Sisters Jing Cai and Jing Tian now live safely in Vancouver, Canada, but getting there from their native China was not easy.
Their family was nearly destroyed after the Chinese regime launched its widespread campaign of persecution against Falun Gong in 1999.
A miraculous teaching
The sisters discovered Falun Gong—a traditional spiritual discipline also known as Falun Dafa—in October 1995, at a time when it was quickly becoming very popular throughout China. It was only three years after the practice was made public by founder Li Hongzhi.
Jing Cai, then 23, says she felt “enlightened” after first reading Zhuan Falun, the main teachings of Falun Dafa. The next day, despite her “extremely introverted personality,” she decided to join others at the outdoor Falun Gong exercise site near her apartment.
A week later, Jing’s older sister, Jing Tian, began practicing, and after a short while her heart disease suddenly disappeared. Their mother, Chen Jun, a factory worker, also had a miraculous experience. Just over a year after starting the practice, her illnesses—which included diabetes and cholecystitis—seemingly vanished.
Countless others who began the practice told similar stories. Those were the honeymoon years for Falun Gong, said Jing Cai.
“We had four years of a very peaceful and good practicing environment. Our neighborhood practice site expanded from 30 practitioners to more than 100.”
Tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners peacefully appeal for justice
However, as Falun Gong’s popularity grew, senior members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) started to become hostile. Police began harassing practitioners in some regions, and publications printed articles spreading rumors and outright lies about the practice.
In one incident in Tianjin, the brother-in-law of a Politburo member published an article attacking Falun Gong, and practitioners went to the magazine’s office to ask for a retraction. Police beat and arrested over 40 practitioners and directed all appeals to Beijing.
On April 25, practitioners from across China, including Jing Cai, Jing Tian, and Chen Jun, made their way to Beijing to appeal for justice.
“Although we didn’t know what exactly happened, we could conclude that the government once again committed wrong deeds, because we knew that Falun Gong practitioners were unlikely to do illegal acts. So we decided to go petition,” said Jing Cai.
After their arrival at the State Appeals Office on Fuyou Street, tens of thousands of practitioners had already assembled. A few were in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound meeting with Premier Zhu Rongji. Everyone else waited patiently on the sidewalk outside the building as the police had directed them to do.
After the meeting, Premier Zhu promised to release those arrested in Tianjin, and the approximately 10,000 practitioners departed as quietly as they had come.
However, the large-scale demonstration had caused concern among Chinese Communist leaders, who have historically strived to maintain power at all cost. On July 20, 1999, the Chinese regime outlawed Falun Gong and launched a brutal persecution.
Faith amidst the storm
Starting at midnight on July 20, Falun Gong coordinators all over the country were arrested. Jing Tian was taken from her workplace to the Public Security Bureau where she was questioned by over 10 police.
The next day, many practitioners went to appeal to the local provincial authorities, and they were detained in outdoor stadiums. Jing Tian also participated, and was transferred to the local police station.
On July 22, Jing Cai, Chen, and many other practitioners went to appeal. They were all arrested and transported by large military trucks to various small gyms. There it was announced that Falun Gong was now an “illegal organization.”
Everyone was soon released and the family was once again back together. But practitioners across the country could no longer attend the exercise sites. They were also told to surrender all their Falun Dafa books to the authorities.
“Our family did not end up handing in a single book to them, although unfortunately some [other practitioners] did due to the immense pressure,” said Jing Cai.
Banner for Falun Gong is unfurled in Tiananmen Square
Soon, news spread that the first practitioner had been tortured to death—Zhao Jinhua of Shandong Province. The communist regime attempted to label Falun Gong a “cult” through state-run media.
“After hearing the news, my mom said, ‘Zhao Jinhua did not even leave her home. She was just doing farm work and the next moment, she was beaten to death. So then am I safe sitting at home? If I don’t appeal to the government, does that mean that the government won’t come find me?’” said Jing Cai.
So the family, along with over 20 other practitioners from Shenyang and neighboring cities, decided to go appeal at the State Appeals Office in Beijing in October 1999. After being censured by officials, most were sent back to their hometown.
However, Jing Cai and Chen were held at a police station in Shenyang, and on October 21 they were sent to a detention center.
It was after this that the sign outside the State Appeals Office in Beijing was removed, meaning the office would no longer accept any form of appeal.
“That’s why later on [practitioners] started to hold up banners at Tiananmen Square. It’s because there was no door for us to enter to appeal. Then how could our inner thoughts be expressed? That’s how practitioners began the form of holding banners,” said Jing Cai.
Chen and Jing Cai were sent to a brainwashing center for six months, where they were “re-educated” and tortured.
During this time, Jing Tian and a few others made their way to Tiananmen Square where they unfurled a banner stating, “Falun Dafa practitioners’ peaceful appeal.”
“The police at first didn’t know what to do. They didn’t really dare to come up to us. At last, we were seized by some local thugs hired by them and sent to a branch of the public security bureau,” said Jing Tian.
This became the first anti-persecution banner to be raised at Tiananmen Square. Many more would follow.
Jailed for speaking out
Soon after raising the banner, Jing Tian was sent to a detention center for two months. She was punished particularly severely because she and another practitioner decided to take full responsibility for the “Tiananmen banner incident” in order for the others to be released.
Later, she was transferred to Tangshan Labor Camp in Hebei Province for 14 months.
“We protested very strongly once we found out that practitioners were persecuted to death. Over there was like hell on earth. It was horrifying. I have never seen such tortures even in movies,” said Jing Tian.
Many practitioners decided to protest by going on hunger strikes. This in itself became a form of torture, as the hunger strikers would be force-fed via a thick tube with all manner of vile substances, including vinegar, hard liquor, hot pepper oil, mustard oil, boiling water, urine, and feces.
Jing Tian went on her first hunger strike after the police confiscated her Falun Gong reading materials. She also took part in a large-scale hunger strike that was initiated when a practitioner was beaten to death in the labor camp. That time, she lasted 56 days without food or drink, while being force-fed periodically.
Jing Tian was finally released, and the family was reunited on Christmas Eve, 2000.
Home again—but not for long
However, the family home was often the target of threats and harassment by the police. Spies employed by the communist regime had also infiltrated the local group.
The family became involved in making truth clarification flyers and using other means to tell people what was happening with the persecution and counteract the regime’s propaganda slandering of Falun Gong.
In May 2001, a brainwashing center was set up in Shenyang. Soon, police seized Jing Tian and her mother from their home. Jing Cai was out at the time, and was warned by her brother not to come home because the police were looking for her.
Like numerous Falun Gong practitioners in China, Jing Cai became homeless to evade arrest.
Chen and Jing Tian received three years and 10 years respectively in a re-education through labor camp. However, Jing Tian was initially placed temporarily at the Shenyang Detention Center.
The city of Shenyang is where the harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners’ organs has been the most prevalent in China, according to a 2006 report based on an independent investigation by Canadians David Matas, an international human rights lawyer, and David Kilgour, a former Member of Parliament and former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific.
While she was in the Tangshan Labor Camp and in Shenyang Detention Center, Jing Tian’s blood was drawn. She didn’t understand why until later, when she realized that blood tests were a common preliminary step in organ harvesting.
While in Shenyang Detention Center, Jing Tian heard about an international hunger strike that was initiated in October 2001 by over 100 practitioners in Masanjia, one of the most notorious re-education through labor camps in China. After her miserable experience in her last hunger strike, Jing Tian was reluctant to participate. But she decided to commit to the cause when she discovered that her mother had been sent to labor camp at such an old age.
Freedom in sight
It was around this time that, despite the perils involved, Jing Yu, the brother of the two girls, also began to practice Falun Gong. The police had been monitoring the family’s house, and eventually Jing Yu was arrested.
He was beaten relentlessly for two days straight in order to force him to reveal the whereabouts of Jing Cai and other practitioners. Although he didn’t talk, the beating resulted in broken ribs which in turn caused lung problems. He was then released.
Both Jing Yu and Jing Cai became homeless for a while. Then with other practitioners’ help, they rented an apartment and started making truth-clarification materials like before. But they were seized again on March 7, 2002 and sent to a detention center.
By the end of 2003, the sisters were released after going on hunger strike for 50 days. Chen was also released due to poor health. Jing Yu remained in jail.
“After going on hunger strike for a few days, all my hair turned white,” said Jing Tian. “I think they at last released us because they thought that we would die the next day.”
Soon, practitioners outside China contacted the family and asked if they were willing to be rescued as refugees, said Jing Cai.
“At first, they wanted my mom, my sister and me to be taken out. Yet my brother was still in jail. If no relative remained in China, then the police would persecute him even more severely. So my mom decided to stay, while my sister and I left.”
Although they were unable to obtain passports or any other form of identification, Jing Cai, Jing Tian, and Chen Song, a practitioner who Jing Tian had married in 2004, were rescued and guided to Bangkok, Thailand, in May 2006.
They eventually arrived in Vancouver on May 13, 2009, World Falun Dafa Day, after being accepted as refugees by the Canadian government.
Although she escaped China and continues to tell people about the persecution, Jing Cai still cannot relax into her “easy” life in Canada.
“No one is persecuting me now, and I can do whatever I want, but I am away from my relatives and they are still suffering greatly in China. In addition, thousands of other practitioners are also detained. So I really cannot be happy under such circumstances. I probably would be sadder if my life becomes even easier from now on, because there are many people still facing life-threatening tribulations there.”