Gao Zhisheng: “My regards and deepest gratitude to all my concerned friends! Please convey my sincere thanks to them. Their support strengthens my soul and is as ever victorious as my beloved mother in heaven had given me. It is the strongest form of support that I can ever hope to get! As I talk about these friends, my eyes are often wet, because so many people who don’t know me and have never met me are all supporting me.”
Open Letter Echoes Around the World
After an open letter to Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, written on behalf of Falun Gong followers, has been published, and enormous echoes have been heard from all over the world. A great number of Chinese in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, among others, called attorney Gao in China. Many callers cried throughout their conversation. Said one reader, “We have been reading your articles. In the past, we had lost hope in China, but after reading this open letter of yours, we feel there is hope in China after all!” Over the telephone, they repeatedly stressed their support for him and his message.
Gao, who is a personal rights attorney, said: “As we talked, they cried, and I cried. Why do two people who do not know each other cry together? I think it must be because we mutually believe that the strength of justice can be most inspiring and that justice will prevail and is an ever lasting truth.”
There have been many Mainland Chinese who also called Gao. Typically, the first thing they say is, “I represent such and such region and so many people. We all would like to express our deepest respect for you,” or “I represent people from this region to thank you.”
Some people in China and overseas have faxed his open letter to various Chinese organizations. Many domestic law firms called Gao, upon receiving the facsimile; some even called his former assistant. The first thing they asked was invariably: “Did you write this?” Gao would ask in return: “What are you worried about?” Answer, “We thought it was written by overseas Falun Gong followers or some other organization.” Attorney Gao replies: “Why aren’t you more concerned about whether what is written in the letter is true?”
Gao fearlessly told the reporters: “This letter should be read by many more people.”
There have also been many high-level government officials using various means to express their concerns to Gao.
“Because of our position, it is inconvenient for us to say much, but we have been reading your articles. Good job.”
Some senior officials met with him outside his office and greeted him with a thumbs-up. “Your daring combined with superior judgment is incomparable! Just ask Hu Jintao if he dares to say such things? Would 10 Hu Jintaos put together dare to say such things? Would the Central Political Bureau collectively dare to say such things? Who does not already know the truth (of Falun Gong)?”
Gao sighed with emotion and told the reporter, “I used to think these high-level people were all indifferent. But their response to this open letter makes me feel there is a warm heart behind those cold faces.” He laughed with joy.
Threatening Phone Calls Elicit Public Outrage and Overseas Support
During the interview, this well-known, determined attorney from northern Shanxi province gave one the impression of happiness whenever he mentioned his family. “I do not sleep well anywhere else but home.”
“Many families have a lot of tension as they become famous, but not my family. There is always laughter in my home.”
When talking about his daughter, he would mimic his daughter’s voice, innocently exhibiting his gentle and tender side.
The day after Gao’s open letter speaking for Falun Gong was published, he received a blatant threatening telephone call.
“You know a lot of facts, we also know a lot of facts. We know where your daughter goes to school, what bus she takes…”
By 8 p.m. that evening, his daughter was not home yet, while she was usually home by 6. Teachers and schoolmates said that she left early after the school closed. At that time, Gao was still at the office discussing work with several human rights attorneys. When he learned about this, as tough a person as he is, he could not help but cry. Later on, she came home safely and told him that she was working on a wall newspaper with other schoolmates. There was no phone available for her to call home. Gao said that, “I am just a human being! Such a coincidence, I received the threatening phone call in the morning and this happened in the evening. How can I not be alarmed and overcome?”
When word about what had happened spread, many upright people in China and overseas all expressed their solidarity with Mr. Gao by condemning such gang-style threats. Some friends in the U.S., Canada and Japan even offered to help Gao send his daughter out of China for her safety. Gao said in a letter addressed to a reporter that he would like to convey his appreciation to these friends he had never met, and expressed to them his deepest gratitude.
The following is Gao’s letter to his supporters:
To all my friends in China and overseas who have shown their concern for me:
Gao Zhisheng hereby extends his greetings to you all!
The safety of my daughter and my family is the most important part of my life. For that reason, it is equally important for them to always stay with me if possible.
Whenever I am with them, all my worries are gone and I feel I cannot be happier. Perhaps this is also my weakness. The danger we face is real, and those who create such danger deliberately make us aware that the threat does exist. I told you my worries only because I treat you all who care about me as my true friends. But right now, I do not want my daughter to leave us yet. She would be too miserable if she is not with her parents. I don’t want her to be in that situation. It’s so important for us to be together! Once again I would like to thank you all–my friends whom I’ve never met–for your concern and support! I will remember you!
I wish you all peace and happiness!
The Sources of my Strength: My Mother, Friends, God and my Resilient Fight
In China, being incriminated because of speaking the truth is not something new; it has existed throughout the 55 years of the PRC’s history. Suffice it to say that the plights of writers or journalists Zheng Yichun, Zhang Lin and Shitao, and the violent intimidation and detention of jurist Xu Zhiyong, British reporter Benjamin, people’s representative Lu Banglie, college professor Ai Xiaoming, attorneys Guo Yan, Tang Jiling and Zhu Feihu, among others illustrates the harshness and terror cast over China’s freedom of speech and rights advocacy. Gao has repeatedly crossed the line by openly criticizing the current regime, and thus draws concern from his friends and family. While aware of the danger he faces, he told the reporter confidently:
I depend on three sources for my safety:
First, my mother. I used to say I did not have much faith in God, but I began to since I published my article My Ordinary Mother after she died. At least I think my mother has the power of a god, as she has always protected us with her blessing.
Once, when she was still alive, she caught up with me at the village entrance as I was on my way back to Beijing, and she sewed an amulet under my arm and told me that this was from God and it would protect me against harm if I carried it on me. I’ve never parted with it since and it has warded off danger many times. When I went back to visit my mother when she was very sick, my brothers and sisters all tried to talk me into stopping what I’m doing, out of concern for my safety. My frail mother, as if using all her strength, told them in her weak voice, ‘Even if all the rest of you work together, you still won’t match his brain!’ Then she turned to me, “Whatever you want to do, as long as you’ve given it careful thought, go ahead with it. Just trust your own wisdom.’
My mother, a lady who seldom left her house, had a tremendous impact on me.
Secondly, it’s the inspiration and support I receive from my friends in China and overseas who care about me. This support, like that of my mother, is so strong, so invincible, and so indispensable that I can’t live without it. Whenever I mention these friends, my eyes fill with tears, as they never fail to support me, despite the fact they don’t even know me personally and we’ve never met. “Besides, there are many more God-worshipping people who have always been behind me. And that is the same as the support coming from God!
Thirdly, it’s my continued fight. Though my open letter is barred from appearing in any of the media outlets controlled by China’s shameless regime, I speak freely on all occasions and never hesitate to criticize them. The authorities basically ignore what I am doing. Why is that? That’s the result of my continued fight. I openly discuss the laws they promulgated. Since, for now, they still do not want to say publicly that they do not respect laws–in fact, they never abide by laws themselves, but don’t want to say it–and that’s the dilemma they are in!
Choice Between Selfishness and Selflessness
From Gao’s open letter and his words and deeds, people see his righteousness and his courage to not give up to any force; during my contact and conversation with him; people could feel more of his sincerity and frankness. Listening to Gao talk about his stories, you feel clearly that life is a continuous choice between noble and ignoble, good and evil, sincerity and dishonesty, giving up and persevering.
Gao told the reporter, “I am just an average person, frankly speaking. Every day, many people from all around the country are looking for me. I always meet them with the thought that this could be an opportunity to earn some money. I would never think about fighting a case with no charge before I meet with a prospective client. We are not gods; all my pro bono cases are not the result of my pursuit, but a painful acceptance.”
Gao told the following story. “There was a father from Shanxi province, his 13-year-old son’s head was hit by a brick falling off the school’s dangerous building, and he became a vegetable. Three years thereafter, they still had not received one cent in compensation.” At that time, Gao had already left Xinjiang, where he originally worked, and moved to Beijing. The boy’s father did not know this and went to Xinjiang by begging for food and jumping into slow moving trains. From there, he went to Beijing (several thousand kilometres away) begging and jumping trains again to locate Gao, who is well known for his willingness to fight for justice for the common man.
Gao said, “When I received his call that day, he said he wanted to meet with me. I knew that he was looking for my help to file a lawsuit. I was indeed going there with the thought that this is an opportunity to earn some money to support my family.”
When the father met with Gao, he unfolded a piece of very old newspaper that contained a photo of Gao and tried to match it with Gao himself. When he was sure that this was the right person he was looking for, the father started to cry uncontrollably.
Gao said, “I did not stop him, and let him cry for over 10 minutes, my tears flowing also. I knew very clearly in my heart, that I should work on this case without charge. “You can choose which cases you want to work on when you charge a fee. But for this kind of case, you have no choice, you have to take it.”
There is another case where a child’s legs were broken when a train ran through an unblocked railroad crossing. The family was very poor. He saw many lawyers, but none wanted to accept the case because there was no related legal regulation, and the local railroad traffic department was very cruel, saying, “We have 700 to 800 cases like this every year, we have never compensated anyone. Why should we compensate him?” Gao accepted the case out of sympathy. The father was so moved, he knelt down in front of him, and agreed to pay the basic defense lawyer fees if they win the case. Finally, he won the case and received 380,000 yuan in compensation. The father moved to a new apartment, bought a cellular phone, and then refused to pay 10,000 yuan for his legal fees.
However, other people were not happy with the outcome of the lawsuits. Some came to Gao’s office crying and shouting, and cleaning their tears on his sofa after losing cases to his clients.
Then there were the local government officials who offered several million yuan to persuade Gao not to represent other personal rights protection cases.
With many years of experience as a lawyer, Gao has experienced too much of the dark side of human nature: betrayal, professional and personal attacks, intimidation and bribery. In almost every case, he had to make a choice between giving up or holding his ground, arguing on just grounds or compromising his integrity.
When the reporter asked, “Did you think about giving up when facing attacks?” Gao answered without hesitation, “No, my fate is the result of my character.”
Gao offered free legal support to many personal rights protection cases that he accepted. He also spent his money to give basic help to those miserable victims. In order to memorialize his mother, Gao could spend more than a year of his earnings. But in everyday life, he is very thrifty. His old mobile phone has always been the topic of many jokes among friends. He finally purchased a new phone; his friends said that this was a “revolutionary action” for Gao. The Gao couples’ winter underclothes have many patches. He said the most embarrassing time for him was when he went to sleep in a hotel on a business trip. When he returned home on Chinese New Year, his older sister cried and told him, “You offer your siblings and even strangers hundreds of yuan, yet those who received your help won’t even wear this kind of clothing.”
When asked whether he treasured money or treasured his old belongings, Gao answered, “I treasure my belongings, I always feel it’s a waste to throw them away because they can still be used or worn.”
Every time I interview Gao, he never forgets to remind me, “Please continue to report on what’s happening to the Chinese people. This is a very good thing for the public.”