Brave Man, Gao Zhisheng, Stands Up Against Chinese State Power
The censorship of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s new prison memoir shows that the Chinese authorities are aware of the human rights atrocities that are being committed within the justice system.
The Year 2017, Stand up China, is the title of the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s memoir. After a ten-year ordeal of abduction, torture, and imprisonment, Gao survived and was released from jail in 2014. Ever since, Gao, age 52, has lived under 24-hour surveillance in his hometown in the northwest Chinese province, Shaanxi. Despite constant surveillance, Gao wrote a detailed memoir within a short time, and smuggled it out of the country to Taiwan, where it was published in June of this year. Since the authorities confiscated the book and blocked all channels of dissemination—even postal delivery—Gao’s wife, Geng He, who lives in the U.S., has released the book online for free download in November. The Epoch Times has posted a series of selections from the book.
It is understandable that a perpetrator does not want their criminal record to be exposed. The Chinese government uses diverse methods to prevent the truth from being told. Gao is too famous to be silenced forever—for other victims the Chinese authority prefers to apply the “final solution.” Peng Ming, a dissident sentenced to life, died suddenly on November 29 of this year in prison. Peng’s family doubted the official cause of death, heart attack, because when his brother had visited him 5 days prior he had been in good health. Moreover, Peng’s organs were removed without the consent of his family. This unlawful and shameful act on the part of the authorities has since shocked the world.
- During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
- Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.
Another case is the death of the Tibetan lama Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who died in his thirteenth year of a life sentence last summer. The authorities did not release his body to his family but cremated him so that further investigation into the cause of his death was not possible.
Gao’s book is doubtlessly a great contribution to contemporary prison literature in China. “Laogai”, the Chinese equivalent for “gulag”, was introduced into the Oxford Dictionary in 2003 and later on in other languages. Since Liao Yiwu published his personal prison memoir, For a Song and a Hundred Songs (2011 in German, 2013 in English), the world has gained more insight into the daily routine of a Chinese prison—the world has learned that inhumane treatment and torture are common. The 108 torture methods described by Liao in his book are now confirmed by Gao’s recall:
“When I finished arranging my personal items, four men came in suddenly, the same group that had tortured me on September 21, 2007. The first one, who attacked me was that big, 1.9-meter-tall guy: the most vicious, cruel creature… he grabbed my hair and pressed my head down… at the same time another guy put a black cap over my head while the third man handcuffed my hands behind my back.”
The thugs beat and kicked him, shouting dirty words at him. His body was numb and he was almost comatose because under the black sack he could barely breath.
“He heaved me to the corner, then lit the five cigarettes in his mouth. I knew what he was doing. Each time during the pauses in between the physical abuse, he always burned some cigarettes, without any facial expression, smoking my eyes.”
“I can hear a strange scream (from myself), I’m not conscious that I am the one screaming. My eyes were blurry, seeing nothing. I felt an overwhelming shock. My thoughts ceased working not because I had been hit, but because I stopped my brain from working. I could still hear though… the guy loosened his grip, I fell down, my forehead hit the ground. “Aah, aah,” I vomited and vomited, there was some sticky stuff outside of my body. My face was on the tile, hands behind my back.”
Gao mastered a lifesaving trick: He always “turned off” his physical experience during the torture, his brain stopped thinking, his soul left his body, he became an “observer” of the barbaric act.
The humidity in his cell was so dense that the blanket and clothes were soaked with damp; mold was everywhere. Gao describes the chilly coldness and wet blanket as even worse than the torture during his imprisonment. But he did not forget to remember some of the kind wardens and guards who had shown him some humanity. Thanks to their kindness, he was able to survive. As a Christian and advocate for persecuted Falungong followers, Gao has religious beliefs that have supported him spiritually and allowed him to overcome all the hardship. Through some mystic coincidence, Gao believes that 2017 will be the end of the Chinese Communist Party: that China will turn to a democratic country.
While we may not ascribe to Gao’s prediction that the Communist Party will collapse in 2017—the internal crises and international tension are not strong enough to tear down the communist empire in China—Gao Zhisheng is a brave man; he stands against the most severe physical and psychological terror and never betrayed his own beliefs and conscience. To write down this memoir shows again his courage and political will. Maybe he is not a clairvoyant, but he could be China’s “Mandela”—a man with charisma, morality, and integrity. With his book, he scares the totalitarian regime and serves as a model of justice and fearlessness against state power. In Chinese society, where only money counts, it is of great importance that a brave and decent person like Gao stands up and raises his voice.