Times Union: A Quest for Freedom Spans the Oceans
First published: Friday, August 15, 2008
By one account, Shizen Qin, 67, was a soft-spoken, mild-mannered retired library science professor living in Beijing when Chinese authorities arrested her in March.
Her daughter, Hongyuan "Annie" Li of Albany, was not told her whereabouts for long, agonizing weeks.
Li later learned that police took her mother by train to a remote region in Gansu province, where she has been confined to what the family called a "brainwash center" for the past three months: deprived of sleep, physically tormented and harshly interrogated, according to former detainees.
She signed her name to a letter circulated by academics that explained and defended their beliefs as followers of Falun Gong, a sect that practices meditation and exercises meant to enliven mind, body and spirit.
While fans around the world are watching TV coverage of the Olympic Games in Beijing, Li, who is also a practitioner, is stepping up efforts to call attention to her mother's plight and the persecution of Falun Gong in China.
Falun Gong members have been under siege by Chinese communist authorities for years because the sect does not hew to party orthodoxy.
"I'm so worried and sad about my mother, I can't bring myself to watch the Olympics," Li said. She's been seeking help from state legislators and New York's congressional delegation. She has collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition demanding her mother's release.
Li marched in an April rally at the state Capitol to protest China's human rights abuses. She made her plea in person in Washington and in letters to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
"I will do everything I can until they release my mother," said Li, 36, a freelance financial writer. She has a master's degree in agricultural economics from Texas Tech University. Her husband, Chiewseng Koay, works for IBM in its nanotechnology operation at the University at Albany. The couple have lived in Albany for the past two years and have applied for permanent resident status.
Li's aunt, Shifang Qin, is also a Falun Gong follower and was imprisoned at the same time as her mother. Neither has been formally charged or sentenced.
Li became interested in Falun Gong after her mother began its regimen in 1995 and reported improvements in her diabetes and high blood pressure. Her father, a retired finance professor, and other members of her family do not practice Falun Gong.
"I do it for the health benefits," Li said. "We're not crazy and we're not a cult. Communist propaganda labels us a national enemy."
Li fears her mother's mental and physical state will deteriorate in detention. Family members have been denied visits.
Li does not think her strong-willed mother will give the Chinese authorities detaining her what they seek: her complete renunciation of Falun Gong.
"My mother believes in Falun Gong deeply and will not give in to pressure to renounce it," she said.
Meanwhile, the days of her confinement pile up and her daughter's heart breaks half a world away.
"I miss her very much. I spend a lot of time thinking about her and crying," Li said.