She cried every day. The worst fears of her childhood were coming true: she was losing her family, which was rapidly being consumed by persecution in China.
“It happened so fast I couldn't take it,” Michelle Zhang said. There was nothing she could do. Living overseas since 1998, the 34 year-old Chicago resident said that her only source of news was her family in China.
“I felt like I am in a different world, no one could understand me,” she said.
Ms. Zhang's brother-in-law, Song Tao Zou, was first. He was taken away by police because of his practice of Falun Gong. “He was arrested so many times our family lost count,” she said.
Detained yet again on May 3, 2000, Song Tao was beaten with the bottom of a shoe by a local police chief until his head was swollen to twice its size. He was so badly beaten he still had bruises behind his ears after being released in July. Eighteen days later he was called back to the police station for a “casual talk” and was never seen again. He died in Wangchun labor camp on November 4, 2000, and was hastily cremated.
Her sister, Yunhe Zhang, began going to Beijing to appeal against the persecution, having no other recourse at her disposal. Having practiced Falun Gong since 1997, she was no stranger to the persecution, but felt she had to do something about it. She was arrested immediately, said Michelle. In the detention center she was beaten by seven or eight police officers until she passed out. Yunhe awoke to find a police officer banging her head against a cement floor. Upon her return to Qingdao from the detention center, she was constantly harassed by local police until she lost her job in July of 2000.
Michelle learned of all of this from a phone call from her father in March 2001. He broke down on the phone, she said.
“They had been trying to keep this a secret from me because I was pregnant at the time. They wanted to protect me and the baby.”
Around the same time, Michelle began speaking with her sister on the phone—taping her reports about the persecution taking place in China, and trying to make sense of it all.
“I was crying everyday; day and night. I was surfing the Internet to learn more about Falun Gong.”
The last time she spoke with Yunhe was in May of 2001. Only later, in July of 2002, did Michelle learn that her sister had been abducted while visiting her two-year-old daughter in Qingdao. A friend called the Dashun detention center in August of 2002, and the head of the detention center acknowledged that Yunhe was indeed there. Yunhe was secretly transferred out of the detention center after 6 months there, and her current whereabouts are unknown.
For a family member in such dire circumstances four years is a long time to have no news. Like Yunhe, many practitioners of the spiritual practice of Falun Gong have disappeared in China without a trace, or a word. Countless family members both in China and abroad have no idea where their loved ones may be held, or if they are still alive.
A recent report that says 6,000 Falun Gong adherents have been abducted and brought to a secret facility called the Sujiatun Concentration Camp may shed some light on some of these disappearances. This facility was created for use in China's burgeoning organ trade, as those detained there are reportedly killed and their organs harvested for transplants.
It has been reported that no prisoners have ever been seen again after entering this facility. Locals have reported no ever goes in or out. Not only does it suggest a deeply sinister reason for the Falun Gong followers' disappearances, it begs an important question: How could something like this take place in a modern society without anyone knowing about it?
Michelle says Mainland Chinese people don't know or do not want to know about things like this. She herself said before she came to the West she never even knew about the Tibetans or dissidents being persecuted. Things like this are never talked about. “If they are, people will say, 'I don't like politics. Let's not talk about this,” she exclaimed.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controls people, leaving them with no human rights or freedom of belief, and so they only focus on making money, she said. Places like Sujaitun Concentration Camp exist because people are afraid, and do not know they are wrong.
Hong Yuan, a doctor in a Shenyang hospital, said in an Epoch Times article written by Liang Yu entitled “ Former Insider Discloses Organ Harvesting from Live Prisoners in China ” that “in China, it is known by many hospital staff members that the replacement organs used by regular hospitals basically all come from prisoners. Until we came abroad, we did not even know this was immoral and was an invasion of prisoners' human rights. In China, although there were no discussions among colleagues, everyone knew about it. Most pathetically, no one thought it was a problem.”
A hard concept to process, but Michelle was quick to explain it.
“In China you are not taught about human rights. You do not know what human rights mean, you are not taught about anything,” she said. “What does it mean to have human rights? Does it mean just by living and eating you have human rights? What does it mean by freedom of thought, freedom of thinking? What does it mean by freedom of belief? What can I believe? Is there a belief? What kind of beliefs are available? There are no such things available so people have no idea about, and were not taught that, a human, a human has dignity, you know? That people should respect each other. We do not know that life is very precious. When nobody in society knows what the standards are to be a regular person in this world… when the whole society is like this people begin to feel if somebody dies, its ok.”
She said that the CCP has brainwashed people. “The people have become like cells of the party, they do whatever the party likes. If the party is cold, then they are cold. If the party smiles, than they smile.”
She is careful to note there are many good people in China that just do not know about these things. “It's hard for Chinese people to discuss with one another. Many people would avoid this issue. They may hear something and just keep it in their mind without thinking further on this issue.” Although the Communist culture promotes bad things people are waking up from the illusions, she said emphatically.
To help the people there to awaken to the violence and persecution happening around them, Michelle calls China.
During one recent call she spoke to a staff member at a hospital in Shenyang, where the organ harvesting is taking place.
“The hospital staff, they know about it,” she said. “When I talked to them over the phone their voices are trembling. I can feel that they know about the whole thing. They just don't want to touch the issue.”
Michelle continues to share her story about her family with those in the U.S. and inside China, and though she lives in the U.S. and far away from the persecution, she still feels its effects. Her father's phone is tapped, she says, and she misses her sister a lot. “I believe she is still alive,” she says quickly.
However, as for the thought of her sister being detained in a place like Sujaitun—”I do not even want to think about it,” she says.