My mother and sister, prisoners of China’s Communist Party


China’s leaders meant for the celebrations on Oct. 1 to remind the world of their country’s growing power and importance. But the 60th anniversary of the communist revolution, which Nina Hachigian wrote about in her Sept. 30 Times Op-Ed article, should also remind us of something else: The Chinese Communist Party is still very much an authoritarian regime whose nature remains quite the same as when Mao Tse-tung brutalized the nation.

I should know. About four months ago, my mother, Yao-Hua Li, and sister, Yi-Bo Zhang, were abducted by Chinese police officers simply because of their spiritual beliefs.

Just as millions of Chinese citizens did in the 1990s, my family embraced the Buddhist spiritual discipline of Falun Gong. The practice combines meditation and a moral philosophy based on the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance. It enabled my mother to find relief from severe back pains and gave us all a more positive outlook on life.


The Chinese Communist Party, however, viewed the growing spiritual movement as a threat and banned the Falun Gong faith in 1999. Since then, international observers have reported that more than 100,000 Falun Gong adherents have been sent to forced-labor camps, and thousands have been tortured (many to death) because they refused to recant their beliefs.

Though I had feared that my family members in China could be victimized under this persecution, I had assumed they were safe. After all, my mother has Hong Kong residency, and my sister was a successful financial manager with a well-known international corporation. I thought this would give them some level of protection.

I was wrong.

On June 4, exactly 20 years to the day after the massacre at Tiananmen Square, my mother and sister were taken from their home in Shanghai and sent to jail for no other reason than the fact that they practice the Falun Gong faith. They still haven’t been charged with a crime or brought to trial (even if they do get a trial, it would be a farce). I searched high and low in Shanghai, a city of more than 20 million people, and I could not find one lawyer with the courage to take their case.

Their fate will be determined by the local 610 Office, a Gestapo-like organization charged with persecuting Falun Gong adherents.

My family is not alone in our suffering. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2008 country report on human rights, Falun Gong adherents are estimated to make up as much as half of China’s labor camp population. They also account for two-thirds of the torture cases in China, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.

All around the world, people and governments look to the United States for leadership on human rights. This is precisely why lawmakers and business leaders need to keep the countless number of people such as my mother and sister in mind when engaging with China’s leaders.

The values of human rights and freedom are not just American values; they are universal. A relationship can only be healthy and long-lasting when it is built on shared values, not just shared interests, which are temporary and ever-changing.

This is why I am very thankful that 77 members of Congress, including California Reps. Maxine Waters, Ed Royce, Darrell Issa, Duncan D. Hunter, Dana Rohrabacher and Adam Schiff, have co-sponsored HR 605, which recognizes the ongoing persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and calls for an immediate end to the campaign to persecute, intimidate, imprison and torture its practitioners.

The resolution is being reviewed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is chaired by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village). There are millions of people suffering persecution in China, not just my family and not just Falun Gong adherents. Every single one of them would join me in my hope for Congress to pass this resolution.

After his trip to China in August, Berman described Chinese officials as being “very open” to expanding human rights in their country. For the sake of my family and so many others, I hope he supports HR 605 and takes advantage of the openness to which he attests. My mother and sister are waiting.

Yi-Yuan Chang is assistant director of UCLA’s Center for Esthetic Dentistry.