RTI: “Exodus”—a long journey to flee China

Dong Zhao (left), his family, and other refugees
(Photo: Ren Ruiting)

(Radio Taiwan International—April 27, 2022) The following article is a translated follow-up story of Dong Zhao and his family. They were rescued by ChinaAid earlier this month at the US-Mexico border, and Radio Taiwan International interviewed him. ChinaAid previously posted an article detailing Dong’s story, but this account closely follows the persecution he and his family faced in mainland China. To read the original article, click here.

Dong Zhao from Henan province, China, used to be threatened and beaten by police for a long time because of his Christian faith. Authorities also involved his family in their harassment. Dong Zhao brought his wife and sons to Zhengzhou—the capital of Henan province—to avoid the threat of police in his hometown. He made a living by running a breakfast eatery in Zhengzhou. He still attended a house church in Zhengzhou, and he was still harassed by police. His underage child and himself were detained, hit, and scolded. It became intolerable to them, so Dong Zhao decided to flee to the U.S. with his wife and son.  


Police broke in and hit people randomly during the Bible study 


Dong Zhao recounted the persecution of his house church in 2014: 


Back in that time, I was the coworker leading the Bible study group. We planned to do a three-hour Bible study and took a break halfway through. When the second half started, 7-8 people in uniform broke into the room, shouting and ordering us to stop the gathering. One of the officers looked at our Bibles and notebooks and asked us to write down our IDs.  


I said, “What is the matter?” 


They asked, “Who allowed you guys to gather here?” 

I attempted to proclaim the gospel to them, so I said something about the faith, “It is God who asks us to do it, we study the Bible because it contains the truth.” 


I was hit before I could finish. 


I asked him, “Why did you beat me?” 


The police said, “Who let you believe in Jesus? Jesus asks you to gather, but I ask you to stop!” 


It is the youth group who gathered there at that time, and young people were scared by what they saw. Police pressed me to the ground, which was a warning to the rest of them, so they hit me. Two people kicked me, another person thought I would fight against them, so he stamped on me and kept hitting me for several minutes.  


Police threatened us before heading out, “You will be beaten more if we find out that you gather again.” 


Fleeing for the first time 


Police meant what they said. Dong Zhao and the congregants of the church proclaimed the gospel on the streets during Christmas 2014, but they were intercepted by police. Over 10 coworkers, including Dong Zhao, were taken away to the police station and beaten fiercely. Dong Zhao recalled: 


Police beat us using their batons and locked us in a place that is like a detention center located behind the police station. We were not released until the seventh day because one sister was so sick that the police were worried that someone might die. They threatened us again that detention would be longer than seven days next time.  


Dong Zhao waited for treatment in the ER after a violent police encounter
(Photo: Ren Ruiting)

Dong said that many people felt scared after the intense violence. He took his family to a relative living in a city close by after the Lunar New Year, hoping to shy away from the police of his hometown. However, he had difficulty finding a job in that city, so he could not stay there long. Dong felt that he could find no place to shelter in that circumstance, so he decided to flee.  


In 2015, he flew to Cuba via Russia. He arrived in Florida from Cuba with the help of a Cuban native who smuggles migrants. He was detained in immigration detention for a few months because of unauthorized entry. He spoke with his Chinese family via phone during his detention. Dong learned from his aunt that his grandma was sick, and his wife and son were having a tough time. Struggling with the situation, Dong Zhao decided to take a risk to apply for deportation, thus returning to China. 


Unfortunately, his grandma passed away shortly after his return. Police threatened him relentlessly. Police said, “China is China. It does not conform to Chinese tradition to believe in Jesus, so you should stop!” Police also stressed that Dong Zhao’s child would drop out of school if he did not comply with the order.  


There are numerous persecution cases in China. Henan province has been one of the regions intensely targeted by the government. Dong Zhao thinks that Henan people seldom resist while police enforced laws illegally because Henan’s economy and cultural development are backward. Police and law enforcement personnel are not well educated, and people are naïve about laws. In addition, Henan is a populous province, each household has multiple relatives. Police can threaten one individual, but the pressure applied to a family is beyond words. Once an individual’s family is involved in harassment, those family members can become unemployed 


There are two kinds of churches in mainland China. One is the Three-Self Church controlled and managed by the government; the other is the house church, which rejects the government’s forcible participation in any way. Dong Zhao belongs to the latter. He thinks that he picks the house church in the hope to stay away from the government and worship God with freedom. In fact, people attending a church are rule-driven and abide by laws and never do anything bad. However, the government does not trust these people, so they intervene in the church’s operation. Nevertheless, Three-Self churches in Henan could not live a peaceful life, either. Henan authorities require that photos of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong should be displayed next to the cross to tighten the control over the Three-Self churches.  


Fled again; journey through 3 continents and 11 countries 


In September 2021, Dong Zhao with his wife and two sons left Zhengzhou and finally arrived in the U.S. in April 2022 via 11 countries and regions including Beijing, Hong Kong, East Europe, and South America. A journey filled with hardships. Dong Zhao was interviewed anonymously once by a reporter while being in China. He disclosed the persecution of local churches in Henan province. He, like most people, dared not speak up because of the government’s intimidation. Now, he lives in the U.S., a free country, so he can be interviewed publicly. He said, “I can speak up now, I will expose the evil of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Also, I will question them why they persecute legal citizens? They defy laws, both human and divine, so how could they talk about a Chinese Dream?” 


Although they arrived in the U.S. successfully, it will be a long journey for Dong Zhao’s family to apply for asylum because of their unauthorized entry. Their IDs and passports were also stolen along the way. For refugees, the U.S. is both an ending and a beginning.  


 Author: Ren Ruiting, a Christian of Early Rain Covenant Church. She stayed in Taiwan as a refugee due to the persecution of religious people in mainland China before moving to the U.S. and receiving asylum.  

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