By Fang Zheng, published: June 6, 2014
In Zhanjiang, I boarded a train to Wuchang, Hubei (湖北武昌) where I would transfer to the No. 88 train to Beijing. On the ferry, I met a middle-aged business woman, whose destination was Anyang, Henan, on the same route as me. She offered to keep me company and help me when I needed it. It was an arduous journey, and around noon we arrived in Wuchang. We bought tickets for the train to Beijing and then we went to have lunch outside the station. After lunch, I went to a public phone and I wanted to call a college classmate of mine to see if he could bring me a few clothes. Coming out of semi-tropical Hainan, I was wearing too little for March in interior China. I was shivering in the cold and Beijing was going to be much colder.
Before I reached the phone, a van pulled up next to me, and four or five men jumped out of it.
“Are you Fang Zheng?”
“I am. What’s the matter?”
“Come with us!”
With that they grabbed and lifted me into the van. The dajie (big sister), who was also taken, was scared and confused. I told her not to worry, and these men were after me. The van drove for a long while to a small villa-like building in a suburban, hilly area. My sense was that it was a station of the security police, because people in and out of there looked like well-trained people and there was a tall antenna on the rooftop.
“We are ordered by our superiors to hold you here temporarily,” they replied to my question of why I had been brought there.
They interrogated the dajie, my travel companion, asked about her relationship with me, and searched her luggage. In the end they let her go and took her back to the train station.
I was held there for about a week under 24-hour watch, day and night, four people a shift. I asked if I could be allowed to go to Hefei to my parents, they said “No, you are going back to Hainan.”
Finally three officers from Haikou Public Security Bureau’s political security office came, including director Li (李科长) and officer Ma (马警官), with whom I had had many encounters. They complained that I left without giving them a heads up. When I asked why I couldn’t go to Beijing to visit my sister who had gotten married and settled there, or to Hefei to be with my parents, they said we couldn’t tell you why. “How did you know I was in Wuchang?” “We can’t tell you this either,” said they.
Back in Haikou, I got sick, succumbing to prolonged bronchitis because I had no money to get medical care. When I said to officer Ma, who was also a college student in 1989 at People’s Public Security University of China (中国人民公安大学) in Beijing, that the public security should give me medical treatment, he said, “Let me give you two hundred yuan from my own pocket.”
Friends from Beijing sent me money, so did my parents, to help me get by.
Falling in Love
When I had left Haikou, I didn’t plan to come back. Now that I was forced back, I had no place to live. A painter friend of mine helped me to move into an abandoned “villa” he rented at the time. There were a lot of abandoned houses like that after the real estate bust, and some had been turned into hen houses or pig sties or small factories.
I rented a room upstairs, and downstairs lived a group of girls who came from the interior to look for jobs. When I visited my painter friend shortly before I left, I met them in the house, so when I showed up again and moved into the same house, one of the girls asked me, “Didn’t you just leave?” So I told her what happened.
Then I told her more – about June fourth 1989. Her name was Zhu Jin (朱进), and she was twenty-three, ten years younger than me. “Didn’t you kill a lot of PLA soldiers in Beijing?” She asked me. She was 13 years old at the time living in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province (江苏徐州). She had never heard of tanks running over people and machine gun fire on crowds. In the house, I spent most of the day on the first floor helping with various household chores, and I got to my room on the second floor either carried by my painter friend or crawling up myself. Zhu Jin would say, “Let me carry you.” Tall and strong, also an athlete, she would carry me upstairs. She did not worry about who I was. We fell in love.
Unbeknownst to us, in Xuzhou, public security officers found Zhu Jin’s mother. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. “Do you know what your daughter is doing in Hainan? Get her back. She shouldn’t get involved with politically-tainted people!” Zhu Jin’s mother wrote letters to her asking what was going on. Zhu Jin wrote back, “Ask them to come to Hainan to talk to me. I am a grownup and I make decisions for myself.” So her mother told the police, “Stop visiting me. I do not interfere with my daughter’s life.”
Speaking of harassing relatives and friends, the public security over the years had talked to my direct family, my older sister, my younger sister, even my brothers-in-law, and anyone who had business or other associations with me. In a way, they spread a net over my head and everyone related to me. Out of fear or inconvenience, some had distanced themselves from me.
Zhu Jin and I planned to get married. The first obstacle was that I didn’t have an ID. My ID had been confiscated during a police raid and it had expired anyway. I didn’t have a Hainan household registration, so the public security wouldn’t issue me a new ID. When I left Beijing in 1992, I took my Beijing registration with me, but in Haikou, the police said I didn’t meet the requirements for a household registration. I tried my hometown Hefei, and the public security said they couldn’t give me a registration because I didn’t live here and I didn’t work here. I tried to bring it back to Beijing, but Beijing said, no, you had already left Beijing with it. So for eight years in Hainan, I didn’t have a household registration, and after 1995, I didn’t have a valid ID card. If a census was conducted during that time, I was not counted. Without a household registration and ID, I couldn’t get married to Zhu Jin.
In early 2000, I wrote to the Ministry of Public Security. I said I am not writing to talk about anything political; I am writing to talk about my household registration which I have to have just to live. In May my parents received notice that I could settle my registration in Hefei. In August of the same year, Zhu Jin and I moved back to Hefei and moved in with my parents. We got married on September 8, 2000. I had not seen my parents for eight years.
We received many blessings. In New York, Mr. Cary Hung (洪哲胜), a Taiwanese democracy pioneer, raised about 30,000 yuan for me to start a new life with Zhu Jin and our daughter who was born in May, 2001. Zhu Jin opened a cosmetics shop but just as it was doing better, the SARS epidemic shut down the city for several months and also shut down our shop. I sought employment assistance from the Disabled Persons’ Federation in Hefei, but nothing came out of it.
Unexpected Role in the 2008 Paralympics Preparations
In 2005, a high school classmate working at the provincial DPF asked me if I would be willing to assist the province’s newly-formed athlete team of the disabled preparing for the 2008 Paralympic Games. Of course I would.
So I became a helper for the team of the disabled. I lived with the 30 or so athletes, returning home only occasionally. It was not real employment, but I was very content to be doing what I liked and knew the best, and I was happy to help each one of them succeed.
On the team, there was a 19-year-old young man named Zong Kai (纵凯) with a high hip amputation. He was a beggar crawling on the street, supporting himself with both arms, when he was spotted and picked up by the coaches looking for potential candidates for the provincial team. He came from the poorest countryside in northern Anhui. When the coaches discussed what events he should be trained to do, I opposed placing Zong Kai on the swimming team. I analyzed his condition, his muscle-type, using knowledge I learned in college, and I told the team and Zong Kai himself that the event he could quickly learn and excel in would be wheelchair racing.
But wheelchair racing was an expensive sport, the racing chair had to be custom-made overseas and was very costly, and only four cities and provinces – Beijing, Shanghai, Hubei and Liaoning – had this option. Through my connections, I introduced Zong Kai to Shanghai to try out, and he was quickly accepted and moved to Shanghai to train. In the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, he won one gold metal and one bronze. He is now a confident and successful athlete and married too. We had kept contact for a long time, and I was sure he would be attending the 2012 Paralympics in London.
My temporary employment ended in 2007 when the national qualification games for disabled athletes was over. Those who were chosen became members of the national team, and those who didn’t make it went back to their life before.
Ironically, from March 2008 when the Olympic torch relay began, all the way to September, I was pretty much under house arrest in Hefei. There were media that wanted me to visit Beijing, and they even booked a hotel room for me. But the police, CDPF local chapter and neighborhood committee worked together to monitor me. They took turns to visit me to warn me or threaten me against traveling to Beijing, because they too knew that I was a living example of China’s disregard for the Olympic spirit and its human rights condition. They were worried my appearance would ruin their grand show. Indeed, if you asked me then, I did not believe China should be hosting the Olympics.
So I had these mixed feelings about the 2008 Olympics. As someone who studied sports, as a sports fan, I was excited about it and I also knew that many of my college friends were working hard to contribute to its success. And I was also deeply gratified to have helped disabled people like Zong Kai to be part of it. But on the other hand, I was a victim of perverse persecution that ended my career as an athlete. During the Olympics, I watched the games intently at home, but all the while I was reminded that I was imprisoned.
At the time China promised the world that it would allow foreign journalists to report freely in China. Between March and September, 2008, there had been foreign journalists who came to Hefei to interview me. But this was how “free reporting” worked: I remember when a British journalist came to interview me, he was accompanied by a Chinese “observer.” Every time when I talked about my circumstances, this “observer” would interrupt, “Enough, enough, no more talking.”
In another case, in September, a German journalist with Süddeutsche Zeitungwanted to write about the conditions of China’s disabled people. He had interviewed various people already, including me, and he asked me to introduce some interviewees. We decided to visit a young marathon runner I helped train who had lost his arms to electric shock and didn’t make the national team. But before my appointment with the journalist, I was taken to the police station and warned not to go. In the end, we didn’t go because I didn’t think the young man would be free to talk to us, or we might be intercepted halfway.
But for nearly ten years from 1989 to 2008, I had continuously talked about the June 4th massacre to overseas media without fear, I had told the truth I experienced, and I regarded it as my responsibility to speak out.
Around 1994 and 1995, I toyed with the idea of leaving China, but even my girlfriend couldn’t get a passport, what were the chances they would give me one? I was also approached by someone offering to smuggle me out of China. I
declined, given my handicap. In 2007 and 2008, I had communications withZhou Fengsuo and Zhang Qianjin, using public phones to avoid surveillance. They and other overseas friends wanted to help me leave China before the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen movement. My passport application was eventually approved after much delay partly in exchange for my “cooperation” with them during the Olympics.
Before I left Hefei in February, 2009, government officials talked to me many times to prevent me from leaving. Their tactics ranged from persuasion, to threat, to enticement. “Your family are still in China. We can let you leave China, we can also refuse to let you come back if you don’t behave appropriately overseas.” “If you stay in China, we will give you a job.” When nothing worked, they tried to talk me into leaving China a few months later, say in July.
I said to them, “Now I have a passport, visa, and tickets. Unless you use force to intercept me, I’m going.”
My wife and I arrived in San Francisco on February 26, 2009. Our daughter joined us a month later. In the United States, with the help of Mr. Michael Horowitz and many generous friends, I was fitted with prostheses and walked on my own for the first time in twenty years. I learned how to drive, and my family eventually settled in the Bay Area. Our second daughter was born in 2012. Here in the US, my heart is free, so is my movement.
As I translated Fang Zheng’s story the past week or so, his third daughter was born on May 30. – Yaxue
(Based on Yaxue Cao’s interview with Fang Zheng in the summer of 2012. Translated by Y.C.)