A Falun Gong Family’s Daring Escape From China
Photo caption: Minghui Wang (center) with her parents at a candlelight vigil commemorating Falun Dafa’s 20 years of peaceful resistance to the Chinese communist regime’s persecution, July 20, 2019, La Jolla, California.
Minghui Wang is a student at a San Diego High School and will start attending college in the fall. This is her story.
A few days ago, my iPhone alarmed me that a possible hacker in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China had tried to access my account. My heart sunk and I panicked, not because my phone is full of top secrets. It was the name Kunming that instantly gave me a feeling of pressure. And just like that, I recalled those chilling memories of nearly a decade ago, when my family crossed the border from China into Myanmar in a daring escape, and where I was told to enjoy the stunning Chinese landscape one last time, while I could.
My parents and I practice Falun Dafa, an ancient Chinese meditation practice that drew over 70 million adherents in China in the 1990s. The core principles of Falun Dafa are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, so our family was always in harmony.
The atmosphere in China, however, was not that peaceful. An order to eradicate our benevolent belief was issued in 1999, the year before I was born, and the communist authorities used any means to execute it. Chinese media labeled Falun Dafa as “demonic” and police arrested anyone who told people the facts. Moreover, countless Falun Dafa practitioners who refused to give up their belief were sent to prisons and labor camps.
However, the majority of practitioners, including my parents, stayed actively committed. Over the years they were detained in brainwashing camps several times for their persistence in practicing Falun Dafa.
As far back as my childhood memories go, they have always been bitter.
One day in 2007, I came home and found the living room in a mess, with papers and books all over the floor. A neighbor told me that my father was brought home earlier that day in handcuffs, followed by four officers who took his keys, entered the house, and searched for and confiscated any Falun Dafa materials without my father’s consent.
I often heard news about fellow practitioners across China dying mysteriously in prison. So I understood what my father might now be facing. I was only seven years old then. While other girls my age played with their Barbie dolls, I lived under constant pressure and worried every day about my dad’s life. But at least we knew where my dad was detained. In many cases, families were not told.
Not long after my father’s arrest, I started writing to him. I would talk about light-hearted things like my field trips in school and cooking some ordinary dish without my mom’s supervision. He would write back promptly with the most interesting stories and the most considerate advice. And that was the only way for him to fulfill his role as a dad under those circumstances. Those moments of reading my dad’s letters were so heart-warming for me. But I also knew that my father was probably writing those letters at night after a long day of forced labor, or during his “relaxing” hours in between different kinds of inhumane tortures.
I was right, indeed. Except that my father endured far more than I could ever imagine. He told us later that the prison guards were very creative in tormenting him in an effort to make him renounce his belief. They used many different types of torture that were too painful for him to describe, but they are all evident by the scars they left all over his body. An average person would not be able to live under that situation for more than a day, yet he had to endure it for one-and-a-half years.
Later, he told my mother that my letters, along with his faith in Falun Dafa, were the only things keeping him from collapsing physically and mentally.
I don’t know what it’s like to lose your job, your health, your reputation and, your freedom, all at the age of 42 only because you follow a belief in truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. But my dad has experienced it all under the malicious Chinese regime.
Life wasn’t exactly carefree for the Falun Dafa practitioners outside of prison cells, either. While my dad was being illegally detained, my mother had to work two jobs in order to raise me. She would get up at five in the morning and go to bed around twelve, just so she would have enough time to finish her work. But even then, she still managed to give me a lot of her time. She would correct my homework every day and make sure that I was doing well in school. She would attend every parent meeting and go to every class potluck. My mother relied so much on that little money she earned, she never realized how easily it could be taken away.
Ever since my dad was arrested, two men were hired by the local police station to monitor my mother’s every activity. They would stay outside of her work place and made it very obvious that they were watching her and were ready to arrest her at any time. My mother’s manager panicked and fired her a few months into the job.
Now without a stable career, she always had to rush across the city tutoring different children and was thus often late to pick me up. I would tear up in the school waiting room, worried that she might have gotten put in jail.
Usually people associate loss of freedom with imprisonment, but in Mainland China, the entire society is a large prison. Even our cellphones and Internet activities were being monitored. Every time a police vehicle was in sight, I worried that it came for my mother.
The institutions of this abnormal state even deprive children of their ability and right to think and choose. Every first-grader is forced to join the “Young Pioneers” of the Communist Party and must swear to defend the Party with their life. I told my mother I didn’t wish to be a part of the Party that hurts and kills Falun Dafa practitioners. But when my mother talked to the school officials, she was told that I would not receive any awards or recognitions if I weren’t a member of the Party. My mother told the officials that I should receive everything I deserved, and there should be no political conditions attached.
My mom defended my rights, but she could barely defend her own, nor could she get my father out of prison, regardless of how hard she tried.
One day, my school principal pulled me out of class and tried to pressure me to report my own mom for “disrupting social order.” I was shocked, but I also knew that she was too confused by the propaganda and brainwashing from all the state media outlets to understand what my mother did.
And so, we lived under the unreasonable surveillance and harassment as a broken family and poverty stricken.
Finally, the camp released my dad because his blood pressure had shot up, and they didn’t want to be responsible should he suddenly die. That’s when my mom decided we should leave China. In April 2011, knowing that we had been blacklisted by Chinese Customs and couldn’t exit the country legally, we rode a bus to Kunming city and paid someone to get us out of China into Myanmar.
An older gentleman escorted us. We crossed the border by walking next to a swamp, with no road signs and no significant entry points. Our escort told us to split up so we wouldn’t be so noticeable. At one point, I accidentally led my mother into a wrong entry. When we finally met up with my father, his face was bright red from anxiety. I have never seen him so afraid, not even when he was confronted by hostile police officers.
He had every reason to fear as our family could have been separated forever.
It took us about seven days to get from China to Bangkok, Thailand on foot, by car and, by boat. It was a very fast trip for us, considering that many people actually have spent weeks suffering many physical difficulties along the way. Thanks to many kind-hearted people and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, we were able to enter the United States in 2013 with legal status.
We risked our lives getting out of China, so that we didn’t have to live the rest of our lives oppressed by the evil ideologies of the Communist Party, and to be able to have freedom of belief.
I wrote this narrative to raise awareness about the ongoing persecution of Falun Dafa practitioners in Mainland China. I wrote it to alarm the world so we can learn from the lessons of history and not repeat the Holocaust. I wrote, and will continue to write, for those children my age, or even younger, many of them orphaned by the persecution, who suffer from everything I have described, and everything that’s indescribable. Lastly, I wrote on behalf of the millions of individuals who wish to see an end to the persecution yet struggle to find a voice under the oppressive Chinese communist regime.