Ms. Zhou Yanbo once had a satisfying job and a happy family. As head nurse and one of the first members of a local hospital's surgical department, she won numerous awards for her contributions. At home, she enjoyed being with her loving husband and son.
Her happy life, however, came to a halt when the persecution of Falun Gong began in 1999. She was arrested five times between 1999 and 2003, and tortured to the verge of death multiple times. She was fired from her job, and her husband abandoned her to avoid being implicated in the persecution. Her family paid huge fines in exchange for her release.
She began living a homeless life, going from place to place with her mother in 2003, to avoid further arrests, and has been unable to find a job since. Her mother passed away in 2006.
Looking back at the suffering she has endured, Ms. Zhou maintains a steady heart, “It's my faith in Falun Gong,” she said. “It gives me the strength to make it through all of this.”
Arrested Twice for Appealing
Like many Falun Gong practitioners, Ms. Zhou went to Beijing after the persecution began on July 20th, 1999, hoping to explain the facts about the practice to the regime. She was arrested twice for her appeals.
Shortly after being arrested the second time in October 2000, she was taken to the Dalian Drug Rehab Centre. There, she was interrogated and deprived of sleep for five days, and the guards beat and tortured her. They shocked her with electric batons, attempting to force her to renounce her belief.
Ms. Zhou was transferred to the Dalian Detention Centre on November 11th, 2000. She was kept in a small room with 16 other inmates, and during this time, she lost 20 pounds in 51 days doing hard labour.
Sentenced to Two Years at the Notorious Masanjia Labour Camp
Ms. Zhou was sentenced to a two-year term, without any due process, on December 21st, 2000. She was taken to the No. 2 Branch of the Masanjia Forced Labour Camp, where more than 1,000 women were held.
Thirty people were stuffed into a 320-square-foot dorm room, where each single bed was shared by four people. Practitioners detained at Masanjia suffered from widespread malnutrition.
The real torment here for Ms. Zhou, however, was the endless brainwashing and the guards' ever changing psychological tactics in their attempts to transform [forcibly renounce Falun Gong] her.
She was monitored by assigned inmates around the clock. They recorded everything she did, and frequently searched her belongings.
Because she refused to give up practising Falun Gong, the guards beat her and forced her to stand and squat for long periods of time, sometimes for days.
Her family was kept in the dark about her whereabouts after her arrest. When they finally found out the details, her husband and son traveled from Dalian to Shenyang to visit her on January 5th, 2001. To their disappointment, they were not allowed to see her.
Transferred Between Three Labour Camps
Seeking to leverage resources from other labour camps in transforming Falun Gong practitioners, guards at Masanjia began sending the practitioners to different facilities.
Two male and ten female practitioners, including Ms. Zhou, were taken to the Zhangshi Forced Labour Camp, a men's labour camp, on April 19th, 2001.
There, the female practitioners were kept in a single room. Ms. Zhou was also forced to sit on the ground for six days without sleep, and she endured extensive brainwashing. She often heard screaming and shouting from the other rooms, and later learned that Ms. Yin Liping, 33, had been raped by four men. Another female practitioner, Ms. Qu, had disappeared. Prior to this time, more than 200 practitioners had been “transformed” at Zhangshi.
Ms. Zhou was transferred to the Shenxin Forced Labour Camp three weeks later, where she was subjected to more rounds of intense brainwashing.
While being forced to watch videos slandering Falun Gong one day, the physically weak Ms. Zhou stood up, staggered to the TV, and pulled the plug. A group of guards rushed into the room and dragged her to a solitary confinement cell.
The guards beat her and hung her up by her handcuffed wrists. Four guards stood around, mocking her and laughing, “She looks really comfortable.”
Bearing extreme pain, every minute was torturous for Ms. Zhou. “At that time, I remembered my beloved mother, my dear husband, my lovely son, my friends, and my colleagues … I missed them so much,” she recalled.
Ms. Zhou remained in solitary for three days before being taken to a third location, the Dabei Prison.
The guards there tied her to a bed in a spread-eagle position. She started a hunger strike to protest the torture, but the guards force-fed her. During the forced-feedings, chunks of her hair were pulled out and she began to vomit blood.
A nurse secretly brought Ms. Zhou some milk the day after the forced-feeding. She told Ms. Zhou that she was heartbroken seeing her plight, and that she cried for a long time through the night.
As her hunger strike progressed, Ms. Zhou became severely malnourished. She had a fever, and a doctor declared that her heart and kidneys were failing.
The authorities finally decided to release her on August 10th, 2001. An inmate carried her out from the prison's underground hospital, and although it was summer, her feet were frostbitten.
Those ten months felt like decades to her. “Freedom was almost at the cost of my life,” Ms. Zhou said.
She later learned that officials had extorted 3,000 yuan1 from her husband before releasing her.
Fired from Her Job
Ms. Zhou recovered quickly after doing the Falun Gong exercises again.
She then went back to the hospital where she worked as a senior nurse and requested that her role be returned to her, but the hospital's president insisted that she write a statement renouncing Falun Gong before she could come back to work.
When Ms. Zhou refused, the president fired her immediately.
Arrested a Third Time--Tied to a Tiger Bench
Ms. Zhou soon started distributing materials that exposed the persecution. However, she was reported to the police and arrested again on October 31st, 2001. Once in custody, a police officer beat her over the head and tied her to a tiger bench2 torture device overnight.
She was taken to the Jinzhou District Detention Centre the next day, where she went on another hunger strike. For this, she was beaten and force-fed. Eleven days later, on November 11th, 2001, she was released.
Pinned and Locked to the Ground
While visiting a practitioner friend in Tieling, Liaoning, on October 8th, 2002, Ms. Zhou and her friend were arrested in the middle of the night.
Ms. Zhou was taken to the Tieling Detention Centre the next day, where the guards tied her to the ground in a spread-eagle position, for a month. It was -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) outside, so the guards opened the windows to freeze her. While she was freezing, guards had several inmates step on her to hold her down.
The next month, guards tied her feet to her neck, and kept her locked like this on the ground. Because her blood circulation was blocked, she did not regain the feeling in her right leg for six months.
The detention centre's doctor, Qian Dapeng, force-fed her with a highly-concentrated salt solution. While Ms. Zhou was locked on the ground, Qian kept the feeding tube lodged in her nose for a month. It was not until she had gastric bleeding that he removed it.
During this period, the guards sent Ms. Zhou to Masanjia Labour Camp three times for heightened persecution. However, since she failed the health examinations all three times, Masanjia refused to accept her.
She once more developed symptoms of heart and kidney failure, and was on the verge of death. The detention centre released her on December 9th, 2002, but not before extorting 4,000 yuan from her husband.
Near Death After 20 Days of Starvation
Ms. Zhou stayed with her brother after she was released. Before she fully recovered, she was arrested for a fifth time on January 11th, 2003.
She was deprived of food and water for 20 days at the Dalian Detention Centre, during which time her body grew rigid, thin, and cold. She barely had any strength left to even move. On January 30th, after 20 days of detention, she was released on the eve of the Chinese New Year. The police extorted another 1,000 yuan from her family.
“Where Is My Home?”
Ms. Zhou was returned to her brother's home. Her mother, sister, and in-laws were all there, and although it was the New Year, there was no holiday cheer in the air.
“The moment I entered the door, I felt the air go frozen,” Ms. Zhou said. “They all looked very serious. Being released wasn't delightful to any of us. It only meant more harassment and pressure from the police.
“Every time I was released, my sister and brother had to pay large amounts of money to the police. They all lived on a tight budget, and the fines caused an even greater burden for them. The 13,000 yuan later became a huge burden for me while I was wandering about without a job.”
Home was no longer a safe place for Ms. Zhou. The police often harassed her, and even if she stayed at a relative's home, police found out quickly, and frequent phone calls and visits would follow. The police said that if she recovered, they would send her back to detention so that she could finish serving her “term.”
“It was a struggle for me, but I had to run away,” Ms. Zhou said. “I couldn't call my son or my husband. It broke my heart even more when I heard that my son faced discrimination at school because I was a Falun Gong practitioner.”
In the days she was away from home, the police made a routine of calling her husband and harassing him at work. He lived in fear every day, and that fear went beyond what he could endure. Finally, on a night when she snuck home to see her family, her husband told her that he wanted a divorce.
The divorce was difficult for Ms. Zhou, and after years of wandering from place to place with her mother to avoid further harassment, her mother passed away in February 2006.
“Still homeless and now in my fifties, I have constantly asked myself, 'Why the suffering?'” Ms. Zhou said.
“I loved my job, and I loved being with my husband and my son. I could easily go back home and resume a normal life at any time if I just wrote a statement renouncing Falun Gong. But I couldn't, and I can't now. This is the choice I have made with my faith and conscience.”
1. "Yuan" is the Chinese currency; 500 yuan is equal to the average monthly income of an urban worker in China.
2. "Tiger Bench": Prisoners are forced to sit on a small iron bench that is approximately 20 cm (6 inches) tall with their knees tied together. With their hands tied behind their backs or sometimes placed on their knees, they are forced to sit straight up and look straight ahead without movement for long periods of time.
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