A Young Wife Relays Her and Her Husband’s Difficult Journey Amidst Persecution
I submitted my love story to Zhiyin magazine for publication. Initially the magazine was interested in my story, but then quickly changed their mind after they learned why my fiancee was being persecuted.
I met with my fiance Zhou Xiangyang only three times before he was illegally sentenced to nine years of imprisonment. Over that time I have waited and appealed for him for seven years amidst much pressure from both society and our families. Soon I too was arrested and sentenced to a forced labor camp for fifteen months for appealing for my husband.
My fiance was tortured in many heinous ways over a period of four months. His feet were shackled to a metal ring, his hands were cuffed to shackles on the concrete floor, and he was shocked with electric batons continually for days. He went on an eighteen-month hunger strike to protest the persecution and was sent to the emergency ward of the hospital many times. He survived this torture with incredible will, and soon after he got out of the prison, he married me. While we were in the happiness of the beginning of our marriage, the nightmare came back: he was arrested and unlawfully sent to prison for a second time, so I started my appeal all over again. The following is our story.
My name is Li Shanshan. I waited for Zhou Xiangyang’s release for seven years from our very first meeting with him to marrying him. In between that time he was imprisoned for six years. We actually met three times before he was sent to prison. We did not hold hands even once. I first heard about him through his family, friends, and letters. He touched my heart, so I agreed to be his wife and start my extraordinary life with him.
A Man with Integrity – “Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance” Made Him a Better Person
Zhou Xiangyang was born in Changli County, Qinhuangdao City. My mother-in-law told me he was very kind when he was a child. He never complained when others took advantage of him. He was a good student, and worked at the Third Railway Survey & Design Institute in Tianjin after graduating from Northern Jiaotong University. Due to his excellent work performance, his company rewarded him by sending him to Tianjin University for further education.
He completed a financial investment degree, and in 1998 he became a quantitative surveyor. At that time there were only 60 quantitative surveyors nationwide. He was quick thinking, worked hard, and never contended with others for personal gain.
In 1998, a senior engineer insisted on employing Zhou Xiangyang to put forward a proposal for a large-scale national project. He received the most awards and bonuses among the young engineers because he was acknowledged to be honest, reliable and hard working. It is very easy in China to make a bit of extra money on projects, but he would never take the offered bribes. I saw he was able to resist the bad influences in his life because of his belief in Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance. He was a good man and followed Falun Dafa’s principles.
Request to Marry Xiangyang Shocks the Prison Officers
After July 20, 1999, when the persecution of Falun Gong began, Zhou Xiangyang went to Beijing to appeal for Falun Gong. He was sent to a forced labor camp for one and a half years, and tortured severely. He was beaten, shocked with electric batons, and verbally abused by guards and other inmates. Once, they continued to torture him after he passed out and when he awakened, he saw that his blood was splattered all over the walls.
Zhou Xiangyang refused to be brainwashed and kept his strong belief in Falun Dafa. When he protested the illegal detention, his term was extended by one year. He was forced to do hard labor and dig tunnels at Yushan Forced Labor Camp, Ji County, Tianjin.
A person who was released from the forced labor camp told us some of what happened: In the fall of 2000, policeman Wei Wei beat Zhou Xiangyang to force him to give up his belief. He knocked Zhou Xiangyang over and asked, “Will you still practice Falun Gong?” Zhou got up slowly and ignored him. Wei Wei yelled at him, “In the Shuangkou Forced Labor Camp no one is not afraid of me!” He started to beat Zhou again. Zhou’s face bled, but Wei Wei did not stop and knocked him to the floor again, asking the same question. He got up slowly and again did not answer him. Wei Wei then slapped Zhou’s face uncontrollably until it was swollen and injured, and knocked down again. This cycle kept repeating. Wei Wei at one point said, “I will beat you to death today!” He then beat Zhou Xiangyang with a thick club. Zhou passed out, and after he woke up, he tried to stand up again. Wei Wei got frightened by Zhou’s resolve and said, “Fine, I give up. Stay standing after I leave.” Wei Wei ran out of the room quickly.
Zhou Xiangyang started a hunger strike to protest the intensive persecution. He became very weak. The forced labor camp asked his company to re-employ Zhou so that he could recover, but his company had already fired him. He was forced to work at another place to make a living. This is when I met him. As I practiced Falun Gong as well, we had the same moral standards and similar experiences. I sympathized with him and had great admiration for him.
In May 2003 Zhou Xiangyang was followed and reported to police while he was clarifying the facts about Falun Gong to others. At that point we had met with each other only three times. He was unlawfully sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment and was detained in Gangbei Prison in Tianjin starting August 9, 2004.
Zhou Xiangyang’s family members are all Falun Dafa practitioners. His parents were forced into a homeless state to avoid being arrested. His older brother was also sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. His sister-in-law was sentenced to three years in prison, and his sister was detained in a detention center. His brother-in-law took on the task of visiting the relatives in prison. The family’s story touched me, and I decided to visit Zhou Xiangyang. I found a job at a kindergarten in Tianjin. Later I went to Gangbei Prison to visit Xiangyang, but the prison officers refused my request to see him by saying I was not his relative.
The land surrounding Gangbei Prison was very empty. On both sides were ditches full of reeds. After an hour bus ride I had to walk half an hour to the prison building, and in winter it snowed very hard. All the criminal inmates were able to see their friends and family, but Xiangyang wasn’t able to. I sat at the prison gate and became quite despondent. I felt that this world was colder than the winter itself. Xiangyang just wanted to live by Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. He did not commit any crime. I suddenly had courage ask the prison officials to marry Xiangyang and me. This request shocked the officer’s cold hearts. Many Falun Gong practitioners’ families have been broken up since the persecution of Falun Gong began. The prison usually only received requests for divorce. This was the first time they had received a request for marriage. After five months of persisting, the prison finally agreed that I could see my fiance. At the moment, I was very happy after so many years of sadness and hardship.
Threatened and Jailed for Appealing
Although I was now Xiangyang’s fiancee, prison officials still made it as difficult as possible for me to actually see him. From July 13 to 21, 2005, Xiangyang sent two letters of complaint to expose the use of torture during interrogation by the Eighth Criminal Investigation Teams of the Hexi District Police Department in Tianjin. But the letters were kept by Zhang Shilin, director of the Fifth Ward of the prison, for six months. They finally handed them to me at the end of December 2005. His brother-in-law and I finally found the prison administration and submitted the complaint. But they told us that we should not be against the prison, as it would cause more trouble. We went to the Hexi Procuratorate to complain and the leader in charge told us that we were the first Falun Gong practitioner relatives who had complained about the prison in many years. We had to submit our complaint to the Discipline Inspection Section of the Hexi Police Department. We arrived there, but the head of the section said he was busy and asked us to leave our cell phone number. Although the agencies looked like they were processing the paperwork by the rules, no one actually helped us.
After that meeting, I was followed by a National Security officer. One day, still in December, guard Luo Zhiguo called me and said, “You do not need to come to see Zhou Xiangyang. He violated the prison rules, and refuses to eat. We will not be held responsible for the consequences.” Later, a fellow practitioner who came out of the prison told me the facts of what happened. Xiangyang had tried to stop the broadcasting of a video throughout the prison which slandered Falun Gong’s founder Master Li Hongzhi. Inmates, under the guards’ direction, dragged him to the broadcasting room and beat him. He was locked in a small solitary cell and tortured by having both feet shackled to a metal ring and his hands were cuffed to shackles on the concrete floor.
As I was forbidden to visit Xiangyang, I called Luo Zhiguo, director of the First Brigade, every few days. He told me that Xiangyang was doing well, and was very healthy. Several days later, political instructor Zhang Shilin told me to come to the prison office to talk about Xiangyang. Zhang Shilin, Luo Zhiguo, and director of the Second Brigade Song Xueshen, were present during the meeting. They said that Xiangyang would not give up Falun Gong and “refused to cooperate” with them. The prison wanted to take action against him. Zhang Shilin talked to me for one hour, saying that Xiangyang should not submit complaint letters, as it was not good for him. He also said he was not afraid of Xiangyang’s complaints and that he would fight Xiangyang to the end. I told him that I would continue to appeal for Xiangyang. Soon after, Gangbei Prison started another round of intensive brainwashing sessions.
Luo Zhiguo called me one day in January 2006 and said, “Li Shanshan, you should protect yourself well.” Several days later I was threatened for appealing for Xiangyang. After the National Security officers had followed me for three months, National Security Team leader Hao Baogang ordered police from Wang Dingti Police Station to ransack my home. I was arrested and put in jail for thirty days. When I was released, I was monitored at home for fifteen days before being sent to a forced labor camp for fifteen months. He Baogang interrogated me, and told me that Zhang Shilin said that I had threatened their prison. He said that by crying out against Xiangyang’s torture I was attempting to incite a crowd to riot at the prison gate. So I was charged with “inciting subversion of the state” on my forced labor sentence.
I was only 25 years old at that time. I suffered forced labor and unbearable loneliness. But I do not regret my appealing for Xiangyang. The day before my termed ended, a National Security leader came to the forced labor camp to talk to me. He tried to make me give up my appeals for Xiangyang. I told him solemnly that I would help any friend in need, and even more so my fiancee.
After I was released, I continued to visit Xiangyang. He was later transferred to Liyantou Prison in Tianjin. The prison still made it difficult for me to visit him. In April 2008 Gangbei Prison took Xiangyang back and started another round of brainwashing. He was isolated in a small, solitary cell and deprived of any family visits. He was tortured with the “Ground Anchor,” and then started a hunger strike that lasted about one year. He remained unyielding in his faith. In April and May 2009 he was sent for emergency treatment twice at Xinsheng Hospital and the prison hospital. He was extremely weak, and his family was notified that they could take him out for medical parole. Thus, on July 28, 2009, Xiangyang left the prison and went to his hometown of Changli to restore his health. Gangbei Prison required us to live under the supervision of the National Security Team of the Tianjin 610 Office. During his parole, I listened to him talk about what he went through in the prison.
When Xiangyang first came back from Gangbei Prison, he was very weak. He was 5′ 9” in height but he only weighed 86 lbs. He could hardly walk by himself and he could only eat liquid food. On the seventh day after Xiangyang returned home, a group of six people, including the person in charge of Gangbei Prison and police from Changli Police Station, suddenly broke into his home to harass him. Later we learned that this was because the details of Zhou Xiangyang’s persecution were on record with the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and they planned to send a commissioner to investigate Gangbei Prison and the Hospital of the Third Railway Survey & Design Institute Group Corporation.
There were scars on Xiangyang’s hands, behind his ears, and his legs, caused by repeated electric shocks from high-voltage batons. He drew a map of the “Floor Anchor” and described in detail of how Falun Gong practitioners were tortured in the solitary cell:
“Three criminal inmates watched me, and one sat over my head and stepped on my hands. It was also an insult to have my head under his bottom. The other two inmates sat near my feet and kept reading articles which slandered Falun Dafa. They continued to beat and insult me. Some even threatened to kill me. They kept pressing my legs down, which caused extreme pain, since my calves were hanging halfway into the air. They said that they were ‘helping’ me to exercise my bones by unlocking me from the ground and trying to break me down at my waist, my legs, and my arms. This too was extremely painful. The head guard, Song Xuesen, stayed outside the room and listened. When it was quiet, he threatened the inmates, ‘Don’t you still want to do it? Don’t you want to reduce your prison term? If you don’t want to do it just get out.’ When the guards were not satisfied with the torture performed by a criminal inmate, they took this inmate back to his cell and punished him. He was then tortured by guards and other inmates in his cell and forced to perform extremely dirty work. Under this great pressure and being lured with a reduced prison term, inmates tried numerous ways to torture me. I could barely stand those torture methods.”
The “Ground Anchor” torture is a common torture method used in Gangbei Prison, and was introduced to all the prisons in Tianjin. After Zhou Xiangyang was released from the “Ground Anchor” torture, he couldn’t stand up straight, and was not able to straighten his back for several months. After hearing her son’s suffering in the prison, Xiangyang’s mother could not help but shed tears.
After a Seven-Year Wait, We Finally Got Married
During those seven years, many times I dreamed about a reunion with my loved one. Not seeing any hope, my father told me to go out on blind dates several times. When he learned that I had been appealing for Xiangyang and had to deal with the prison, he feared for my safety and worried that police might ransack our home again. He wanted to sever our father-daughter relationship and at one point my father beat me, out of fear and frustration. But I firmly believed that I needed to stand up for Xiangyang, no matter what.
Falun Dafa is Amazing
After two months of studying Falun Dafa’s teachings and doing the exercises, Xiangyang’s weight increased to 103 lbs. With the kindness he developed from practicing Falun Gong, Xiangyang quickly gained acceptance from my family and friends, especially from my father. On October 26, we officially registered to get married. Because of 11 years persecution, Xiangyang’s family lived a very difficult life. We did not intend to hold a wedding ceremony. But, Xiangyang had a very good reputation among family and friends, so many people offered to help us and organized a feast. I finally put on the white wedding dress that I had dreamed of for so long.
When Xiangyang went to his work unit to meet his leaders at the Third Railway Survey & Design Institute Group Corporation, his colleagues were very happy to see him. One colleague had great admiration for his unyielding spirit and wanted to provide funding for him to go abroad. He offered to give Xiangyang some money to support his family but Xiangyang would not accept it.
However, the president of the company did not want to be seen with Xiangyang and asked his subordinates to tell Xiangyang that his personnel file was still being kept in Gangbei Prison. Only if the National Security Team of the 610 Office agreed to transfer him back to his original work unit, would he then would accept his coming back to work.
In May 2010, my father helped us by renting a booth in a large supermarket and we began to do some business. Finally, we began to have a stable source of income. Although our lives improved, Xiangyang was still very frugal. I was pained seeing him suffer so much and I always wanted to buy something good for him to help him improve his health. Every time he would tell me not to waste money on it. In the summer, he was reluctant to buy sandals; instead he kept wearing the same pair of sneakers. His winter coat was over ten years old and he did not want to buy a new one. Because he chose to live by Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, he went from a state-level engineer to setting up a small business in a booth, but he never complained. Instead, he silently kept doing what he was supposed to do. For that, and being his wife, I admire him from the bottom of my heart.
Wrongfully Sent to Prison Again
Unexpectedly, on March 5, 2011, plainclothes officers from the National Security Team of Tangshan City suddenly broke into our home and ransacked it. They arrested both of us and took away 13,000 yuan in cash and personal property worth over 10,000 yuan. They also confiscated all our Falun Dafa books. I was detained for 15 days and then transferred to a local brainwashing facility. Xiangyang was interrogated and tortured. Nobody knew of his whereabouts. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law went to Gangbei Prison and waited there for two days straight. But the prison officers still would not allow them to visit him.
On March 24, after returning home, I called Gangbei Prison and asked about Xiangyang’s physical condition. Li Guoyu, the assistant director of the prison, told me that Xiangyang refused to eat anything. Since he had not fully recovered from the last time, he had stomach, spleen, and kidney failure. He had hematuria and needed an IV every two days.
On April 12, Xiangyang’s mother could not endure the pain of worrying about her son, so she went to Gangbei Prison again. In desperation, she put on a vest with writing stating how her son was wrongfully imprisoned and how she was denied the right to visit her son. Upon seeing her son brought out by two criminals who were monitoring him, she could not hold back her tears. From March 5, when Xiangyang was arrested, he had not eaten anything. He insisted on protesting the persecution. I do not know how long we have to keep appealing but we will continue to appeal and never stop.