On February 4, 2009, Gao Zhisheng was abducted from his home by Chinese authorities following the successful escape of his family from China to the United States. As of February 4, 2010, Gao’s status is still unknown, as the Chinese Communist Party continues to withhold information about his whereabouts. Yesterday, Gao’s wife, Geng He, published a heartfelt yet thought-provoking letter in the Washington Post expressing her fears and grief but also urging the United States government to act.
While Gao’s current situation remains grim, his life story and human rights work is tremendously inspiring. As such, I would like to share the story of Gao Zhisheng with hopes that you, too, will be touched by his life and his work, and will help spread his story and message to the world.
The Story of Gao Zhisheng
Born into extreme poverty and literally raised in a cave, Gao Zhisheng spent his early life working in coal mines and struggling to survive. After seizing an opportunity to serve in The People’s Liberation Army, Gao joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and subsequently taught himself the law, passing the bar exam in the mid-1990’s.
Gao quickly rose to prominence in the Chinese legal community and was soon named one of China’s Ten Best Lawyers for winning lucrative medical malpractice and corporate law cases as well as handling an ample portfolio of pro bono work. However, Gao’s true passion could be found in his strong moral convictions and belief in the rights and freedoms of all people.
Soon, Gao, himself a Christian, listened to his heart and began separating himself from the CCP. Despite the risks involved, Gao fearlessly challenged the CCP’s oppressive policies and human rights abuses by taking on purely human rights legal work. Gao stood up against the coercive implementation of China’s “One Child Policy,” defended Falun Dafa practitioners and underground Christians against religious persecution, appealed the conviction of Chinese professor and internet journalist, Zheng Yichun, who was jailed for articles that criticized the CCP, and defended Christian minister Cai Zhuohua, who was imprisoned for printing Bibles without a permit. Author’s note: (The free exercise of religion is greatly curtailed in The People’s Republic of China. For example, “unregistered Christians,” including Chinese Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics in communion with Rome, as well as those who adhere to Falun Dafa and Tibetan Buddhism are strictly prohibited from practicing their faith in mainland China.)
In 2005, Gao bravely and publically renounced his attachment with the CCP, calling it “the proudest day in my life.”
As a result of his statements and open letters to Chinese President Hu Jintao, which criticized the CCP’s cruel treatments of Falun Dafa practitioners, Gao was arrested and given a suspended sentence for “incitement to subversion.”
This sentence did not deter Gao’s efforts, though. The following year, Gao sent an extremely detailed and candid open letter to the United States Congress, which included very serious allegations of human rights abuses, religious persecution, extreme pollution to the environment, a purposely degraded justice system, and unabashed greed at the hands of the CCP. Gao wrote:
“It is widely agreed that for any legal government, its nature and basic moral standard must be to protect the values embodied in the constitutional law. What we’ve seen in China is just the opposite. This regime has become the obstacle for people to defend their basic rights, and has always gone all out to trample on China’s constitution. People’s constitutional rights have become an eternal snag. As a single exception, the only law that the communist regime treats with any seriousness is ‘the constitutional law ensures the permanent reign of the Chinese Communist Party in China.’” (Gao Zhisheng’s Open Letter to The United States’ Congress, 2007.)
Because of this letter, Gao was arrested by Chinese authorities and held for 50 days where he endured unthinkable tortures, despite the fact that China ratified the UN Convention Against Torture over twenty years ago. After being forced to publicly confess to a variety of crimes and sins, Gao was finally released on the condition that he refrain from speaking about his ordeal and that any violation of this “agreement” would result in further tortures in front of his family and death. Of course, Gao courageously defied the communist regime by revealing his tortures in a writing entitled, “Dark Knight, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia (My account of more than 50 days of torture in 2007)” (translated) Author’s note: (The horrors that Gao endured are so brutal that I will not begin to describe them here. I encourage you to read Gao’s story, though, if you are so inclined.)
From many accounts, it appears as though Gao and his family started to formulate a plan to leave China beginning in the latter part of 2008. By the close of January 2009, Gao’s wife, two children and sister had escaped from China to the United States via Thailand while Gao remained behind. On February 4, 2009, over ten police officers dragged Gao out of his bed and from his home. He has not been seen since.
Since Gao’s disappearance last year, human rights activists, the Canadian government, and foreign journalists have pressed the Chinese government for information concerning Gao’s whereabouts, but the CCP remained silent. China’s first official statement concerning Gao came last week, when Ma Zhaoxu, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said, “[Gao] is where he should be.”
Yesterday, in her letter to the Washington Post, Gao’s wife wrote, “[n]ow I wait, helpless, certain that my husband is being tortured and wondering whether I should actually hope that he has already been killed.”
What Gao Zhisheng life-work means to me
As a budding human rights lawyer, Orthodox Christian, American, and human being, I truly believe that Gao Zhisheng is the archetype of courage, strength and personal sacrifice. I am convinced that I could never be as brave as Mr. Gao, who willingly endured, and perhaps continues to face, torture and persecution both in the name of freedom and for the rights of others. By defending the lives and beliefs of China’s pastors and practitioners, writers and rural farmers, dissidents and doctors, unborn children and underrepresented minorities, Mr. Gao defends each of us.
I pray for Mr. Gao and his family and I also implore everyone to please remember Mr. Gao and to share his story with everyone you know. The time has come for all Americans to break the silence and take a stand against China’s countless abuses against our fellow human beings.
To end this post, I would like to quote the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, just as Mr. Gao did so aptly at the close of his 2007 letter to the United State Congress:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
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