On January 22, the second day after attorney Gao Zhisheng returned to his hometown to commemorate his mother's death, secret police continued to barrage him with harassing telephone calls.
Though now in a remote mountain village on the Yellow Plateau in northern Shanxi Province, Gao found little time to relax. He fielded telephone interviews from the international media, received condolences from sympathizers in China and abroad, and listened to the concerns and advice of family and friends.
Friends who had accompanied him to his home-town were impressed by the reception he received from the local people. Supporters promised to help him by taking direct action.
Hounded by Harassing Calls from Secret Police
Since Gao's return to his home village, secret police have continued to barrage him with harassing phone calls. The calls were made from public phones or unidentified numbers, and they all conveyed similar threatening messages and obscene language. Gao had to switch off his phone for hours in order to eliminate the nuisance.
“To Chinese leaders dressed in suits, I have to ask, how can you allow this to exist?” Gao said. He anticipated that dealing with such phone calls would probably become part of his daily work.
“Mother Gave Me So Much”
The first thing attorney Gao did on his return home was to pay his respects to his late mother. He wept as he kowtowed at her grave and offered incense. According to his friends, Gao had gone through more than one month of intense pressure from the authorities and had survived an assassination attempt. Nonetheless, he did not break down at the grave of his mother, whom he revered.
Gao, who spends most of his time at home, said he feels a little more relaxed now. He is happy when he is with his family members and sad when he thinks of his mother. Gao said his mother gave him so much. In everything he does he feels his mother is behind him. Will the memory of his mother, who was a motivating force in his life, help him stay on course while he is under such intense pressure from the communist regime?
The cave where Gao's mother lived remains the same; it looks as if she is still around. [ Editor's note: People living on the Yellow Plateau build their homes in the side of a hill. ] When she was still alive, every time Gao came back for a visit, she would put out his things—a towel, bowls, basin, and slippers. When attorney Gao returned home last year, his brothers tried to prepare his necessities the way their mother had, but they forgot his slippers. The missing slippers caused his grief to spill out. This time, his brothers took extra care not to miss anything for their brother. Gao said, “I am an emotional person. Actually it's not a matter of the missing slippers. It's feeling that Mother is not around anymore.”
When a reporter asked if his elder brother still wanted to lock him up, Gao, in a humorous mood, shouted out, “Brother, the reporter wanted to know if you still want to lock me up.” A muffled voice came, “Sure.” Gao smiled. “Family love is very moving. Actually my brothers know very well what I've been doing, and they are quite supportive. They also wish me success. But not a single day passes when they are not concerned about my safety. This shows how complex family love can be”
According to an ancient Chinese saying, “The eldest brother is like a parent.” With their mother gone, Gao's elder brother takes care of his brothers as a parent would.
A Friend is Moved to Take Action for Human Rights
“Although this is a poor village, a place with much suffering, it makes one think over many things.” Friends who accompanied attorney Gao home were all deeply touched by life in the rural village.
The first meal at Gao's house was a thick porridge made from millet, rice, green beans, and some mixed grains along with some peanuts. There was also Shanxi Province's special sour cabbage and a kind of sticky cake that is served only to guests.
His friends took a few pictures of the toilets used by the local farmers. The farmers were puzzled. They could not understand why city people were so interested in their simple toilets, which are just a hole in an earthen mound covered with two stone slates.
Another source of interest to the visitors was the rural village's medical services. Last year, Premier Wen Jiabao stressed the need for improving medical care in rural villages. Not only has there not been any improvement in Gao's hometown, there has not been any implementation in the entire Jia County.
The local farmers rely on planting jujubes for a gross annual income of 2,000 to 3,000 yuan (approximately US$242 to US$363). What if someone gets ill? Beijing residents know that treatment for even a common cold can cost a few hundred yuan. The visitors from Beijing asked the farmers, “Can you afford to get treatment when you are ill? What do you do when you don't have money to go to the hospital?” A farmer replied, “They just kick us out if we don't have money.”
Lao Ye, one of Gao's friends who participated in the trip, was moved by what he heard and saw: “Today, I have the opportunity to visit the Yellow Plateau with Gao. It has brought about a major change in me. Now I would rather say less and do more. This would be the most practical thing to do and more helpful to Gao. I will not evade any issues, nor will I be afraid of anything. I will start working bit by bit for human rights. I will not choose my cases based on who they are or which group they belong to. As long as someone's rights are encroached upon, I will stand up for him to stop the persecution! This is the biggest change in me!”
Remaining Silent Is Complicity with Killing
Friends who accompanied Gao on his trip home talked about their feelings. In particular, they commented on their purpose for accompanying attorney Gao: We praise Gao Zhisheng today. We are here to interview him and to understand his human rights work and his thinking, but what is our true purpose for doing all this? We have come to realize that our purpose is to inspire more people like Gao Zhisheng to rise up—to have ten thousand Gao Zhishengs rise up for human rights! If Gao Zhisheng is the only shield to ward off all kinds of arrows shooting at us, eventually the arrows will pierce this one shield.
Friends discussed another concern. Gao has received calls from people who advised him to think of the welfare of his law group and told him not to do this or that. Some callers questioned whether the Falun Gong issue would affect the overall democratic or human rights movement. Some of Gao's associates doubted the callers' motives.
One friend said that it is well known by everyone in China that Falun Gong has suffered persecution, but it is a problem no one dares to talk about. Those who are engaged in the democratic movement are focused on the pursuit of democracy, but a democratic movement cannot be so narrowly focused. At the present time, Falun Gong practitioners are facing ferocious persecution by the communist regime, and their rights are being suppressed. Shouldn't the persecution of Falun Gong be the top concern of the democratic movement?
Another friend said, “Appropriately, cautiously, safely [carry on your activities]. “Who would not say these words? But now, we need action. Do others dare to rise up and speak the truth? Are there more people like Gao Zhisheng? If you really want to help attorney Gao, rise up, stand beside Gao, and say “NO” to the persecution of our fellow Chinese Citizens! Isn't it a fact that the more people who rise up, the safer Gao will be?”
Another asked everyone to consider this: “If one day attorney Gao truly encounters danger, isn't it a fact that those of us who remain silent have actually cooperated with the authorities? Isn't keeping silent the same as killing?”