BROOKLYN, N.Y.—The two women’s lives paralleled each other despite having never met.
Article by Eva Fu from our news partners at The Epoch Times.
Both were born in China and later fled to New York after nearly two decades of sustained harassment and arrests. Both were detained after having just become pregnant and were threatened to have their babies forcibly aborted. And both declined the one thing that the authorities want them to do: to renounce their belief.
They are both adherents of Falun Gong, a meditation practice grounded in the principles of “truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance” that became hugely popular in China three decades ago. In 1999, after the communist regime labeled the practice a threat, Peng Zhaoli from Chongqing in southwestern China and Xia Baozhen from Shanghai—both in their 20s—became targets for local police. So were the rest of the 70 million to 100 million Falun Gong adherents all over China.
Peng and Xia, now in their late 40s, joined a nearly 1,000-strong parade in Brooklyn on July 18 to mark the persecution that has persisted for 22 years. Too many around them have suffered similar mistreatment and pain, the two said. And they want this to end.
The regime “arrested people by households as long as they don’t give up the practice,” said Peng.
It was just months into Peng’s marriage and one month after she found out she was having a baby, when she was thrown on a police van and later put into a detention facility. The police could each get 2,000 yuan ($308), a considerable sum at the time, for each adherent they caught, according to Peng.
“Don’t think that we have no way to deal with you because you are pregnant. We could abort your baby and sentence you to three years of forced labor,” a police officer warned Peng, then 29 years old.
Peng knew he was not making it up. Female local adherents before her had lost their babies that way before being sent to prison, she said. The police softened their attitude after her family and friends publicized her case widely and her mother, who was also detained at the time, went on a hunger strike in protest.
“Without their efforts, he could have long perished,” she said of her son, now a high school junior in New York.
That was March 2001. Both her younger sister and mother, also practitioners, were in jail by then. Peng’s sister, who was two years her junior, served a 1.5-year sentence in total after being arrested by authorities in May 2000 when trying to obtain a marriage certificate, a procedure overseen by local police.
Peng’s mother Huang Genhui was also arrested around that time for going to Beijing to petition central authorities to end the persecution. Huang likewise was slapped a 1.5-year jail term despite her eye condition being past the point of being legally blind. She ended up being released the next October, 10 days after Peng’s son was born. While Huang was detained, she was forced into slave labor, including folding drug packing boxes, making bamboo mats, and folding sanitary napkins.
Around the time of Huang’s arrest, the six-month pregnant Xia journeyed north to Beijing to protest the suppression of Falun Gong. Right after she unfolded a banner and started shouting “Falun Dafa Is Good” at the iconic Tiananmen Square, she was hurled into the police car and slapped on the face repeatedly. At the police station, a young police officer told her they would “kick down her baby.” She shielded her belly with her hand.
‘Do You Want Falun Gong or Do you Want Family?’
In May 2002, local officers and riot police tore through Peng family’s house with an axe to arrest Peng’s sister and mother again. They dragged her sister by her arms from the fourth floor down to the first, “not caring whether her head would bump to the ground,” Peng said. Two layers of her sister’s clothes were worn through as a result, exposing her undergarment, a sight witnessed by hundreds of bystanders outside as she was being dragged away.
Peng’s six-month-old son was at home during the raid. Startled by the commotion, he kicked around in a basket.
The shock from that arrest proved too much for Peng’s father, the only person who didn’t practice Falun Gong in the family of four. While he previously withstood police pressure to get a divorce, he caved this time. Doing so meant that if the three were ever imprisoned again in the future, at least one person could be there to send them blankets, Peng’s father told the family.
Xia’s marriage broke apart during her fourth arrest, right before she came out of a three-year prison term.
“[The police] asked me: ‘do you want belief or do you want your family? If you choose Falun Gong, you will have no family; if you give up Falun Gong, we won’t give you a divorce,” she recalled in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“To crush your faith and suppress those kind-hearted people who believe in truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, they go so far as to ruin your family. That moment, I really thought the communist party was evil to the core.”
In September 2006, when Xia walked out of the prison, her son no longer recognized her. Looking at her face full of tears, though, the six-year-old decided she was his real mother.
“I have called many people ‘mom,’ but none was hugging me and crying,” she remembered hearing the boy say. “I can finally have my own mother like other kids.”
Her former husband took her to a stone bench in the park away from the crowd, “looked left and right” to make sure they weren’t being monitored, before bursting into tears, Xia recalled. He told her that the police threatened to make him a social outcast and block their son from going to school, joining the military, or working for the government had he not filed the divorce papers. “I can never find someone as good as you,” he told her.
Peng and her husband left China in 2018, but could not bring along her mother Huang, whose jail time for practicing Falun Gong made her passport automatically disqualified for overseas travel, according to Peng.
She worries for her septuagenarian mother who is vision impaired. When Huang was in prison, it was Peng’s father who helped clip Huang’s nails during visits. Later that role had shifted to Peng. The police withheld Huang’s pension since 2015 and would not release it unless she signed statements renouncing her faith, which she refused.
Peng’s mother, in her 70s, now lives alone. Even though Huang would always assure Peng she was alright, Peng could not control her tears when she recalled learning her mother wearing a 19-yuan (less than $3) shirt for three years.
“Who is going to clip her nails? Even the simplest task of hanging clothes, how would she do that? She can’t even see,” she said, her nose reddening while tears glided down her face.
In 2008, Xia met her current husband, software engineer Luo Jiaolong while producing underground literature to tell people about the severity of the persecution. The couple, as well as Xia’s son, came to the United States in 2017, shortly after each came out of a multi-year jail term.
“The CCP (Chinese Communist Party)’s persecution is becoming more expansive, more cruel and secretive, and all of this started in 1999,” Luo said, noting that the regime has gone on to target Uyghurs in Xinjiang and other ethnic minorities.
“Unlike all the persecutions in history … the CCP doesn’t just destroy you physically, it also shatters you spiritually,” he added.
Tagging at the tail of the parade was around 16 to 20 Chinese Christians who wanted to show their support for Falun Gong and call for an end to communism.
“Falun Gong’s pursuit of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance leads to a better future for the world,” said one of them, Yang Shisong. For the Chinese regime to suppress Falun Gong and its value, he said, shows that the communist party “is dark, anti-humanity, and anti-civilization.”
“It is the opposite of justice and light, and we must end it,” Yang said.
Follow Eva on Twitter: @EvaSailEast
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