The Story of Gao Zhisheng
It was a cold November night in 2010. I was watching an interview of Gao Zhisheng talking about the first time he had been arrested in 2006. His experience stunned me deeply. It was clear to me that the Chinese Communist Party had a systematic scheme to break Gao’s spirit—punish his family until he had to give in. As a mother and a wife, I felt his struggle deeply: Should he do what he believed was right? Or should he try to protect his family?
I knew the fear that Chinese people feel every day—the fear that is deep in their hearts, instilled step by step by the Communist Party. My parents warned me to never talk about politics, never criticize the Party. I was curious, where did Gao gain his incredible courage to break all of these taboos?
On that night, I made up my mind to make this film.
Gao was a famous human rights lawyer in China and twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. His rise from the humblest background in China’s remote northwest to the elite level in China’s capital is already a legend. But it was the decisions he made and actions he took after his success that have touched my heart deeply. When he started to look into the Communist Party’s persecution of Falun Gong in 2004, perhaps he thought he was prepared for everything that was to come. But I believe he did not know what was in store for him. Back then, Falun Gong was the one topic that no one dared even mention in China. So when Gao followed his conscience, the regime declared war. When the Party’s ruthless machine crushed him again and again, he picked himself up from the ground, unsteadily, while making the most difficult choices.
I talk to a lot of Americans and ask them about their impressions and experiences in China. Some of them say that China is different from decades ago, and that the country is making rapid progress. I know they get that impression from the media, and from visiting “showcase cities” like Beijing and Shanghai. As a person who grew up there, I cannot agree. I believe that Gao Zhisheng’s story shows the true picture of a modern China ruled by the Communist Party.
Beneath the material glamour, tensions bubble. The Party’s addiction to monitoring and controlling people’s thoughts and behavior remains the same as decades ago, if not worse. The Party has established so-called laws, but the Party is above the law. In China, the system is set up to stop those who dare to follow their own thoughts or question the status quo. What’s really in the hearts and minds of everyday Chinese people? Gao’s story can show those who want to know the truth.
As a filmmaker, I feel that it is my obligation to record this very special historic period. A war of good versus evil is raging in China today, and people have had to choose sides. During a time when people’s morals have fallen, when they are too scared or too numb to speak, Gao Zhisheng has chosen to do the right thing, despite the cost.