Imprisoned human rights activist speaks from behind bars

Tang Jingling

China Aid Association

(Guangzhou, Guangdong—Dec. 29, 2014) A well-known human rights activist managed to send his testimony, below, written from his prison cell in China’s southern Guangdong province on Dec. 8-14, to China Aid for its exclusive publishing.

Translated and edited for clarity by China Aid Association

Lilies in the millet: Tang Jingling’s testimony of gratitude from prison

By Tang Jingling

Written on Dec. 8-14, 2014, in Cell 1504, No. 1 Detention Center of Guangzhou

On the morning of May 16, 2014, a group of plainclothes agents broke into my home. After ransacking everything in my house, they seized my computer, cell phone, camera, books, and documents. Then they took me to Jingxi Police Station. To my wife and me, this kind of search was no longer strange. On the afternoon of that day, we were locked up in Baiyun Detention Center, along with Yuan Xinting, one of the members of our Bible study group, and Wang Qingying, who was baptized in the same house church as we were. The charge against us was picking quarrels and stirring up trouble. On June 19, after a month of excruciating suffering, Yuan Xinting, Wang Qingying and I were transferred to Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center. By this time, my weight had fallen from 173 pounds to 160 pounds. This data was obtained when prison officials weighed me after ordering me to take off all my clothes in front of a crowd.

Compared to Baiyun Detention Center, where we weren’t given breakfast, this new place is better. We get watery porridge three times a week. For the other four days of the week, we have two small steamed buns or an equivalent amount of wheat products every day. For dinner, we have vegetables—twice the amount that we had at Baiyun. We have about four pieces of pumpkin or two pieces of cabbage. At least we no longer feel extremely hungry here.

In the meantime, the charge against us was changed to “inciting subversion of state power,” and we were deprived of the right to meet with our lawyers. Like in Baiyun, our rights to correspond with our families and friends and to read books sent by our loved ones were also taken away from us. I am only allowed to see the notice [that arrives] once a month, stating that the living expenses sent by my wife or my sister have been received. Only through this [notice] can I feel the presence of my family and friends.

I’ve been here for seven months already, and I still don’t know when [my detention] will end. Every day, I stay in a cell that is more than 20 square meters (65 square feet), and more than 20 inmates are packed in this cell like sardines. They have been charged with embezzlement, bribery, gang activities, smuggling, battery, gambling, fraud, murder, rape, etc. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we do everything in this space—eating, drinking, using the restroom, walking, sitting and sleeping. There is no room in the entire cell for me to breathe freely or stretch.

At my home, there is my lonely, helpless wife who has lost her source of livelihood. After I was detained, my mother passed away due to the shock and worry she experienced [as a result of my detention]. My mother passed away on Sept. 20, a few days after she celebrated her 70th birthday. According to tradition, I should be at her home. However, the police didn’t send people to the prison to announce this sad news to me until Oct. 10. Her death has caused me great pain. Since I couldn’t attend her funeral, all I could do from prison was cry incessantly. Her death has caused me great pain. It was like being thrown into a fire or being trampled.

Today, my defense lawyer Liu Zhengqing came to see me and brought news from my wife that Zhang Guoqing from Autumn Rain Church in Chengdu, Sichuan, called her on Thanksgiving Day and expressed his gratitude and blessings. Most people might not understand the how much this seemingly casual greeting meant to us. In a split a second, all my emotions and memories poured out as if I were walking in a quiet glen where the fragrance of lilies permeates my heart and soul. The essence of Christ emanates from these lovely worshippers. At a time when my church family is under attack and siege from seemingly powerful tyranny and is in the depths of terrifying waves of peril, this essence seems to surround us. This is a beautiful testimony of [my Christian brothers and sister]. They are people who love without fear and are people who “visit me in prison.”

Zhang and my family didn’t know each other before 2010. He runs a busy company that engages in cultural dissemination and planning. In the meantime, he is also a deacon at Autumn Rain Church. He is committed to the ministry of caring for the family members of prisoners of conscience and for rights defenders and petitioners. This is how we got to know each other.

It was around 2010 when on my second visit to Chengdu, Chen Yunfei, a local human rights activist brought me to the Autumn Rain Church for Sunday worship (the date might be wrong as I can’t verify it from prison). At the church, I met Wang Yi, whom I had met once back in 2004. Wang Yi was called upon by the Lord to give up his job as a college instructor and a constitutionalist scholar to become a prominent pastor. In the group discussion after the gathering, I met Zhang, and he immediately invited me to stay at his home. He lived alone in a simple and plain apartment unit in a residential compound on East Qinghe Road. His living room was also used as a study and an office. He often worked deep into the night and went out very early in the morning. I could see that he was not good at housework or taking care of himself; however, after my first night there, he carefully prepared a breakfast of milk and fruit and left a note to remind me to take an umbrella with me should I leave the apartment. Once when he was free in the evening, which was very rare, he invited Chen and me to watch a movie. After the movie, he invited us to supper. I’ve completely forgot what the movie was about, but his care left an indelible impression on me.

In my own house, I’ve also received visitors and friends from various places, but I’m not as careful and considerate as Zhang. My social skills are so poor that I didn’t even give him any gifts to express my gratitude. Yet, I feel I have a home in Chengdu that I can go to at any time.

One day in the spring of 2011, a second major blow suddenly befell my friends and me [Editor’s note: The first “blow” Tang and his wife experienced is discussed later on in his testimony. The above-mentioned detention that occurred this year would be considered a third blow to the couple and their friends]. One day in February, not long after we came back to Guangzhou from our home in Hubei province, several good friends of mine and I were secretly detained for “inciting subversion of state power.” It was only after this incident that I learned my wife had been simultaneously detained. My wife’s detention caused her to go into a depression. Instead of sending her out for treatment or releasing her, the authorities brought my mother-in-law from Wuhan, Hubei, to take care of her and locked them together in our home.

In the meantime, Yuan Xinting, Sun Desheng, several others and I were detained in the Guangzhou Police Training Center located at South Panyu Road. Under threat of torture, I wrote a confession and a statement of guarantees, and I was forced to admit in the form of an oral confession that I had committed the crime of inciting subversion of state power. I stayed there until August when I was released and was escorted to Hubei.

In August 2013, with the help of some friends in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and other places, I was able to take my wife to southwest China for some relaxation in hopes that I could make up for my lack of care for her in the past years. Besides, I also hoped the trip would be a consolation for the trauma we suffered in 2011. During our stop in Chengdu, Zhang again enthusiastically received my wife and me. He did his best to make our travel there convenient.

Except for our common belief in Christ, Zhang and my wife and I have no other relationships or connections. He doesn’t get any compensation from his relationship with us. As I have always been stalked and persecuted for engaging in pro-democracy and human rights activities, such a close relationship with us may get him in trouble. Yet, his loving heart and courage make me see Christ’s unconditional love for us. It is we who should express our gratitude to Zhang. It was in those days that he took the trouble of receiving us even though we were total strangers to him. He has not abandoned us when we are in trouble, and instead, he supports and helps us. This makes us think lightly of our suffering.

After spending time with Zhang, I left Chengdu for Chongqing, and Zhang insisted that he buy train tickets for my wife and me. In the meantime, he contacted Li, a fellow Christian in Chongqing, and asked him to pick me up at the train station. This way, I was taken care of by friends in Chongqing just as I had been in Chengdu. I still clearly remember that when I met Li for the first time, we had a long talk throughout the night as if we were old friends who had not seen each other for a long time. What a beauty that we live in harmony!

My wife and I experienced our first major blow at the end of 2005 when authorities attempted to cut off my income and the source of our livelihood. During that time, I continuously participated in the handling of some influential human rights cases. As a result, I was persecuted and lost my law license. Among these cases, the most famous one was the 2004 strike of Xingang Shoe Group factory workers in Dongguan, Guangzhou, during which time I met and got to know Pastor Wang Yi, [who was detained with me this past May]. Another case involved the dismissal of the Party committee in Taishi Village, Panyu District, Guangzhou.

During that time, a Christian lady named Daozi, a painter who splits her time between Chengdu and Chongqing, came to Guangzhou, probably to avoid some similar type of trouble. [If I remember correctly,] traveling with her was Chongqing’s famous woman writer Nanduo [although perhaps Nanduo simply told Daozi to look for me]. Because of the Internet, I had long known of Ms. Nanduo’s brilliant style and her quality as an outstanding woman, but I had never heard of Daozi. After we met, Daozi showed me pictures of some of her paintings. As I had never received any art training in my childhood, I was almost completely ignorant of fine art.

However, I found that her works, with their clear, impactful images, described the pain and struggles of people bogged down in evilness. Through the stark contrast of black, reds, greens and other colors in the paintings, I could see her unique knowledge and insight into China’s cultural and social realities, her deep feelings for China’s historical sufferings, and her mercy for humanity. She told me with enthusiasm and without reservation that her mission is to preach the Gospel to China’s democracy and human rights activists and bring them to Christ.

Daozi is one of the people I’ve met who has greatly influenced my belief in God. During that period of time when I met Daozi, I was hesitating in my faith journey. In the mid-90s, after Lettie Cowman’s “Springs in the Valley” opened the floodgates of my heart, I began to attend church and have more and more contact with Christians throughout the remainder of the decade. From 2000-2005, as my Christian friends left one by one for of their study or work, I rarely attended gatherings and even stopped going to church altogether. By that time, I had not become a Christian.

Daozi and I exchanged our ideas on all these things, and we talked about various faiths and people, spiritual life, and the doubts in my heart. Her enthusiasm moved me, and we talked deep into the night. She highly recommended a local house church that I could go to and introduced my wife and me to Sister He, a missionary in the church. He and Daozi were classmates in an advanced theology class. It was this church that my wife and I continuously attended in the following years. In 2009, my wife and I were baptized together. We also attended a church called Home of Faith where we went to prayer meetings, sang in the choir, joined in visiting prospective worshippers, and in the ministry of group fellowship. During all this time, He led us in our growth like a mother. In 2011, my wife and I were imprisoned, and we temporarily had to leave this church, but the thread of love for Christ still linked our hearts together [Editor’s note: Tang and his wife’s 2011 imprisonment is detailed above].

Not long after Daozi went back home, she mailed us many books on theology and spiritual cultivation and several versions of the Bible. What we didn’t know was that these books would play a key role in my personal spiritual cultivation and in my leadership in the Bible study group. It makes me ashamed that I still haven’t completely read these precious books. Since I received them, I have seen Sister Daozi several times, in either Chengdu, Chongqing or Guangzhou. She has always been enthusiastic toward my spiritual growth just like a courageous fighter who “becomes enthusiastic for the sake of Jehovah.”

In the 2011 incident, members of our group fellowship were dispersed. When Daozi learned this, she encouraged and even urged us to restore the fellowship group as soon as possible. In 2013, my wife and I visited her in Chongqing on our trip to southwest China. Not long after that, she passed through Guangzhou on her way back home from her advanced study in theology. There, we met again. By then, her hair had turned gray, but her gaze was still as enthusiastic as ever and her caring words were still warm. She brought us the love of Christ.

At this time, when I will soon finish writing these beautiful memories, I think of Yuan Xinting and Wang Qingying who are imprisoned together with me. In the meantime, Guo Feixiong and Sun Desheng arrested in August of last year are detained in Tianhe Detention Center. Besides, there are democracy and human rights activists who were arrested during a major state-wide crackdown campaign in the past two years: Xu Zhiyong, Ding Jiaxi, Zhao Changqing, Li Huaping, Liu Jiacai, Pu Zhiqiang, Jia Lingmin, Yang Lin, Huang Wenxun, Zhao Fengsheng, etc. I can’t begin to complete this list of glorious names. Together with me, they are carrying the heavy burden and are fighting these beautiful battles. I often pray and ask God to lead us to a land of great expanses.


My Christmas prayer:

After 150 years of the Chinese peoples’ hard struggle to win freedom, the dawn of freedom is near. Shackles and chains have failed to take away our longing for freedom, let alone God’s promises and blessings. Just like Moses who looked from afar at the land of hope, I also pray that the light of freedom shall shine soon on this land.

Blessed be those who fight and sacrifice for this cause. Blessed be those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

Blessings should also go to those fellow citizens who are not willing to give up their swords, which shed our blood, and their chains because those who enslave others are not free themselves. Christ has opened His bosom to you. You must know the truth, and truth will bring freedom to you.

May my motherland break its chains! May my compatriots go hand in hand and breathe freely on the shores of the Pacific, on the beaches of the Mo River, at the foothills of the Tianshan Mountain and at the top of Mount Everest! Amen!

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