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The Youngest Victims
Orphaned by Persecution, Chinese Children Become Focus of Rescue Effort
NEW YORK – Little Jingyu, barely eight years old, lay silent, terrified, still, on the cold concrete floor of the Jiuxian Village jail. But the scene kept moving through her head.
It was her dad she saw, she was sure, but not the strong, smiling father she knew. This time it was so different. Dad was crumpled in pain, writhing. Hours of beatings had left him a shadow of his former self.
Police had made Jingyu watch.
The pain and confusion proved too much for the young girl, even after she and her mom were released from custody. The trauma was so deep Jingyu soon began spitting up blood and vomiting. Less than one month later she passed away, too broken to live.
Other children, such as eight-year-old Zhang Haonan, go on living with the pain; his single father was strangled to death by police two years ago. Others like him live in constant fear, all alone. Some are in hiding, some on the streets.
For these children, it is not too late.
The stories of Jingyu and Haonan, like those of many other girls and boys across China, are perhaps the saddest—and least known—chapter in a massive human rights crisis that has befallen the country.
They are the untold, uncounted victims of the government’s persecution of Falun Gong.
And it is on them that a large, grassroots effort is focusing this holiday season. The hope is to bring them to safety and shelter in the U.S..
Children across China—probably, some say, numbering in the millions—have faired terribly in a nationwide program of religious suppression.
When in July of 1999 China’s communist leader Jiang Zemin launched a campaign of violence, propaganda, and arrests against a popular meditation group called Falun Gong, few realized just how large the ripples would be.
The campaign, which flew in the face of China’s own constitution and international law, called for the “eradication” of the Falun Gong practice and even, if necessary, those who follow it. Early jailings and detention soon gave way to sanctioned violence and torture. As many as 2 million people are held captive in forced labor camps. Over 1,000 deaths in custody—most from torture—have been documented.
Children have suffered gravely under the suppression.
“These children have lost everything,” says Dr. Elizabeth Wang, Director of the Global Mission to Rescue Persecuted Falun Gong Practitioners.
Many have seen their parents dragged off by police. Others’ parents have been killed. In the worst of cases the kids themselves are jailed and even abused. While some have extended family to care for them, many are left to fend for themselves.
And owing to government demonization of Falun Gong in China, many of these children face alienation. Neighbors or even family who might care for them risk the ire of the Beijing regime. Such “sympathizing” could cost them their jobs, homes, or freedom.
“These children have lost their dignity,” says Wang. “They’ve been discriminated against and defamed awfully—in society, schools, and even kindergartens. They are labeled as ‘bad kids,’ or ‘kids of bad people.’ Often they are left with nobody to turn to.”
“A lot of them are too young to even understand what’s happening or to know what to do.”
Schooling Gone Awry
Children associated with Falun Gong have felt the sting of suppression especially in the school system.
In one incident, reported in the Wall Street Journal, Beijing schoolchildren received new class schedules upon returning from winter break, only to find on the back of each a poem vilifying Falun Gong. Slogans emblazoned atop the cards urged pupils to “Oppose Cults, Protect Stability, Respect Science, Promote Civilization.”
Many children have been forced to attend political sessions at their schools, disguised as “assemblies.” Principals and teachers at these sessions give vitriolic speeches denouncing Falun Gong and those who would practice it.
In some cases students are forced to sign “repentance statements” and “confessions” disavowing the practice of Falun Gong and declaring their “guilt.” In a throwback to China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution, students must at times “denounce” family or friends over the traditional meditation.
In addition, the government packs textbooks with frightening misportrayals of Falun Gong. Sympathy for the oppressed is made out to be “unpatriotic.”
Final exams are routinely stacked with questions about Falun Gong. Anything less than echoing the Party’s stance could result in failing grades.
Sympathizers and adherents of the Falun Gong face permanent expulsion from school.
“They’ve institutionalized hatred, in effect,” says Erping Zhang, head of the Association for Asian Research. “It’s a form of coercion, and it strategically targets people who are young and impressionable.”
Orphaned… or Worse
The suppression has cut the deepest wounds at home, in the family. Children have been made to bear the trauma and emotional pain of having their parents taken away—usually, simply for who they are—to unknown fates.
Sometimes the very act of seizure is so violent as to be unbearable, as in little Jingyu’s case.
Such was the case, similarly, for two-year-old Wang Shujie, of Shandong Province. Shujie watched in horror as police screamed at and beat his father right before him.
The sight was so disturbing the boy passed out and began a fever. His head for long after was in constant pain, and his state lethargic. He had trouble eating and sleeping, and progressively wasted away. Several months later he was dead.
Others who are slightly older, like the Feng brothers Hao and Jun, have managed to go on, despite the pain. Three years ago, at the ages of eight and ten, the brothers lost their mother when Macheng City police pummeled her before reportedly dousing her body with gasoline and setting it ablaze. Officials, seeking to cover up the murder, labeled her death a “suicide.”
In the most chilling of episodes, Chinese authorities have directed violence at the children themselves.
Horrific is the case of Wang Lixuan and her eight-month-old son, Meng Hao. The mother and child were arrested in Beijing in November of 2000, when Wang sought to file a grievance with the government.
Within a matter of days both mother and child were dead from police torture. According to the coroner’s report, the mother’s neck and knucklebones were broken, her skull was caved in, and a needle was found stuck in her lower back.
Her baby, Meng Hao, was not spared. He had deep bruises on his ankles, two black and blue spots marked his head, and blood was found in his nose. The marks on his ankles, it was reported, likely came from being hung upside down.
Police and officials in China continue to deny all wrongdoing, and some, reportedly, have even received promotions for their violent measures.
Amnesty International noted, “Whereas officials responsible for deaths in custody during normal police operations may be investigated and prosecuted, in all cases [in China] where the victims were Falun Gong practitioners, the government has denied any wrongdoing, even in the face of multiple eye witness testimonies.”
The Rescue Campaign
With the violent suppression still in effect in China, the focus of a growing number of U.S. Falun Gong supporters and devotees is rescuing these children.
Dr. Wang and the Global Mission are heading up the effort in the U.S. with a large variety of events aimed at raising awareness. Letter campaigns will also be a part.
Support, and hope, is growing for the cause. Wang and others are working with federal officials as well as the United Nations to make the vision real. Channels for bringing the kids out of China are being explored, and homes for them in America identified. “These kids desperately need to be cared for,” Wang says. “They need to be raised in a safe, nurturing environment. Some of them have lived in constant fear since they were toddlers.”
“We want to give these children a chance to live a normal life, to let them heal… I think it’s hard for us to imagine all that they have been through.”
How much does the group expect to ultimately achieve?
“It’s going to depend on how much we all do,” says Erkanda Bujari, a Ph.D. student at Columbia University who volunteers with the effort. “I think wonderful things are possible.”
If early indicators mean much, optimism is every bit justified.
Queens resident Amy Lee, 35, today still revels in the fruits of a similar effort. She was recently reunited with her daughter, thanks to local support from residents and politicians, after three long years of separation.
“My message is that people’s efforts can make a difference,” Lee said recently. “We have to try.”
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Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa (about), is a practice of meditation and exercises with teachings based on the universal principle of "Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance." Practiced in over 50 countries world-wide, Falun Gong has roots in traditional Chinese culture. With government estimates of as many as 100 million practicing Falun Gong, China's Communist leader Jiang Zemin outlawed the peaceful practice in July 1999 (report). Since that time, Jiang's regime has intensified its propaganda campaign to turn public opinion against the practice while imprisoning, torturing and even murdering those who practice it. The Falun Dafa Information Center has verified details of 1,170 deaths (reports / sources) since the persecution of Falun Gong in China began in 1999. In October 2001, however, Government officials inside China reported that the actual death toll was well over 1,600. Expert sources now estimate that figure to be much higher. Hundreds of thousands have been detained, with more than 100,000 being sentenced to forced labor camps, typically without trial.
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