NEW YORK—It was a dark, rainy day on June 14, 2005, and the family had just returned home from grocery shopping. Suddenly, someone jammed an arm under Zhang Lianying’s neck and a black bag was thrust over her head. The eggs she was carrying smashed on the concrete as she was dragged away. Her husband Niu Jinping was taken too by the Chinese security forces, leaving their 2-year-old daughter crying and screaming in the stairwell until a neighbor came to help.
Niu was later released, but little Niu Qingqing didn’t see her mother again for 2.5 years. From that day in 2005, Qingqing lived with her grandparents while Zhang was in and out of labor camps and torture chambers. Qingqing barely spent two years with her mother before the age of 7.
That was the first time in Qingqing’s life that her parents were abducted, but the couple’s ordeal began 12 years ago, in 1999.
Now, after years of persecution, the family is finally out of China and safe. They arrived in New York in January. The family recalled the scene onboard the flight from China to JFK, where Qingqing was bobbing up and down on her seat exclaiming, “America! America! We’re free!”
While Zhang and Niu tell their story at The Epoch Times’ New York office, Qingqing crawls between chairs, giggles, runs around, and now and then furtively tells her parents important secrets while they are in the middle of speaking.
She’s a happy 7-year-old now, but she used to cry a lot. In 2006, for example, when 3-year-old Qingqing was presented to her mother, she started crying and said, “Who are you, aunty?” Zhang had just been released from hard labor and had lost 80 pounds from maltreatment in custody, and Qingqing couldn’t recognize her.
Both Niu and Zhang are living witnesses to modern Chinese history. In 1997 they began practicing Falun Gong, a mind and body discipline consisting of five exercises and moral teachings centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Both were present at the historic appeal in Beijing on April 25, 1999, when over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered outside the leadership compound of the Chinese Communist Party and asked that their faith not be harassed. Three months later, a nationwide campaign of propaganda and persecution was launched.
When the family arrived in the United States in late January, they spent two days making phone calls to China to tell family, friends, and former colleagues that they were safe. They now spend much of their time telling people about what it is like in China for practitioners of Falun Gong, and what it was like for them.
Over the years, Zhang wrote numerous articles and produced videos in China describing what she was going through. Zhang was subjected to dozens of torture techniques, refined by communist labor camp administrators over a decade, in an attempt to “transform” her—make her renounce her belief and even join the persecutors.
There is the “stretching torture” (also called “five horses splitting a body”), for example, which is often used at Masanjia, the labor camp she was sent to in 2008. The torturers forced her to bend at the waist, then pulled her arms up to their limits behind her, tying her hands at opposite ends of a top bunk of a bunk bed.
While the Olympics in Beijing were underway, Zhang was subjected to the stretching torture 10 times, for between one day and up to three days each time. Male guards shocked her in sensitive places with electric batons while she was stretched out. She could not use her fingers properly for a year.
At another point, when her head was badly beaten, she had a chance to look in the mirror. “I was truly shocked. My face had turned a dark purple color. Both my eyes were swollen and the sockets had turned black. … My faced looked downright scary. At that moment, I made up my mind: I wanted to get out of here alive,” she wrote in a statement.
“I wanted to tell the people of the world how the Communist Party carries out its persecution here, how the torture chambers are drenched in blood.”
When United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak arrived in Beijing in November 2005, Zhang was taken to a basement and tied and gagged.
Guards once told Zhang that her arrest and torture had been personally ordered by mayor of Beijing, Guo Jinlong. As a long-term and hardened Falun Gong adherent, they wanted to break her and make her case an example to others. But she survived the camps without renouncing her faith, and so did her husband.
They are now living in Flushing on the outskirts of New York City, supported by friends and are looking for work. Qingqing is in her first year of school. Last Friday, she brought back pictures of flowers and homes she drew for school. “We’re so free here,” Zhang said, while Qingqing stood smiling.
See a timeline chronicling Zhang Lianying and Niu Jinping’s time in prison.