Zhang Cuiying: A Chinese Artist Stands Up Against Persecution
A renowned painter tells of how Falun Dafa gave her a new lease on life, and how a persecution nearly took it away
In 1996, I was a painter in Australia when I began suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. I was almost paralyzed and would rather die than live since I could not find a cure. Although I had been an award-winning traditional Chinese artist in China, my illness left me unable to paint.
But just when I was about to lose all hope, I found Falun Dafa. As I began to practice its gentle exercises and live by its principles of Truth, Compassion and Forbearance, my health came back to my, and my arthritis vanished.
In July 1999, the Chinese Communist Party began a crackdown on Falun Dafa. I heard reports about Falun Gong practitioners being tortured to death. I couldn’t stand by and witness these injustices and human rights violations. When the Chinese embassy in Sydney would not accept my letters, I decided to go to China to voice my appeal.
In December that year, while I was standing in Tiananmen Square watching the national flag-raising ceremony, three policemen dragged me into a police car beat me, causing bleeding all over my face.
A month later, when I was practicing the Falun Dafa exercises at Rending Lake Park in Beijing, I was arrested and put in jail. Policemen beat me until they were exhausted. I asked them, “If people are not allowed to exercise in the park, what is the park used for?” They could not answer my question and were speechless.
Barely a month after that arrest, my husband and I were having dinner in a Beijing restaurant when suddenly over ten plainclothes police came and arrested us. They sent us to a jail that is said to be for criminals of the most serious crimes. We were locked up for seven days with prisoners who were on death row. In detention, they tortured me physically and mentally. They forced me to stand on the cement floor in the cold winter as they took turns to interrogate me for 24 hours. They didn’t let me sleep for several days. Then four or five policemen surrounded me and demanded that I give up my Australian citizenship. Against their inhumane treatment, I protested with a hunger strike.
Before my arrest, I had lived at a friend’s place when I was in Beijing. After the police found out, they accused my Chinese friend of liaison with foreigners and sentenced him to three years in prison. Another eight practitioners, whom I had met and talked with, were also sentenced.
In March 2000, I intended to hand over a letter to the central government in China. Police beat me after they found some Falun Gong books and my letter to Chairman Jiang and Prime Minister Zhu in my bag. I lost my hearing for a few days. They then took me to the army; over ten soldiers surrounded me and interrogated me until midnight. I was then transferred to Shenzhen detention center and was harassed overnight for more than 20 hours. I was detained without any legal procedures.
I was interrogated many times for the first few days and asked to sign some papers. I refused to sign because I was innocent and I strongly demanded to see the Australian consul. After ten days, I still had not seen the Australian consul. They did not tell me the date of my release. They also did not let me read Falun Dafa books. In order to protest the inhumane treatment, which violated human rights, I started a hunger strike on March 16. After their delaying tactics for almost a month, I finally met the Australian consul on the last day that month. In tears and weak after having been on a hunger strike for over ten days, I told the consul of my sufferings. The police shouted loudly several times for me to stop my conversation with the consul. The consul told the interpreter not to be scared and to continue interpreting.
During my hunger strike, which by now had lasted over 50 days, I became skin and bone. They did not show any sympathy for me. On the contrary, they cursed me with a lot of dirty words like “Your life is not worth a dog’s life even if you die”. Even one onlooker could not bear their behavior and uttered, “So irritating!” During my hunger strike, I relied on the Falun Dafa exercises to supply energy to my weak body and to sustain my life. My exercises did not disturb others. However, whenever they saw me practice the exercises, they beat me, cursed at me, pulled my hair, splashed water on me, and used hard objects to hit me. There were bruises all over my body. I felt too much pain to fall asleep at night. They also shackled me to prevent me from exercising. They said that if I did the exercises again, they would handcuff me to the window bars and make me live a life that was so bad I would rather die. They would also write a report saying bad things about me, which would lead to a heavy penalty for me.
But there were kind-hearted people inside the prison. One well-informed person could not tolerate how the police treated me and used the pen name “A Conscientious Chinese” to secretly write a letter to the Australian consulate in Guangzhou, and also rang my husband to let him know of my situation.
But some prisoners told me that they would not only beat me themselves, they would also convince other prisoners to beat me. It was said whoever could prevent me from exercising would have their sentence reduced. Therefore some prisoners beat and cursed me with authority and without fear. Once, a prisoner named Zhang saw me exercising and pushed me. She beat my head as she was holding it down onto the ground. She also stomped on my hand. The pain I felt was as if my bones had been broken. A few days later, she was released because of her “outstanding performance” of beating me fiercely. She had been jailed for single-handedly appropriating company funds of about ten million Yuan. According to the law, she had to be sentenced for 5 to 15 years, but she was only there for a few months. In the detention center, she bullied others who didn’t fight or curse back. During detention, she had not improved and was getting worse, but she was released early. The other prisoners asked me to disclose this scandal when I had the chance.
In the cell, the prisoners didn’t like to wash the toilet, so I cleaned it every day. In winter, someone fainted due to insufficient quilts to keep warm. I lent her my quilt and suffered the cold myself. Every day, I did twice the amount of rationed labor so that kind-hearted people would recognize that Falun Gong practitioners were good and considerate.
Therefore, they sympathized with me and also admired the greatness of our Teacher Li. Some were even punished since they breached the rule by not leaving me alone. A woman got brutally beaten simply because she spoke a few words with me and stealthily gave me a pen.
The living environment in the jail was terrible. The cell was dim, wet, and congested, and contained a toilet. It can only be imagined what the air was like in the cell. I wasn’t allowed to walk outside or see sunlight for several months during my detention. Sometimes my hair would fall out in bundles. The skin on my whole body was infected, which made me itchy and was painful to the heart. On top of this, I went on a hunger strike for over 50 days. In spite of my miserable situation, they didn’t let me sleep in a bed. I could only sleep on the frozen cement floor. Fortunately, the Australian consul in Guangzhou protested to the police and I was able to sleep in a bed and also go outside for a walk twice. This was the only outside activity I had during my eight months in jail.
When I was in jail, I felt that only Jiang Zemin and his accomplices wanted to suppress Falun Gong. They forced the citizens to accept their ideas. Under the influence of the evil force some were blindly obedient, but many were not willing to support the suppression by the authorities. They deeply sympathized with and helped Falun Dafa practitioners. I received care and help from some prison guards when I was suffering from skin infections. I have written to them to express my heartfelt thanks. At the same time, I told them that I wouldn’t see Chinese government doctors in the jail. If they cared about humanity and me, they should release me. They said that this was beyond their ability as the suppression of Falun Dafa was an order from above.
I was forced to work seven days a week and over ten hours each day. Every day, I got up early and went to bed late to do a bit more. Eventually, I found it so difficult to bear such inhumane treatment that I wrote to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and to the Australian consulate. I accused the police of of groping and illegal labor. After the police found out, they intensified their persecution of me. They told the jail to stop selling me pen and paper. When I could not express my aspirations with a pen, I used toothpaste to write on my shirt. My intention was to arouse their conscience. The result was I got more brutal treatment in return. They roughly pushed me into a cell and indecently stripped off my clothes before the close-circuit television and cursed me. I spoke peacefully to them, “You lock me up unreasonably for eight months. Don’t I have the right to say a word? Do you want to hide something so you do not allow me to write? Why do you have to treat me brutally, a weak woman?” They saw that I was steadfast in practicing Falun Dafa so they once again locked me in a cell among the male prison cells in order to threaten me. I felt lonely in the jail.
I deeply missed my family. I leaned against the iron window, looking at the moon. With tears in my eyes, I wrote down the words: “Looking at the bright moon through the iron window, tears from my breaking heart; I can not stop missing my family. When can I return home?” I thought, must a good person who believes in Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance suffer such inhumane tribulations? They sent me to court for a trial only after they had detained me for nearly five months. The Intermediary Court of Guangdong gave me a verdict of eight months, which I appealed. In my appeal letter, I wrote, “I am innocent. What is the crime of cultivating Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance? It is Jiang Zemin who has committed a crime. He will be blamed by history for his suppression of Falun Gong.” The High Court of Guangdong maintained the same verdict and asked me to sign the judgment paper. I refused to sign and said that I am innocent. Finally, the judge wrote in my judgment paper, “I am innocent.” Then I signed. I refused to let them take my fingerprints, as I did not regard myself as a criminal.
On October 30, 2000, when I was to be released, the Australian consul came to pay me a last visit and asked if I had any requests. I asked him to make sure to tell my husband my flight details. However, being fearful for the disclosure of their wrongdoing and fearing that their evil deeds would be exposed, Jiang Zemin’s accomplices used a dirty trick and gave the wrong flight number to the Australian consul. As a result, my husband had no sleep all night waiting at the airport, and my friends also waited for a long time. When I was released, the head of the jail did not return the Falun Dafa books to me as he had verbally promised. They unreasonably confiscated all my personal belongings. When I got off the plane, I did not see my family and friends, who had come to pick me up. I did not have a single cent in my pocket so I had to beg for 40 cents to make a phone call to my husband.
Having gained my freedom, I once again wholeheartedly thanked the Australian government, in particular the Australian consulate in Guangzhou. They visited me over ten times, traveling all the way from Guangzhou to Shenzhen during the eight months of my detention. For the rest of my life, I will never forget their unremitting efforts and assistance at a time when I was very miserable.
I know that my encounter is only the tip of the iceberg. If I had not held a foreign passport, I might have been more brutally persecuted. Tens of thousands of practitioners in China are still struggling in pain and appealing for justice. We call on righteous governments and people of goodwill to continue helping us. Your signature, your letter, or your resolution to support Falun Gong can effectively prevent Jiang Zemin from brutally persecuting Falun Gong, and stop the evil from spreading.