The first glance of him wearing a pair of sunglasses reminded me of a young Chow Yun-fat. He had just completed a quick lap in the pool. While he was still in water, he suddenly stretched his arms to reach out for his wife, who was standing next to the pool, as if she did not know whether she wanted to take a dip. He pulled her into the pool. She screamed, then broke into laughter.
It was the summer of 2007. Yuan Weijing climbed a wall to free herself from house arrest. She escaped from Dongshigu village with her two-year-old daughter Kesi. They travelled overnight to arrive in Beijing, where they sought refuge in our house. Local officials from Shangdong constantly guarded outside our front door, awaiting opportunities to kidnap our guests. Weijing often talked about her imprisoned husband with love and affection. She said, “He is such a good swimmer. He looks so relaxed in water that one can hardly tell he is blind.”
When a fax machine broke down, he repaired it. When a group of experts from Beijing sought his help, he tested a computer program for them from his house in Dongshigu village and completed the entry procedure for blind computer users. It is not hard to tell that he is a graduate from the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, as his massage skill is superb. People who had massage therapy with him often remarked, “It is so comfortable.” Whenever Yuan Weijing heard those remarks, she would gaze into the distance and said, “He will give you a massage as soon as he comes out of prison.”
When blind people in Beijing are travelling by subway, I wonder how many of them will remember Guangcheng, who is now imprisoned in a far away rural village in Shandong. Because of his advocacies, blind people who live miles away from him can now enjoy the right to free rides on the subway.
The cover photograph (of Guangcheng holding a bunch of Shepherd’s Purse) was chosen for a Ramon Magsaysay Award poster. The Award is the equivalent of a Nobel Peace Prize for the Asian region. Guangcheng was once the recipient of its “Emergent Leadership Award”. A water-well stands not far away from the loess plateau where Guangcheng often picked his Shepherd’s Purse. It was built with money he raised for the village. His victory in legal battles also means that disabled land owners are now exempted from land tax and the burden of the “two-field system”.
If Guangcheng had never attended law lectures at university, he might not have become a “bare-foot lawyer”. He might not have conducted an investigation into violence committed by Lianyi’s Family Planning program. His legendary story might not be laden with misery. His wife, children and old mother might not have suffered from so much pain. Year after year, time and again, Yuan Weijing was kidnapped, beaten, insulted and abandoned. Not long after she had given birth to their daughter Kesi, she was caught trying to go outside to get some pancakes for Guangcheng. She was dragged on the ground by her arms and legs all the way home.
Their son used to witness how government hired thugs assaulted his parents when he was young. He was once so angry that he vowed he would “kill them”. During the four years and three months while Guangcheng was in jail, Yuan Weijing had no alternative but to entrust the care of her son to their relatives. She has been kept under close surveillance and house arrest, and consequently has to endure long-term separation from her son. Guangcheng has not regained his freedom after he is released from jail. His family’s situation now is much worse than before he was convicted.
Their six-year-old daughter Kesi is under house arrest together with her parents. Their house has been stripped empty. CDs, DVDs, books and paintings are all confiscated. Friends have made countless attempts to visit Guangcheng. But one by one they were framed, beaten, insulted, robbed and abandoned in the wilderness.
For a very short time after Guangcheng was sent home from jail on 9 September 2010, he was allowed to make contacts with the outside world. I still recalled talking to him on the phone. His voice was a bit raucous. But I could feel the warmth from the slow and steady way he spoke. He said, “I managed to do quite a bit of rights defending works in prison too. So don’t worry. We’ll be able to do something useful no matter what the situation is …. I was aware of what happened outside through listening to radio and talking to others. I knew you had suffered even when I was inside (the prison) …. I’m not going abroad. If I stay in China, I can at least do something, no matter how difficult it is …. We must get to the bottom of these incidents of violence in family planning. They haven’t been eradicated yet …. And please keep an eye on our situation ….”
We became very anxious every time we learned that Guangcheng’s situation has worsened. He, on the contrary, often tries to calm us down and encourage us to forge forward. His reassuring voice does help calm me down and make me believe that he has ways to cope with all sufferings, because he has Yuan Weijing by his side.
I learnt how Yuan Weijing first met Guangcheng when she stayed at my house in 2007. By then, this English teacher was already the mother of two children, a son and a daughter. “At that time, local authorities still hailed Guangcheng as a hero. I knew about him from radio broadcast and went to find him.” Since then, she has become his walking stick.
“Guangcheng can’t see. So I have become his eyes.” They complement each other well. Yuan Weijing never blames Guangcheng for the hardship she has to endure. The way she talks about him makes me realise how much she looks forward to be with him. She has been beaten and intimidated. She is put under surveillance and house arrest, and needs to farm in order to feed her family. None of these has made her give up resisting, even though as a woman her resistance is of the weakest kind.
She stands up for the weak. She reprimands perpetrators who violate their rights. She spoke on behalf of Guangcheng when was in jail. She looks after everyone in her family. She loves Guangcheng. But every time when we talk about the treacherous environment surrounding her children, Yuan Weijing will express her concern about their chances for an adequate education.
I do not know how I can console her with just a few brief exchanges over the phone. What kind of advice can I give her? Hu Jia used to be Yuan Weijing’s best listener. Hu Jia’s imprisonment has therefore added another layer of sorrow to her sadness. Persistent pressure from supporters outside and sympathy from people in the village have allowed them to occasionally break through the blockade. But they soon find themselves under siege again.
On 25 July 2011 a lightning storm damaged the cell phone signal shielding devices surrounding Guangcheng’s house. This gave Yuan Weijing just enough time to make a single phone call to Guo Yushan. She made Guo promise to give her birthday wishes to Hu Jia. While Hu Jia was in jail, every year when it approached 12 November, Hu Jia would ask me to try my best to give his birthday wishes to Guangcheng. I have, through indirect means, posted many children’s books and toys to the children – Tom and Jerry, Not the Same as Carmela, Little Golden Books, etc – just to make sure they will not forget their “Little Auntie”.
The last time I spoke with them on the phone, I learnt that Kesi had grown into a little free-roaming horse. Even her big brother had to listen to her. I burst into laughter when I heard that over the phone. Unfortunately I also learnt later that all the books and painting for the children had been confiscated by Linyi officials during the last house raid. Without fairy tales, how can the children have courage to face their daily confinement under the watchful eyes of a bunch of thuggish guards?
Very often when I wake up late at night, I will jump out of bed and pace around in the living room. I used to do the same out of concern for Yuan Weijing and Kesi when they stayed with us. At that time I was pregnant with Qianci. Once I woke up Kesi by accident when I sneaked into the living room. She looked at me with her big eyes and asked, “Where is my pony?” She refused to go back to sleep. So we spent the whole night playing. In late summer of 2007, Yuan Weijing was eventually kidnapped by Shandong officials at the airport. It has been four years since I last saw the children.
I am ashamed of living in a country where even young children are bullied. Kesi, Little Auntie wants to give you a white stallion, so that you can roam around the world.
Ms Zeng’s article is published in the 5th edition of iSun Affairs. An electronic version is accessible via my1510.
The English version here is translated by Catherine Yeung on 20 October 2010.