The Law and Me: Chinese ‘Law’ v Jennifer Zeng
My first memory of the ‘law’
I was fourteen before I realised my father had anything to do with the law. By that time the Great Cultural Revolution in China was over, and the public security departments, procuratorial organs and courts that had been dismantled during the Cultural Revolution were to be resurrected. As a graduate of the University of Politics and Law, my father, was recalled and given work in the new metropolitan judicial bureau of Mianyang City. He worked there before he was relocated to a remote small town for more than ten years as a ‘reactionary capitalist-roader lackey’ during the period of the Great Cultural Revolution.
I grew up in this small town, moving to Mianyang City with my father and middle sister when he was called back. But my mother and youngest sister had to remain in the town as no position was available for my mother—then a middle-school teacher who was to eventually attain the status of one of the most well-respected Intermediate Court judges there—in Mianyang. It would take more than three years for her to fight her way back to Mianyang to be reunited with my father. But not with me, as I had left that city permanently for university in Beijing—1600 km away.
At the age of fourteen, moving to a bigger city, with my father, did not look great to me. I had lost not only my mother but also a ‘home’. At that time everyone who worked for the government or state-owned factories was ‘looked after’ by the government, or the (Communist) Party more exactly, in all aspects, including being assigned a place to live. There was no such thing as buying or renting an apartment of one’s own.
The newly-established Judicial Bureau did not have an office building or any apartments for its staff. It had to rent several rooms in a motel. My father was given a bed in the male dormitory, while my sister and I had to share one bed in the female staff dormitory. As my school was too far to travel, I had to live in school on my own, only returning to the dormitory to join my father and sister on weekends and holidays.
During all of my high school days I lived a solitary existence. But little by little I did learn about the development of the Judicial Bureau of Mianyang. It was given office premises and a lawyers’ house was established under the judicial bureau so that defendants could receive legal assistance. My father was transferred to the lawyers’ house, and eventually won himself a name as one of the top ten lawyers in Sichuan Province, to which Mianyang belongs. I had heard that my father had once gained an extraordinary reputation for defeating all three lawyers representing the other side, thereby winning an almost impossible case. During the court debate the room was filled with crowds who were especially impressed by his brilliant presentations.
I was a little bit surprised to learn of his achievements—to me father was a man of few words. Actually, I never heard him talk much at home in the small town.
And I was even more surprised when he forbade me to become a ‘liberal arts’ student in the last year of my high school. In China, one year before the entrance examination for universities, every high school student has to choose whether to study ‘liberal arts’ or ‘science’. After they decide, the two groups are put into different classes.
My father explained very little of why he thought it was better for me to study science. The only reason he gave was: ‘No matter who the president of the nation is, 1+1 is always 2. You have less chance to make mistakes.’
I barely understood what he meant; but obeyed silently. I remember, back in the small town, father sometimes wrote beautiful novels, short stories and poems. But mother would always burn his manuscripts whenever she found them, sometimes before I, the only reader of my father’s work, had the chance to enjoy them. He seldom said anything when she did that, only biting his lip in a particular way which made me feel very anxious. He was doing it again when he made the comment about the president and 1+1, so I obeyed without argument, despite insistence from many people that “female minds were not designed to study science”.
The battle begins
One year later I became a geochemistry student at Peking University, one of the top tertiary institutions in China. I did exceptionally well in all my science courses with my female mind, but was constantly attracted by all the non-science stuff as well. I read all the literature and philosophies I could find in the library, and was constantly asking myself the questions asked by others for hundreds of years: ‘Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?’ I didn’t find my answers until a dozen years later, and not before my health was totally ruined due to a medical accident I encountered during the birth of my daughter in 1992. I had two massive haemorrhages and almost died; but the blood transfusions that saved my life left me with hepatitis C—severely debilitated for more than four years.
In 1997 my parents and middle sister back in Sichuan started practicing a type of traditional qigong (Falun Gong or Falun Dafa). Its purpose is to refine the body and mind through exercise, meditation and cultivation of the heart, guided by the principles of ‘Truth, Compassion and Tolerance’. After trying it for one month, they found it wonderful and sent me a set of the books. I read them twice in one go; I was amazed to find in the books the answers to all my questions over so many years.
Right away I made the decision to commit to this practice. And sure enough, my hepatitis was found to have gone without a trace after only one month. I went back to work with renewed vitality, feeling that I was leading a new existence.
That was a golden period in my life. I held the position of manager in an investment consultant company (despite my Masters degree in science); and I regained a harmonious family life with my husband, beautiful daughter and my husband’s parents. (In China, it is accepted that the older generation will live with their child and grandchildren.)
The numbers of people peacefully practicing Falun Gong in both Beijing and my home city, Mianyang were enormous. So, by the early morning of 20 July 1999, while people slept, a plot that had been brewing for a long time finally broke. The then head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Jiang Zemin, had declared that ‘Falun Gong is competing with the Party for the masses’, realising that there were more Falun Gong practitioners (roughly 100 million) than Party members (about 60 million) in China. Thus a thorough and most ruthless crackdown was launched.
The first storm broke with the 24-hour anti-Falun Gong propaganda onslaught. Day and night, all media channels were broadcasting one thing: how evil Falun Gong was, how many people had committed suicide because it had made them mad, how the Falun Dafa Research Association was banned and how nobody was allowed to appeal through any channels. I was dumbfounded, not just by how they had fabricated these lies, but even more so by the ferociuos tone with which the bans were announced. It was all too clear that Falun Gong was to be eradicated right from the roots.
The weather was so hot, with a record high of 42.5°C. I felt suffocated, not by the heat itself, but by an extremely heavy, yet formless and invisible depravity, squeezing forcefully at me from all directions. My home instantly became a jail. Apart from being detained in a sports centre with several thousand other practitioners for a whole day on the first day of the crackdown, taken to the local police station to be interrogated, I was continually watched by my mother-in-law. She wanted to ensure that I would not practice any more, even silently behind the closed door of my small bedroom. From the ‘atmosphere’ created by the atrocious attacks in the media, every Chinese person who still had a memory of the Cultural Revolution could sense that the Party was ready to kill again. The only way out was to give it up and submit.