July 29th, 2000 was an unforgettable day for Zhou Zhongming, an Australian citizen living in Sydney. That day, Zhou received an anonymous letter from China signed by “someone who cares and is concerned”. The letter told how the author had witnessed the brutal beating of Zhou’s wife, Zhang Cuiying, and how she had been shackled for a long time by Chinese police. The author wrote: “ when I saw [Zhang’s] tragic situation, my heart bled. Any just person of good conscience would be filled with righteous indignation.” The author stressed, “ Mr. Zhou, when you receive this letter, you must try every channel to get your wife out of this living hell. I am extremely worried that she might be tortured to death if you do not act now!!!”
Who is Zhang Cuiying? Why was an Australian citizen jailed in China and brutally beaten? This is her true story.
“For speaking a word of justice, eight months imprisonment”
Zhang Cuiying was born in Shanghai in 1962. She had shown her talent and began brush painting at an early age under the guidance of the famous Chinese painter, Shen Zicheng.
Zhang carefully studied Chinese painting and poetry of the Tang and Song dynasties in order to deepen her understanding and appreciation of artist expression. She also studied and imitated the work of Shi Tao, another famous painter, to broaden her vision and spiritual expression. Her talent, interest, and hard work earned her a name in the art world in China at an early age. In 1986, at the age of 24, she was awarded the second prize in China’s National Poem-Based Painting Competition. The famous painter and art critic Qian Juntao wrote several articles on her work, saying that, “In her use of brush and ink, [Caixing] is able to use nature to express a sophisticated understanding of … inner feelings and emotions within painting…Her landscape paintings [earn] her a reputation of one of the best young painters in China today.”
Not only did Zhang establish a
reputation for painting unique and outstanding landscapes, she also earned
critical acclaim for her portrait painting, especially her paintings of
the ladies of ancient China.
Ten years ago, Zhang’s family immigrated to Australia.
Meng Li, “ she is always down to earth, honest and humble. You would not know she is a famous artist by talking to her. She does not like to talk about herself much.”
Pan Bihuan, “ Zhang Cuiying is an honest and simple person who always thinks of others first and does not want to trouble people and yet likes to offer help to others.”
Zhang loves painting, not for fame or profit, but purely from an inner desire to paint. She was always on the move to learn more and paint more. But in 1997, sever debilitating arthritis crippled her. In despair, she found that she was no longer able to do anything for herself. At the prime age of 35, the blow to her life and painting career was devastating.
Zhang Cuiying, “ Three years ago I suffered from severe arthritis. I had to rest after walking just a few steps. Even chewing food was painful for me. My back ached from sleeping. I was like a paralyzed person. I wanted to die rather than live like that.”
Desperate to paint again, Zhang searched for a cure. She went to Sydney’s well-known Chinese and Western doctors and tried drug treatments and therapies, all in vain. She lost almost all hope for life and often looked in the newspapers for ways of assisted suicide. So, when her husband told her about a Qigong system called Falun Gong, she was not really interested. All those famous doctors could do nothing to cure her, so why should this Falun Gong exercise work? Then, a miracle happened.
Jiang Tao, “ Cuiying is my neighbor. I know that she had a severe illness before doing Falun Gong. She could hardly walk, often only with someone’s help. She stayed in bed a lot. But since practicing Falun Gong, she is a completely changed person. She tells everyone that her arthritis was completely cured by doing the Falun Gong exercises. Since then, she is always optimistic and willing to help others. She often thinks how she can tell everybody what happened for her so that they can get the same benefit.”
Zhang Cuiying sincerely believed that Falun Gong gave her a second chance at life. Now she knew what it was to be truly healthy. Realizing that many people like her suffer from all kinds of problems, and could benefit from the same practice, she knew that she could not just stay home and paint. Master Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, told his students to “ become unselfish and think of others first”. So Zhang, like millions of other Falun Gong practitioners around the world, set up an exercise site in a park near her home to voluntarily teach others the exercises.
Miss Zheng, “ Cuiying is always willing to help others and is very kind-hearted. Every morning, despite of the weather, she is always at the park with the tape player. It was very kind of her for doing that everyday.
Zhang Cuiying’s warm heart has touched many people. Imagine what it must mean for this woman, who once thought only of death to escape her pain, to now live a healthy life, leading others every morning in Falun Gong exercises at her local park.
In 1999, the Chinese government suddenly denounced Falun Gong as a harmful and evil practice. The government ordered all Chinese citizens to give up the practice or be thrown into labor camps and subjected to extreme physical and mental torture until they gave up the practice.
In China, many practitioners thought,” We were miserable and sick before. We don’t want to go back that state. Falun Gong bought health back to us, even new lives for some of us. The government must not know the truth. They must have made a mistake. We know this practice very well and we have to tell them.”
For Zhang Cuiying, knowing that Falun Gong had given her back her life, she knew she must return the favor and help others. She could not just stand by and do nothing while Falun Gong was slandered.
Zhang Cuiying: On July 20, when I heard that the Chinese government had put our benevolent teacher on the most wanted list, tears rolled down my face. I went to the Chinese Consulate to tell them the truth about Falun Gong. Everyday, from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, I sat at the gate. They not only refused to accept my letter, but even swore at me and threatened me. They sprayed me with water while pretending to “wash” their cars. They damaged my car numerous times. They put nails in my tires and loosened the lug nuts, which made driving dangerous. They even smashed my windshield to try to stop me from going there.
Determined, Zhang Cuiying returned to the Chinese Consulate in Sydney every day, regardless of the weather, to bring the truth to the officials and beseech them to deliver the message to the Chinese government. At first, many who passed by did not understand the truth about Falun Gong, but, as time went on, they were moved by her spirit.
Li Hongsui: I remember once in front of the consulate, a westerner came to me and asked why we were there. I told him that we were Falun Gong practitioners who cultivate truth, compassion and tolerance. I told him that good people were being persecuted in China and we wished to have a peaceful dialogue with the authorities and speak for those suffering injustice. He said,” I admire you. Every morning I have my coffee at the shop across the street. I knew it was not money or some ordinary beliefs that could make you do what you are doing. There must be something powerful behind it. And that thing is very precious.”
Zhang Cuiying sat in front of the Chinese Consulate for five months. During that time, the Chinese government refused to listen to the truth about this practice that had helped so many. Instead, China increased its efforts to defame Falun Gong and escalated the persecution. Practitioners were tortured to death in prison. Zhang Cuiying decided to return to China, to prove to the government through her own experience that Falun Gong was good.
Wang Jinyi: The reason Falun Gong is being persecuted in China is that so many people practice it. For political purposes, [the government] labeled Falun Gong evil to justify the persecution. But Falun Gong practitioners are truly trying to become morally better people through the teaching and principles. The Chinese government slandered Falun Gong and our teacher, labeled us as evil. That’s why many practitioners have come forward to speak the truth for Falun Gong. I know Zhang Cuiying was very sick before. She regained her health and happiness through Falun Gong. I believe that’s why she went back to China to clarify the truth to the mainland government.
On March 5th, 2000, Zhang Cuiying returned to China with letters to the Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji during people’s representative conference. Hoping to voice justice for Falun Gong through some representatives.
Zhang Cuiying: Since letters would not reach them by mail, I decided to deliver them in person. As soon as I landed in China, the police searched my luggage. They found Falun Gong books and my letters to Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji. They sent me to prison immediately. I was then sent to a military base for questioning. Hundreds of military men interrogated us few practitioners throughout the night. After that, we were sent to a detention center.
This time, she was detained for eight months. Her life in detention was an indescribable nightmare.
Zhang Cuiying My life of those 8 months was a living hell. There were no human rights or human dignity there. We were locked in one room and never allowed to step outside. At the same time, we were beaten. I had to sleep on the floor, facing the filthy bathroom. If I turned around, the next person’s feet were right up against my face. At mealtime, each person saved a little for me from her bowl, and that was my food. I was not allowed to touch the drinking water. I had to drink from the bathroom sink. I was insulted mentally and physically.
The horrors of the Chinese detention centers cannot be imagined by anyone in the free world. Falun Gong practitioners are not murderers or criminals. They have done nothing illegal. But because they practice Falun Gong, they are beaten and persecuted by the police at will.
Zhang Cuiying: They used any means to persecute us. They did not allow us to sleep for several days; they interrogated us day and night. They forced us to stand outdoors in the winter with bare feet. Four or five policemen tried to force me to give up my Australian citizenship. They threatened to break up my family. I went on a hunger strike to protest their unreasonable treatment.
Zhang Cuiying’s hunger strike lasted for more than 2 months. She became emaciated and drifted in and out of a coma. Still, prison officials showed no mercy. They told her that her death would be worth less than a dog’s. To keep up her energy, Zhang tried to do the Falun Gong exercises. But the officers still prohibited her from practicing.
Zhang Cuiying: When I tried to do the exercises, they beat me and swore at me, pulled my hair, poured water on me and threw stuff at me. But I kept on practicing. So they called the chief. I kept on doing the exercises; they put shackles on me and threw me into the cell for male criminals.
For seven months, Zhang was locked in a cold, damp cell and not allowed to go out for fresh air. Her health deteriorated. Her hair fell out in clumps, and she suffered excruciating rashes.
Zhang Cuiying: People who saw me later could not believe that I was tortured to such a state after being such a perfect healthy person.
The warden encouraged the other prisoners to beat Zhang Cuiying and offered to reduce their sentences if they beat her “really well”. With this urging and support, some prisoners attacked her recklessly.
Zhang Cuiying: Once, a cellmate, whose last name was Zhang, saw me meditating. She walked to me and pushed my head down to the ground, then stamped her heel hard on my arm. Because she beat me, the Security Bureau reduced her sentence. This woman had stolen [ the equivalent of $1.5 million dollars] in public funds. According to the law, she should have been sentenced to 5-15 years in prison on corruption charges. But she was released after less than a year because she beat me. Many other inmates were very angry about it. They asked me to expose this scandal to the international media when I got a chance. There is no law in China.
Despite the brutal torture, Zhang Cuiying determinedly followed the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Her unselfish and kind behavior moved many inmates’ hearts.
Zhang Cuiying: I let others have my blanket when it got cold. I just sat there without covers while they slept. No one cleaned the bathroom. So I volunteered to clean it every day. Truthfulness, compassion and forbearance are my daily living standards. The inmates got to know us gradually. They said that our teacher is truly great. He has so many practitioners that are not afraid to die or give up their lives abroad to endure such hardship and inhuman torture in a Chinese prison, all for justice for Falun Gong.
What is the crime in practicing Falun Gong? Why is following truth, compassion and forbearance to improve one’s moral character against the law? Why so much brutality aimed at good people? Zhang Cuiying asked herself these questions over and over, but found no answers. The same questions echoed in the hearts of thousands of other Falun Gong practitioners too.
Meng: I have many friends who practice Falun Gong in China. Some of them have already been arrested. Some of them disappeared while talking to me from a payphone just as I heard a police siren in the background. Some of them were forced into homelessness. They couldn’t return home, otherwise their family members would be implicated, too.
Zheng: Mrs. Zhang’s imprisonment in China reminds me of my son and daughter-in-law. They have been arrested and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Their house was ransacked and boarded up by the police. All practitioners have been inhumanly persecuted in China. And I am very, very sad.
These are just a few examples of the treatment of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
While Zhang was suffering this ordeal in prison, back home in Australia her husband and daughter were beset with anxiety. Since she had left in March 2000, they had received no word from Zhang. No one knew if she was alive or dead.
Zhou: It was hard. I had to work full time and take care of the family, and I was worried for her as well.
I had to work more than 10 hours a day. No one was looking after my daughter. She walked to school and home by herself. She cooked for herself, too. My daughter was always lonely. Sometimes, she would wake up from a nightmare, crying for her mother.
She used to be a very outgoing and happy child. In a short few months, she had changed. She didn’t talk any more. I worried but could do nothing.
Finally, after a few months of waiting, Zhou Zhongming received a letter from his wife forwarded by the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs. In her letter, Zhang Cuiying wrote that she had been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days, but continued to practice Falun Gong everyday.
Zhang’s voice (reading the letter as husband reads it): I am the only Falun Gong practitioner left in this center. I have overcome pressure from the police and the chief. At the beginning, we would do the exercises secretly. We would stop when we heard the warden coming. Now I am the only practitioner left. I thought that it would be a shame to practice this wonderful Falun Dafa secretly. So I started to practice openly. They call came and tried to “fix” me. They even made up some new charges to sentence me to death. The more they tried to stop me, the more determined I became. After a month of perseverance, I can practice freely in my cell now. Tell our daughter Bella to read [Zhuan Falun]. I will be back after she has finished the book.
Zhou Zhongming was happy to know his wife was alive, but still he worried. After 50 days on hunger strike, he knew his wife must be near death. But for Zhang’s daughter Bella, hearing news of her mother was enough. She smiled for the first time in months.
Daughter’s change was the only gratifying thing for Zhou Zhongming during that time.
At the end of July 2000, Zhou received the anonymous letter signed by “a Chinese who cares and is concerned”. The letter told how Zhang Cuiying had been severely beaten and heavily chained. It reported that she was on her second hunger strike and her condition was deteriorating. What shocked Zhou Zhingming the most was the writer’s urgent plea for him to try every means to rescue Zhang Cuiying. The letter went on: “I worry if you are too late, she will be tortured to death. Extremely urgent!!!”
Zhou Zhongming: By then, we already knew there were more than 30 Falun Gong practitioners who had been tortured to death in police custody. So I worried that my wife would be the next on the list. I strongly urged the Australian Dept of Foreign Affairs to give a definite answer as to whether my wife was still alive in the Chinese prison.
Zhou Zhongming contacted the Australia authority to start the rescue effort. At the same time, he exposed China’s unjust treatment of Zhang Cuiying to the media, to seek public support.
Zhou Zhongming: After the first article was published in the English papers, the public responded quickly, especially my local government. The city council immediately drafted a resolution condemning the Chinese government.
Ou: That councilor said Zhang Cuiying’s courage was truly respected and admired by all residents in this are. There was no excuse for her to spend one more day in the prison.
The media reports revealed the truth about the suffering of Falun Gong practitioners in China. It became clear that what had happened to Zhang was not an isolated case.
Jiang: If an Australian citizen suffered so much, imagine the situation of thousands of Chinese practitioners. Their human rights and dignity were completely stripped away.
Jiang Tao: The Chinese government’s suppression has gone beyond the borders of China. They not only persecute their own citizens, they persecute citizens of other nations. The Chinese government has always used the policy of deception to maintain power. So they fear Falun Gong’s principles of [truthfulness]. They are using public money to persecute Falun Gong. It is extremely corrupt and degenerate for a government.
With the committed effort of practitioners and the Australian Government, Zhang was released on November 4, 2000. She had been in prison for 250 days. For the first time in eight months, she was free. When Zhang appeared at the gate, everyone felt they had been separated for a lifetime.
Jiang: Tears rolled down her face when she saw us. She kept saying Thank You to us. Then, she took off her red sweater. There was some writing on her white T-shirt. We could not hold back our tears when we saw those words.
On her shirt, Zhang Cuiying had written the same words over and over from her heart. She wrote:
For speaking a word of justice
That Falun Dafa is good
Followed by imprisonment for eight months
And endured much suffering for justice
Heads can roll and blood shed
But my Spirit and Righteousness will remain
China suppressing Falun Gong
Will be judged and condemned by history
Men: I saw her at her house for the first
time after her release. I held her hands, and I was speechless. She said to
us,” Thank you for your hard work and your help.”
This is Zhang Cuying, simple and kind-hearted. Always thinking of others first. When she had escaped from prison, she thought only of the effort others had made to tell the truth and help her.
Zhang Cuiying: After returning to Australia, I often thought about the tens of thousands of practitioners that were still in prison, still safeguarding Dafa with their lives, and still calling for justice and human rights with their lives. I thought about the unthinkable suffering and torture they were enduring. I couldn’t rest at home. As soon as I got back home, I started the urgent work to appeal to kind-hearted people and seek their support.
Zhang knew that, although life in the Chinese jail was unbearable, her days there were limited because she was an Australian citizen. Meanwhile, thousands, perhaps millions of others remain in China’s jails, many near death. Unless people and governments around the world extend a helping hand, their suffering will not end as Zhang’s did.
Yang: The TV stations and newspapers, all Chinese propaganda machines are controlled by the state. What people hear from them is all fabricated. So based on the wrong information, people cannot make the right judgment. Zhang Cuiying brought her story of torture in China back to the Australia people. That’s living proof of the torture. It doesn’t matter how many thousand of times the Chinese Government lies. The Australian government and its people are learning more and more of the truth about Falun Gong.
In Western countries, Falun Gong practitioners had collected tens of thousands of signatures calling for an end to the persecution. Many who sign the petitions understand the truth of what is happening, even though they themselves do not practice Falun Gong.
Zhang Cuiying: We urgently appeal to all governments and people for support. Your help -- a letter from you, a signature or a resolution supporting Falun Gong -- could help to regain freedom for many others.
Li: One man told me that he has signed many petitions for us. Every time he sees us, he signs. He said,” I know you are all good people. You are like the bright sun light. Anything dark will be afraid of you.” This man is not a practitioner, but he has written hundreds of letters for us to everyone he knows and to all government agencies. He told me that he has been supporting us on his own for more than 3 months.
Yes, the whole world is paying close attention. As the truth becomes known, people understand that Falun Gong practitioners are not politically motivated, and have no political agenda. They understand that the practitioners are simply asking for the right to practice their beliefs legally, nothing more. People now understand that there are those in China who are threatened by the growing number of Falun Gong practitioners and seek to crush this peaceful practice. With healthier bodies and purer hearts cultivated through their practice, Falun Gong practitioners can only be of greater service to their country and communities. Yet, when the Chinese people exercised their constitutional rights to appeal to the government and tell the truth about Falun Gong, the large-scale crackdown and persecution began. What kind of a government is this that does not hesitate to use brutality against its own unarmed and innocent people?
Someone: Since the crackdown began, not a single practitioner has struck back or used violence towards the police, even though they have endured unspeakable injustice at the hands of officials. No practitioner has laid a finger on a police officer, or damaged any public property. Such brutal treatment of a peaceful group of people is indeed very irrational behavior by a government.
Since July 1999, more than 100 thousand practitioners have been detained, over 500 have been sentenced without trial to terms lasting as long as 18 years. 1000 have been locked up in mental institutions, and more than 300 have died from torture while in custody. World human rights organizations have recorded many of these cases. Yet the vicious persecution and brutal torture continues. Zhang has returned, but what about the others? How many more lives will be lost before the violence stops?
Each pair of helping hands
represents a lifeline. Your
support could save lives. Though Zhang’s story ends well, tens of thousands
more in China await rescue; thousands and thousands of these terrifying stories
continue in the dark prisons and detention camps. Falun Gong practitioners around the world are calling for
your kind-hearted and peaceful support. Those who are rescued will remember,