One morning in late 1999, the workers of Shengyang Heavy Machine Factory were met with a surprise. Instead of relaying the usual announcements, the company loudspeakers were on the warpath. “Traitor!” they yelled. “Evil!” they screamed. The object of their malice was junior sales manager Li Weixun. The workers who knew her could not believe their ears.
To those Shenyang Factory workers who were old enough to remember, the day was an eerie throwback to the 60’s and 70’s, to the Cultural Revolution. Only a few months earlier, Weixun, or Xiaofu as she is known to friends, was by all accounts viewed as model citizen.
“Mao Zedong said that we should serve the people. I was an obedient child, so I listened, followed the Party. I wanted to be a good person,” she says from her apartment in New York City. She arrived in the United States in September 2005, a U.N.-protected refugee.
After Mao’s death, she got a college degree, married her childhood sweetheart, and gave birth to a son, Yiping. She took work in sales and marketing. She was a Communist Party member until that morning in 1999, when the loudspeakers announced she had been sacked from the factory and purged from the Party ranks. But, Xiaofu was not there to face her accusers.
She was being detained by police in a deep, underground cell where she was being severely beaten and subject to around-the-clock propaganda videos. Police demanded that she sign a little piece of paper, after which all of this ill-treatment would go away. How had Xiaofu so offended the system that she had previously embraced?
In 1996, Xiaofu discovered Falun Gong, the spiritual discipline that was spreading like wildfire across China. It changed her life. An illness that had plagued her for years was gone, and she felt uplifted. Millions of Chinese were experiencing something similar.
“She changed a lot. She was getting rid of a lot of heavy burdens [and]… was looking at the world in a totally different way. There was more love in the family,” says her son Yiping, who later started to practice himself.
Everything changed on July 20, 1999.
“I went to the practice site as usual, only to find that we were not allowed to practice anymore. Many police came to say that it was banned. My first response was disbelief. Such a good practice, how can you outlaw us?” recalls Xiaofu.
Within hours, hundreds of thousands of practitioners around the country were heading to their local governments to appeal the decision, a directive from then-Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin. Xiaofu and Yiping were among them.
Mother and son were arrested and taken to a large stadium. They were shown videos slandering Falun Gong and police demanded they sign a document certifying that they would give up practicing. They refused and were released with a ‘warning.’
Two months later, Xiaofu was arrested again after going to appeal to the national government in Beijing. Police escorted her into custody back in her hometown. It was soon after this arrest that the Shengyang Heavy Machine Factory loudspeakers attacked her in her absence. Despite beatings and brainwashing tactics, Xiaofu continued to refuse to renounce Falun Gong. It took four months and 20,000 Yuan (USD $2500) paid in extortion money for her family to secure her release.
Xiaofu made up her mind to expose what had happened to her and to other practitioners, some of whom had met even more grisly fates. She became active distributing printed materials that debunked the state hate-propaganda that was saturating the Chinese media. It was her moral obligation, she insists.
Officials from the 610 Office, the bureau created to destroy Falun Gong, laid a trap for her at home in May of 2000, but friends alerted her to it in time. She left, expecting that it might be for good. Whenever she called, Yiping recalls, he was too afraid to mention her name, lest she be tracked down.
In mid-January 2002, almost two years since she left her family, the 610 Office raided an underground materials site, housing a cache of leaflets exposing the atrocities committed against practitioners.
Xiaofu was one of the practitioners picked up. She was interrogated and tortured for 96 hours leaving her partially paralyzed from the waist down. By mid-February, still in detention, her arms were swollen black and blue. In early March, totally paralyzed from the waist down, she was sent to hospital. By mid-march, she was catatonic, and doctors deemed her terminally ill. She was released to her family, the police forcing them to pay another 50,000 Yuan (USD $6500). Even then, police kept her under constant surveillance.
Incredibly, over the next 20 days, Xiaofu began to recover, being careful to not alert the guards to her increased strength and mobility. She credits this miracle to focusing on Falun Gong teachings in her mind, and to middle-of-the-night meditations.
Gradually the police let their guard down. With the help of her older brother, Xiaofu escaped. Family members were interrogated, beaten and put under house arrest as punishment.
“When a person is faced with a choice between a family and spiritual beliefs, it’s like a choice between losing your left arm or losing your right arm,” she says, with tears in her eyes.
None of Xiaofu’s family members have escaped persecution, even the non-practitioners. Nine of them were either arrested or forced to leave their homes to avoid police. Party officials from the Machine Factory pressured Xiofu’s husband, who worked there as well, to seek a divorce. He asked her for one on two occasions, but in the end, love prevailed—he could not do it.
Yiping, refusing to sign the required pledge against Falun Gong, went to engineering school only because of his father’s personal relationship with the university dean. Yiping practiced in secret. For two years, one of his dorm mates spied on him.
Given her circumstances, and the pressure on her family, Xiaofu decided that leaving China was the best option.
“In hiding, I couldn’t really visit family members in their homes. They were worried sick about my safety. Other practitioners also told me that that way I could expose the persecution to the public,” she says.
Xiaofu’s older brother obtained passports for his sister and several others. On August 8, 2002, she received a panicked phone call: Someone had exposed the operation. The next day, she flew to Bangkok, to safety. Her brother, however, was sentenced to eight years for “disrupting the implementation of laws.”
In Thailand, the U.N. accepted Xiaofu as a refugee and began the process of finding her a permanent home. Almost three years later, after graduating from university and now under the radar of the 610 Office, Yiping joined his mother. Their reunion was short lived. Not two months after Yiping’s arrival, Xiaofu received papers to resettle in America. Yiping, also a U.N. refugee, is still in Bangkok hoping for a more lasting reunion.
While in Thailand and in the U.S., Xiaofu has worked tirelessly to expose the cruelty of the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing campaign to destroy Falun Gong. Indeed, this article is part of her efforts.
“Don’t give up,” is Xiaofu’s message to persecuted practitioners.
This article first appeared in Compassion Magazine.