Tortured for her beliefs
FREE AT LAST: Falun Gong practitioner Jennifer Zeng has written a book, Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong, detailing her experiences at the hands of the Chinese Government.
by BRIONY SNEDDEN | The Mercury
Jennifer Zeng tread a long, torturous road to freedom, but she will never be completely free.
The author of Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong, Mrs Zeng survived almost two years’ imprisonment in a Chinese camp, guilty of nothing more than practising Falun Gong, a type of spiritual meditation that she credited as saving her life.
Separated from her husband and daughter, she recounted in a matter-of-fact tone the endless hours of physical and mental torment at the hands of the Chinese Communist Government, designed to force her to disavow her beliefs.
During her incarceration, she suffered many deaths - including at the hands of her own conscience - but survived to tell her story.
Safely in Australia, and as a new Australian citizen, she joined a global movement to highlight the appalling human rights issues in China as that country prepared to host the Olympic Games.
She was in Maitland on Thursday, when the human rights torch passed through the city on a global journey initiated by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China.
“They tortured me very badly ... they used electric batons to shock me until I lost consciousness, but the worst thing was sleep deprivation,” soft-spoken Mrs Zeng said.
“When they send you to the labour camps, they keep you awake ... The longest period for me was 15 days and 15 nights without sleep.
“Many times I felt I would lose my sanity.
“I witnessed people suddenly become mad ... so many people were tortured to that kind of extent.
“After witnessing and experiencing that kind of torture, I developed a very, very strong impulse to write a book.
“But another dilemma was that unless I signed a piece of paper denouncing Falun Gong, I would never be freed.
“So I struggled, I struggled in my own heart about what to do. This struggle killed me another thousand times.
“Finally, I forced myself to sign that piece of paper, believing they would let me go - but I was wrong.”
Signing the paper wasn’t enough; Mrs Zeng, who holds a Masters degree in science, had to be cleansed of her Falun Gong beliefs to the satisifaction of the government.
She was sent to what she termed “brainwashing” camps, where the teachings denounced the evils of Falun Gong.
“It wasn’t enough to write a few lines denouncing Falun Gong; in the end, I was forced to write 18 pages - all against my will,” Mrs Zeng said.
“Because of that, I couldn’t make peace with myself. I had to struggle with my own will and conscience.
“I had to read the article in front of thousands of inmates and then I was expected to help to torture other practitioners.
“You couldn’t show any of your caring; you had to act as though you agreed with what was happening.
“There were many times I asked myself why I hadn’t died yet? Why hadn’t I gone insane?”
Falun Gong is an ancient form of “qigong”, the practice of refining the body and mind through slow-moving exercises and meditation.
It was first taught publicly in 1992 and by 1998, was practised by more than 70 million Chinese.
At the heart of the practice are the principles: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
Mrs Zeng said the practice saved her life, describing it as nothing short of miraculous.
After suffering a traumatic childbirth, she contracted hepatitis C in a blood transfusion and was bedridden for the initial years of her daughter’s life.
“When I gave birth to my daughter, I lost a lot of blood so I was very weak,” she said.
“I needed to have a blood transfusion, but I contracted hepatitis C - and my doctor told me there was nothing they could do to cure this disease. I just had to wait to die.
“I was at the stage where I couldn’t get out of bed to care for my daughter; I couldn’t even turn my body.
“After practising Falun Gong for one month, I recovered and my disease was cured. It was miraculous.”
Mrs Zeng had been following the Falun Gong doctrine for two years when the Chinese Government began persecuting practitioners in 1999.
Countless people were rounded up and jailed, sent to labour camps - or worse.
Stories are emerging that Falun Gong practitioners captured by the Chinese government are used as living organ donors.
“You experience all the benefits of this practice, then you’re told it’s a bad thing - and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Mrs Zeng said.
She was among the first detainees in 1999; but the relief of her eventual release in 2001 was short lived.
Rather than relishing a reunion with her family, Mrs Zeng had five days to flee Beijing because the authorities realised that she was not reformed.
“I was fortunate enough to meet an Australian couple who were Christians with their own beliefs and I told them my story, and how desperately I needed to get out of China,” she said.
“They were very kind and helped me get a special visa; but I was here for two years waiting for the immigration department to do their own investigation to grant me refugee status.”
She had written half of her book by the time she left the country.
But her story didn’t end there.
Her husband, who did not practise Falun Gong, was jailed in her absence and their daughter spent her 10th birthday without her parents.
Mrs Zeng applied to bring her daughter to Australia, but was refused.
“I felt like a souless person wandering in a world that didn’t belong to me,” she said.
“When my husband was in jail, I really didn’t know who I could turn to. I had no rights in Australia and I couldn’t go to the Chinese government.”
Now 41, Mrs Zeng, her husband and their daughter are living in Australia and her book has been published.
But the shadow of the Communist regime will follow them always; both her escape and the book means Mrs Zeng will always have a black mark against her name.
Undeterred, she will continue to be part of a world-wide fight, to try to win better human rights for Falun Gong practitioners in China.
“I couldn’t believe this could happen in this century myself ... If I hadn’t seen it and experienced it for myself, I would never believe it could happen,” she said.