Family and Destitution
Spouses, parents, children, and siblings of those who practice Falun Gong have suffered various degrees of persecution, ranging from loss of employment to torture.
Tragically, some relatives have directly taken part in persecuting their loved ones, often under extreme levels of pressure/duress from the communist state. Meanwhile, a large number of people across China have become refugees, with their homes ransacked by police. Some left home to live on the streets simply to save their families from police intimidation and brutality.
Persecution of Family and Loved Ones
When tens of millions of Chinese who practice Falun Gong began being targeted in 1999, even their relatives who did not follow the spiritual discipline were implicated at once. Immediately, the number of people directly hit by the campaign rose into the hundreds of millions.
Relatives were given a painful choice between supporting their loved ones at great risk or following the Party and thus wrecking their families and betraying their kin. The comprehensive campaign left little room for ambiguities.
The Party had three main reasons for targeting the Falun Gong’s relatives.
- First, it sought to deter Chinese people from supporting their family members by opposing the campaign; at minimum the Party demanded quiet acquiescence, though it preferred the kind of proactive support described below.
- Second, the Party feared family members would publicly expose the torture and other abuses their loved ones faced.
- Third, police and jail wardens learned that one way of breaking the determination of jailed Falun Gong is by showing them how miserable their children, spouses, or elderly parents are.
Persecution of relatives has taken many forms, including:
- Spouses are pressured to divorce and threatened with repercussions such as an end to their careers if they do not.
- Relatives are dismissed from their workplaces after their family members petition the government to end the persecution or distribute informational material.
- Sons and daughters are expelled from schools if one of their parents remains an active Falun Gong practitioner.
- Young children have become orphaned or parentless because their mother and father have been killed, arrested, or forced to run from place to place to avoid arrest and torture (See the story of one 11-year-old). Some children live with their grandparents or other relatives, while others have been left to fend for themselves.
Several short examples of such cases include…
- Young children have been arrested with their parents and some have even been tortured in custody. Some were thus witness to their parents being tortured (report).
- In some cases, family members were brought into detention centers explicitly for the purpose of witnessing their loves ones being tortured. Wang Yuzhi recalls witnessing how one man was forced to watch his wife being hung from the ceiling and tortured. (news) Although Wang herself was tortured blind and nearly killed, she says hearing the man’s heart wrenching cries was one of her most traumatic experience in detention.
- Relatives are followed, interrogated, and threatened as the 610 Office tries to find the whereabouts of those fleeing persecution.
- Police and 610 Office staff search and plunder Falun Gong adherents’ homes and extort money from relatives for early release or as a “detention fee” (that is, family members are forced to cover the expenses of their loved ones’ torture).
- With a collapsed healthcare system in China, adherents and their family members have struggled to pay enormous fees for the hospitalization of those recovering from torture. Those whose relatives died of torture also often have to deal with enormous fees on top of their grief, while others have to bribe the detention centers to reclaim their relative’s body or ashes.
- Relatives who stand up to support their spouses, siblings, children, or parents have faced the same persecution that adherents do.
- When working-age Falun Gong are arrested, the Party leaves behind their elderly parents with no pension and no other means to cover basic needs.
- Elderly parents have suffered heart attacks or collapsed under the pressure of seeing their children arrested and beaten; others, like Charles Lee’s mother, passed away while worrying about their children and not being able to see them one last time.
In part of a story that won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, Ian Johnson describes how Zhang Xueling was jailed after trying to seek justice for her mother (news) who was beaten to death by Chinese police. (news)
Reminiscent of rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust is the story Ms. Li Weixun’s brother (story).
Finally, the number of broken families this persecution continues to create is staggering. Almost every Chinese Falun Gong adherent one meets outside of China has such a story. At the very least, adherent overseas cannot safely return to China. Most have been away from their relatives for over eight years. They have missed their children’s marriages and, often enough, their elderly parents’ passing as they are forced to remain in exile.
Persecution by Family and Loved Ones
Because they internalized the Party’s propaganda portraying Falun Gong as a “dangerous organization,” because they feared repercussions, or because of naiveté about the regime’s intensions, family members have taken part in persecuting their relatives who practice Falun Gong.
Below are several examples:
- Very common is family members agreeing to accompany police officers to detention centers and labor camps in order to try to talk their relatives into signing a statement slandering Falun Gong, and cooperating to provide police with information about other adherents. Labor camp survivors describe emotional scenes in which teary spouses, parents, and children kneel in front of them and beg them to betray their conscience and give in so that they can return home to their loving family.
- Spouses have threatened to divorce or divorced their partner because they refused to abandon their belief system.
- Others have had divorced while their partner was jailed or moved in with another person while their legal partner was being tortured or forced to work hard labor.
- Husbands have beat their wives after catching them distributing Falun Gong literature in secret or practicing the Falun Gong meditation exercises.
- Some have locked their wives, children, or elderly parents in a room, forbidding them to go outside.
- Some have turned their relatives in to the local “brainwashing classes” (xinao ban), not knowing they would be deprived of sleep, beaten, and forced to blankly stare at videos, and “struggled against” Cultural Revolution style for days on end. When the loved ones “graduated” and returned home, the severe mental trauma they had experienced made them no longer recognizable as being the same person. (more on brainwashing)
Alongside the most brutal forms of violence, such as torture and organ harvesting, a quiet, systemic form of violence being perpetrated against the Falun Gong on a large scale is destitution and internal displacement.
Although the number of Falun Gong adherents forced into homelessness and living as fugitives in their own country is currently unknown, hundreds of testimonies, and reports of tens of thousands of practitioners missing in mainland China suggest destitution is pervasive. There are several reasons for this phenomenon.
First, the Falun Gong have been expelled from schools and dormitories, fired from their workplaces, and denied opportunities for re-employment because of their beliefs or open resistance to persecution (more on persecution at work and school). This situation, moreover, has persisted for over eight years. Without any remaining financial means, those who can no longer rely on the support of family and friends are being driven into homelessness.
Second, adherents have been forced into bankruptcy due to robbery and extortion. Police, the 610 Office, and local officials have all been known to pillage the houses of adherents after arresting them. In other cases, police have forced family members to pay large extortion fees to secure the release of their relatives and spare them from torture.
Third, many adherents have become homeless fugitives in order to avoid further persecution. After being repeatedly jailed and tortured, and knowing the arbitrariness of such arrests that can take place whenever local officials receive new orders or whenever a major anniversary approaches, adherents have chosen to leave their homes and wander from place to place to escape their pursuers.
In addition to the 610 Office and local police forces, the Chinese Communist Party also employs a system of neighborhood and street committees. Much like the system employed in East Germany, this PRC version of neighborhood watch employs retirees who spend their days spying and reporting on their neighbors – not for stealing but for hanging posters, distributing leaflets, or meditating. With such a system in place, the Falun Gong cannot feel safe living in any single location for a prolonged period and roam like vagabonds from place to place.
Fourth, some adherents have left their homes in order to ease their family members’ suffering from police pressure. Harassment does not end when the Falun Gong are released from detention. After they return home adherents face frequent, sometimes daily, visits from local officials and police. The visitors try to find the whereabouts of other Falun Gong as well as make sure the newly released adherent is maintaining “correct views.” Such visits are not always cordial.
Finally, children of Falun Gong adherents have not been spared either. With both parents either jailed, fleeing persecution or killed, children as young as three-year-old Kaixin have had to fend for themselves. While some have gone to live with relatives or adherents who knew their parents, others have become homeless.
Some Falun Gong have been able to escape to Southeast Asia or other countries and find asylum thanks to their host nations. A much larger number, however, have become internally displaced or, as Chinese put it, gone into exile in their own country to escape persecution.
In addition to requiring their identification for renting an apartment or receiving a salary, Chinese citizens may be required to present their ID to police on whim at any moment. Afraid of being recognized as Falun Gong, and in some cases already on a public wanted list for the crime of distributing leaflets, adherents cannot establish a new life or feel secure anywhere in China.