Xi Jinping (习近平), the vice president of China and heir-apparent of the Communist regime, was in town to visit on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day. Protesters gathered in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. I went too, with a Chen Guangcheng sign I had made the night before.
Of the diverse groups there, the Tibetans were the largest. Before I walked into the park, I had already seen a jungle of snow lion flags and heard shouts of slogans. A lot of Falun Gong practitioners were there too. Some held banners calling for “Stop Persecuting Falun Gong”, but more were meditating on their mats over the east lawn of the park. I don’t think I heard them shouting any slogans. Later a group of Uighurs carrying blue crescent flags arrived, and a passionate woman led the group shouting “Shame on China!” “China Is a Liar!”
The “Democratic Party of China”, led by Wang Juntao (王军涛), lined 17th Street west of the White House, waiting for Xi’s motorcade to pass after lunch. There must have been over a hundred of them. Among the signs they were holding, I saw the names of Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Liu Xianbin (刘贤斌), Chen Xi (陈西), Chen Wei (陈卫), Wang Binzhang (王炳章) and more that I wasn’t familiar with.
Off the curb, a man was speaking into a loud speaker. I didn’t know who he was; his voice was full-bodied, firm, carrying emotions as well as conviction. My heart beat a little harder. “It’s been almost 63 years,” he boomed, laying out why the Communists were the enemy of the country and the people. The anger and the demands were real, the legitimacy of which was beyond doubt.
Across the street on the other side of the intersection was the welcoming crowd, about a dozen people or so. I was surprised to find how small and flappy it was. Their flags were big and red all right, so was their banner. But they were curiously quiet and stony. My guess is that they were embassy workers required to come out. (Any Chinese would understand what it’s like to be “required” like that.)
Holding my Guangcheng sign high, I went over to be with the welcoming crowd. A man behind me said, “Don’t stand here, or there will be a fight.” I said, “Really? Try and find out if this is China.”
To the credit of the “forced labors” of the embassy, the man was not one of them as I learned later. He was with the Democratic Party of China and he worried about the possibility of a fight.
Minutes after I arrived, I saw Geng He (耿和), wife of the imprisoned rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), passing right in front of me. She was with a few people. I uttered a cry of surprise and held her hands in mine—so natural as though I had known her. She said apologetically, “I am sorry, I can’t remember who you are.” “Don’t try to remember,” I said, “you don’t know me, but I know you from video and I follow you on Twitter.” Tears welled up in my eyes. “No news at all?” I asked. “No,” she took her head. “Nothing. Nothing at all.” Then she had to go, and I hugged her tightly.
Gao was sentenced to three years in prison, in December 2006, on charges of “inciting subversion” for writing a series of open letters to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and criticizing the Chinese government’s suppression of Falun Gong. He received a five-year suspension of his prison term. Last December, days before the five-year suspension was due to expire, the Chinese government announced that he had been put in prison after all in Shaya, Xinjiang, for violation of the suspension terms, even though for much of the five years he had been in police custody, and no one had seen or heard from him, including his family, since April, 2010.
In January, Gao Zhisheng’s old brother travelled about 3,400 kilometers (about 2,100 miles) to visit him, along with Geng He’s father and siblings, only to be told that Gao was in a 3-month education period, enjoyed no visitation rights, and whether he could receive family visit after 3 months would depend on his “performance.” This perverse episode has since raised intense suspicion that Gao Zhisheng has long died of torture in police custody.
Later, after I had walked around the White House with my Guangcheng sign, taken pictures and come back to Lafayette Park, much of the protesters, regardless of groups, gathered in a large circle, listening to speeches by representatives of each group. Geng He also spoke through a translator.
“My husband is a lawyer in China,” said Geng He. “He specialized in defending the rights of the powerless, such as city residents whose properties were demolished by force, migrant workers, petitioners, persecuted Christians as well as Falun Gong practitioners. Then he herself was persecuted.”
She went on describing his multiple disappearances and some details of his torture. “They shocked his entire body, especially his genitals; they burned him with cigarettes and smoked his eyes. Then they urinated on him.”
I had read Gao Zhisheng’s own account “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapped by Dark Mafia—my account of more than 50 days of torture” before. But no matter how many times you hear it, it is always like the first time; and for the hundredth time, you are shocked, because you can’t comprehend such evil. You know a regime capable of such evil has no legitimacy, no reason for being, and it is simply a matter of time for it to end.
Or is it?
After Geng He left, a small, fine-featured journalist stopped and chatted with me. I showed her my Guangcheng sign, told her about what I had just heard from Twitter about Guangcheng and his family: Schools in China resumed class yesterday but Guangcheng’s daughter, who had been allowed some measure of freedom to play around, had not returned to school. Nor had anyone seen his 80-year-old mother since late January. Of course, no one had seen Guangcheng and his wife for a long time.
I told her about Ge Xun’s recent experience in Beijing. Her eyes widened. I said it showed just how paranoid they were. “The problem is,” I said, “they have no understanding of how the free world works, so they can’t cure their paranoia, they succumb to wild suspicions and theories of conspiracy, and it’s just going to get worse.”
“Also, if they are willing to treat a foreign citizen as such,” I continued, “imagine how much worse they have done, and would do, to China’s own citizens.”
She was an Australian and the Washington correspondent for The Epoch Times.
I said I had never been an activist, and for years, I didn’t know what was going on in China, even though in my writing I deal with the fundamentals of the Chinese experience as I see it. But now I feel like I must do something, I must put my freedom to use, and contribute the one brick that is my share towards a different China.
She—Shar was her name—wrote down everything I said on a palm-sized spiral notebook. She wrote so fast.
I walked around more and took more pictures with my Guangcheng sign. I handed out pedestrians fliers I made. It had links for further reading. My hope was that people would read more and begin to see that what happens in China concerns everyone.
I don’t belong to any group or party. On this particular day, I felt Guangcheng and I, the two of us, were a party, and I would like to take him around to see the city I live in.