for those who still refuse to renounce their beliefs after years of punishment at the labour camps.
"Many fellow practitioners had told me it was more brutal than the labour camp," she says. "I knew what would happen." She announced the start of a hunger strike, refusing to talk, eat or drink. As she lay weakening, alone in her cell, doctors were brought in to feed her through tubes.
From distant parts of the building she could hear sounds of distress. "Often I could hear some thumping sound, some grunts, struggling noises like someone being beaten," she says. "Then I could hear guards running towards the sounds."
Officials tried to persuade her to give in. "'You are going to die here,' they told me. 'You will have lots of chronic illnesses; you will never have children,"' Tang says. "They kept giving me names of practitioners who had gone on hunger strike and what diseases they developed."
A senior official in the Guangzhou Political and Legal Committee, the party organ supervising the 6-10 offices, came to see her. She asked him why she was there. He replied: "It was necessary for you to receive legal education. Because you are still persistent, you still believe in Falun Gong, we can put you in here. This is what our country's law requires."
Tang also asked him how they had found her in a city street. "No matter where you hide, we can finally track you down, unless you go abroad," he said. "But you know, people like you cannot go abroad."
After 20 days Tang was taken to a Guangzhou hospital and her parents summoned. The guards refused to give her up until her mother signed a paper exonerating the law school from any responsibility.
In June Tang smuggled out a handwritten, seven-page letter to John Howard's office, setting out her difficult position and asking to be allowed into Australia where she had her sister and the promise of employment. A reply arrived, saying that the Prime Minister had referred her case to the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone.
In any case, Tang did not wait for the reaction from her watchers in Maoming's 6-10 office. On August 9 she slipped out of her parents' flat late at night to avoid being reported by the building's janitors, went into Guangzhou to finalise her divorce, then began a series of train trips that eventually took her to Beijing.
Tang now spends her days meditating, reading her well-thumbed copy of Li's writings or listening religiously to his voice on tape. She survives on tiny amounts of fruit, rice and bread, drinking only water.
She still wants to move to Australia. "There is nothing for me here now," she says. Her life has dwindled to her self-cultivation and devotion to Falun Gong. She insists her full name and details be used in this report, whether it helps get her out of China or brings more punishment from the Chinese police.
She believes that communist rule is coming to an end, an expectation she says is widespread in China. "I respect Master Li and I fully trust him, even though I have never met him in person and he is so distant away in body from China," she insists. "It is not out of thoughtless impulsiveness or out of ridiculous worship, like many Chinese people did previously towards Mao Zedong."
Australia is no longer doing anything for Tang, and she was not mentioned during Thursday's meeting of Australian and Chinese officials in Canberra for the annual bilateral human rights talks. The Government had raised her case "several times" during her imprisonment, according to an Australian embassy spokesman. "Now that Ms Tang has been released and in the absence of evidence that she is being subject to ongoing human rights abuse, the Australian Government has no grounds to pursue her case further with the Chinese Government." [...]
Category: Falun Dafa in the Media