NEW YORK—The Chinese New Year is a time for families to come together, but during New Year’s 10 years ago one Chinese family that now lives in New Jersey was torn apart. While the father can’t undo what happened then, he can try to rescue from a labor camp in China the woman who would have been his daughter-in-law.
One can see the calmness in John Shen’s eyes. At the age of 82, he often has to lean forward to hear. But once he understands, his words are organized and graceful.
Shen and his wife (the Shens asked that the wife not be identified by name in this article) had taken a two-day train ride from their home in northeastern China to Chengdu in Sichuan Province in southwestern China. They had come in order to sit down on Feb. 1, 2002, for the first joint New Year’s dinner with their son, Lizhi, his fiancée, Fang Luo, and her parents.
The four parents sat together and waited for their children to arrive. The children never came.
Taken Off the Bus
Lizhi and Luo had boarded the local 79 bus to come to the dinner. After they boarded and were on their way, a police car cut the bus off and policemen rushed on. Lizhi and Luo were taken away.
The Shens and the Fangs spent hours trying to reach their children, to no avail. The next day they filed a missing person’s report in Chengdu.
A month passed and eventually the Shens found out through friends that the young couple had been detained in the Chengdu Detention Center. On their first visit to the center, police officials confirmed that Luo was being held there but said they did not know about an inmate named Shen Lizhi.
John took a photo of Lizhi out of his wallet and the policeman told him his son was one of the individuals they had picked up whom they had not been able to identify.
When John and his wife demanded to see their son, the police officer turned his back and asked the elderly couple to wait. They waited a year.
Pick Up Your Son
In March, 2003, the Detention Center called and asked the Shens to come pick up their son.
The Shens came to the waiting room. A door opened and, one by one, 12 policemen filed in. The last one held a cremation box.
“I fully expected we were finally going to see our son, but at the last minute the police said ‘your son died a year ago.’ I tried to hold on but my wife fainted,” said John, while tears quietly rolled off his wrinkled cheeks.
The box had a label on it “Nameless.” Questioned, the police said it was all Lizhi’s fault when he refused to give them his ID card during interrogation.
The mother noticed the box had on it a date of death in April 2002, but the police had said that Lizhi died in March 2002.
The police took back the box and after a while returned with another box, also with the label “Nameless,” but with the date of death of March 3, 2002.
The police offered to take the Shens out for a meal. They declined and walked out of the detention center carrying the box the police said held their son’s ashes.
Through friends of Lizhi, John picked up bits and pieces of information about his son’s time at the detention center. There were many days of severe torture. He was beaten almost on a daily basis, and went through force feeding and the injection of nerve-damaging drugs—until he lost the ability to breathe.
Luo was also tortured and was released on May 23, 2002, but was soon arrested again. The second time she was arrested, the government gave her a 12-year sentence.
“Luo Fang would not sign papers that renounce Falun Gong, so the police injected poisonous drugs in her legs, resulting in her lower limb paralysis,” Shen said. “She now walks with her hands on two small stools.
“Because she refused to give up her faith, the police would not allow family visits. No way. Family members can only stand outside of the prison to get a glimpse of her disabled figure. They shouted out from outside the prison, but Luo Fang could not hear.”
Continued on the next page: Predestined Relationship