The Story of Gao Zhisheng
Gao Zhisheng is a Chinese lawyer, a husband, a father and a son.
The film, Transcending Fear already tells Gao Zhisheng’s life story, so this article will delve into the influences that have made Gao the person he is today.
As I was preparing for this article, I came across an open letter that Gao’s wife, Geng He wrote in February, 2012. In the letter she raises the same question, “What kind of forces influenced him, supported him, and made him a brave human rights lawyer with the courage to sacrifice himself?”
Geng He wrote that there are three forces that have influenced Gao: his mother, his faith in humanity, and his Christian belief.
Mother’s Moral Strength
From his mother, Gao learned to be very generous at heart and to have unwavering determination. Gao’s mother was born and raised amid great adversity in Northwest China’s countryside. Widowed at 35, with huge debt, she worked day and night as an impoverished farmer in the barren Loess Plateau to raise her seven children all by herself. Regardless of her own hardships, she always lent a hand to other people in any way she could. Whenever anyone in need came to her village, the residents there would tell them to go see her.
Like his mother, Gao lifted himself from poverty through hard work and became one of the top attorneys in China. Helping others is also in his moral makeup. In “Mother’s Moral Strength,” he wrote, “Since becoming an attorney twenty years later, I have often received in my office persons—particularly from the disadvantaged population—sent to me by warmhearted colleagues. Some of them have used canes to walk, and some have been confined to wheelchairs. They are people who can’t afford to pay legal fees. Whenever this has happened, scenes of my mother welcoming such people into her home have come to mind, bringing a smile to my face.”
Faith in Humanity
In her letter, Geng He quotes “Who Can Overcome Human Nature”, an article Gao wrote on the 6th anniversary of the persecution of . Gao’s interaction with Falun Gong practitioners marked a turning point in his life, and is probably the most important influence on his faith in humanity.
According to Paul Mooney, a journalist based in Beijing since 1994, “Gao, a former coal miner, soldier, self-trained lawyer, Christian and party member, got into trouble in 2004 after looking into the persecution of members of the Falun Gong, a spiritual group outlawed by the government. Gao was especially affected after he discovered the incredible brutality that was being used against the Falun Gong, which led him to renounce his membership in the Communist Party.”
In November 2005, Gao investigated the persecution of Falun Gong. He subsequently published open letters to Chinese Communist Party leaders asking them to stop the persecution. Although many people complimented him for his courage, he said, “Don’t give me too much credit. We should praise those who survived the ‘tiger bench’ torture. They are the true hope and glory of the Chinese nation.” He referred to those Falun Gong practitioners who survived torture in prison and labor camps while still upholding their faith.
A woman named Wang Yuhuan impressed him especially. Ms. Wang was a retired factory worker, who suffered from several severe illnesses. In July 1996 she was cured after practicing Falun Gong. The dramatic changes in her health amazed the entire factory. Despite the Chinese regime cracking down on Falun Gong, Ms. Wang continued to practice. Consequently, she was arrested and detained more than ten times. She suffered forced labor, beatings, and all kinds of torture. She was once tortured on a tiger bench for three days and two nights until her ankle bones were exposed from the constant grinding of the shackles. Her face was charred from repeated shocks with electric batons. Police burned her eyeballs with cigarettes, and punctured her eardrums with bamboo toothpicks. Although she suffered such torture, she did not waver in her faith in the principles of Falun Gong—truth, compassion, and tolerance. Telling the truth about Falun Gong was her first priority, no matter where she was held.
In 2002, while incarcerated in the Changchun Women’s Labor Camp, she went on a hunger strike to protest mistreatment. On the 26th day of her hunger strike she stated three conditions: first, all the guards at the detention center must stand in two rows alongside the hallway; second, all the inmates and Falun Gong practitioners must be allowed to watch her leave; and third, that she must be allowed to sing when she leaves. After the detention center accepted her conditions, she was able to walk towards the exit while singing the song “Falun Dafa is Great.”
Mr. Gao said, “Every time she sang, I was deeply shocked. I could imagine such a scene, with her singing while tears streamed down the faces of many inmates and Falun Gong practitioners. Many inmates applauded her, for they could see tremendous perseverance and courage. Yet she was only an ordinary elderly woman who was almost illiterate.”
Gao called Ms. Wang “A saint walking down from ‘tiger bench’”. He said, “These 15 days [investigating the persecution of Falun Gong] were a complete cleansing and rebirth for me in terms of understanding morality, understanding the fundamental national values, understanding the future of China’s democracy, and my own soul! We used to be heavily influenced by the Chinese Communist Party, and doubted that the Chinese people’s characters, lack of discipline and degenerated moral values could take China to the next stage into a democratic and free society. This time through our contact with Falun Gong practitioners as a group, we were delighted to see a foundation for China. They have built such a foundation, a solid and dependable foundation for China to become such a society…Our nation and a future of democracy and freedom will need a moral foundation. What forms this foundation is not human behavior, but the actions of people under the control of their minds. This is faith!”
Gao decided, after returning from the investigation, to be baptized and become a Christian. He said it was because he realized how important it is to have faith and belief as the foundation for China’s future. In his article, “Voice from My Heart”, Gao wrote, “Outside friends might think my family is miserable. In fact, my wife, Geng He, is most bitter. I am an optimist and believe in God… A heart filled with God is full, and leaves no space for accepting pain.”
Gao is also fully aware of the situation of the Christian groups in China. As he put it in his memoir “A China More Just”, the leading state-sanctioned Christian organizations are “nothing but pawns of the regime…and now serve to mask the Party’s persecution of religious groups…Facing the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of those who believe in Jesus, every Christian should have the courage to ‘carry the cross,’ as opposed to being numb to the suffering of fellow brothers and sisters… Each of us must be an agent of change!”
Having said so much about the forces that have made Gao the man he is, one would wonder, would the Chinese Communist Party allow someone like him to do the things he wants to do and say things he wants to say? What price will he have to pay? Gao himself is fully aware of the risks. As he put it, “My road is paved with snares and thorns. It is colored with the blood and tears of those who have walked before me…It is for the sake of this land called China that we make our way through the ordeal. Ours is a path that leads to glory and justice.”
Gao’s Selected Writings
* Gao’s Open Letter to China’s National People’s Congress (Written on Dec. 31, 2004)
* Stop Persecuting Believers of Freedom and Mend Your Ties with the Chinese People (Gao’s Second Open Letter about the Persecution of Falun Gong. Written on Oct. 18, 2005)
* Why One of China’s Top Attorneys Broke with the Communist Party (Gao Zhisheng’s Third Open Letter to Chinese Communist Leaders. Written on Dec. 12, 2005)
* Gao’s Open Letter to the United States Congress (Written on Sept. 12, 2007)
* Gao Zhisheng: Speaking from My Heart (Written on Jan. 1, 2009)