January 30, 2022
Zhang Qing (张青), mother of two children, wife of prominent Chinese rights movement activist Guo Feixiong (郭飞雄), died of cancer on January 10, 2022, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She fled China in 2009 with her two children to the United States, settling in Midland, Texas, with the help of ChinaAid, while her husband was serving a 5-year prison term for providing legal assistance to Taishi villagers in Guangdong to oust corrupt local officials and hold elections. He was imprisoned again from 2013 to 2019, spending 11 of the last 15 years behind bars. Following his wife’s cancer diagnosis in early 2021, Guo Feixiong, a free citizen, tried to come to the U.S. to be with his wife as she battled for life, but was on January 28, 2021, barred from leaving China at Shanghai Pudong Airport. He wrote letters to the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang; international academics repeatedly called the Chinese government to allow him to reunite with his wife and children after 15 years of separation, but to no avail. On top of that, he was again taken into custody on December 5, and on January 12, a day after the news of his wife’s passing reached China, Guangdong police issued formal notice of his arrest. No words suffice to describe the cruelty and barbarity of the Communist regime in China. To remember Zhang Qing, we translated her two children’s moving eulogies, which were delivered in Chinese during the funeral service, and also included that of her friend Martha. – The Editors
January 21, 2022, Maryland, U.S.
Daughter Yang Tianjiao (Sara)
In my eyes, my mother was a truly incredible single mother. If you ask me, What do you think of when you think of the word “family”? I would say in all honesty that all I can think of are my mother, my little brother and myself, because it was my mother who alone brought us up. Ever since my Dad, Guo Feixiong (aka Yang Maodong) got involved in the weiquan (rights defense) movement, my mother took on all of the household responsibilities. When we were in China, she didn’t just take care of us — I was in elementary school, and my brother was in nursery school — she also managed the household, all while advocating for my Dad. She just did so much. Now that I’m an adult, I think I can better understand how difficult it is to be a woman in this society, especially a single mother. Especially since graduating from college, I think I have gained a more profound understanding of what my mother has gone through these past 15 years or so.
Over a week ago my mother passed away suddenly. She had late-stage cancer, it was so sudden. We had been pursuing new treatment, but she left us before receiving it. So this whole time I’ve been wondering, were my mother’s short 55 years of life good? Was she happy? Maybe it was last year when I saw my mother suffering so much pain, I found it hard to imagine her life as a single mother, and I felt like all I saw was hardship and suffering.
Because of the cancer, she was in a lot of pain, so much pain that she could only lie in bed, so much pain that two days before she passed, I asked her, “Mother, would you like me to play for you, play a piece that you like?” She said, “No, let me rest, music is too loud.” So a lot of times I really couldn’t imagine how much she suffered over all these years. But gradually, I have also remembered many happy moments.
I keep remembering the many things that the three of us have been through together, and then I realized — and actually, I knew all along — that, though my mother always knew how hard things were for her, she was always someone who loved to smile. Through all her trials, she really was someone who always wanted to pursue happiness, a very strong and very optimistic person. For instance in this photo, I think she took it on March 28, 2020, she went to a park in Germantown to see the cherry blossoms. She loved the cherry blossoms, she thought they were pretty, and she told me she had seen them before at Wuhan University, and how lovely they were. I found out from her diary that this photo was taken on March 28. She wrote, “I went to the park to look at the flowers.” Just a few short words, but from her photo I can tell how happy she was.
She liked pretty things. She liked pretty flowers, she liked pretty people, and she liked to watch pretty women. Sometimes when we were watching a movie, she’d say, Wah, Liu Yifei is so beautiful, Joey Wong is so beautiful, Brigitte Lin is so beautiful. Her favorite actress was Gong Li. She thought Gong Li had a really powerful aura, and she was gorgeous. Gong Li was one of the most beautiful female movie stars, according to her aesthetic.
My mother loved to watch movies, especially movies with hope, where the characters achieved their dreams. When we came to America, we watched a lot of American movies, iconic American movies, like Star Wars. We saw all nine Star Wars movies, and my little brother introduced my mother and me to them. My mother really liked them, and would discuss the plot with us. Then I introduced Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to my mother and brother, and we watched all six movies in these two series. She really loved “The Return of the King.” I remember one time she said out of the blue, “Let’s watch ‘Return of the King’ tonight,” and we did. I’m sure she liked its message, its hope, that spirit of fighting against all odds. She really liked the King, Aragon. He was handsome, but he was also a great leader.
We saw a lot of other movies, too, including Disney animations. We watched just about anything. I think my mother really enjoyed our time together, the three of us, even though she could be a little bit problematic watching movies. It would be the first time for all of us, but just when the suspense was building, you were anxious and breathless, she would ask, “What happens next?” I would always tell her to just watch and see, because I don’t know what happens next either.
Mother loved the outdoors. She loved boating, she loved swimming. Before the intestinal obstruction recurred this time, she had been working at her swimming. Last October and November, she would swim for 40-50 minutes at a time. She wanted to be strong and healthy.
Mother was proud every time my brother and I got an award or recognition. She held onto all of my brother’s school photos, like yearbook photos. I found them all as I was going through her things. I saw all the photos of my brother from elementary to high school, I saw every single one. Even some of my awards, like for piano, she held onto those, too. Mother was very proud, and she was very happy for me.
She was also very proud of herself, because even though she came to the U.S. after she was 40, she still managed to earnfirst an undergraduate and then a master degree, both in accounting. She even spent money on her school graduation photo. I didn’t even buy my own graduation photo. I thought it was too expensive and universities sell graduation photos to rip people off, but my mother bought hers because she felt she’d earned it. And she kept it.
Mother loved music. She really loved some classic American pop songs, like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and the Carpenters. She loved their most lyrical songs the most. My mother also liked to listen to me playing piano. I choose everything I play, and I lean towards the Romantic, like Chopin and Liszt. She always said she really enjoyed anything I played. I feel like every time she listened to me playing, all her worries melted away.
Before 2016,* when we lived in Midland, Texas, we’d go to use the computer lab at Midland College. My brother and I would play online games while she was studying. The college had a chapel, a small church for weddings, and there was a grand piano there. I practiced piano for several years there. Mother would sit behind me, listening while she studied. Like I said, she really liked to hear anything I played.
So, about my brother and me playing video games. We indeed spent a lot of time on games, and my mother didn’t like it, so we were always fighting a battle of wits with her to earn a bit of game time. Like, my brother would write stories, and earn some time for each page he wrote; I would help my mother out with lots of things, and I’d also earn a certain amount of time for each task I completed. Even though mother hated it when we played video games, she herself actually completed a game called lianliankan (连连看) while my brother and I had never been able to even though we played it many times. So sometimes she could be hypocritical.
My mother had a beautiful heart. Even in her final month, this past December, when she was in so much pain, laying on her bed and unable to move for the most time, she was still happy to see me back from Texas. When I showed her the flowers her friend Martha sent, she smiled and said, “Martha is so nice,” all the while lying in bed in pain. She could see the good in people, even when she was suffering.
Throughout my mother’s diary, which I browsed the last few days, a common theme was, “I have to take my CPA exam, I have to focus on studying, and I have to work harder.” Another common theme of course is, “life is hard, I have to try harder, life is so hard, and I pray to God for protection, I pray that God be with me.” Mother was so full of hope. She knew how hard her circumstances were, she knew how difficult things were, but she always asked the Lord for help, to give her strength.
Mother wanted to live. She was only 55, there was still so much she wanted to do. She wanted to pass her CPA, to see the cherry blossoms again, to hear me play piano, to see more beautiful landscapes, to spend more time with her children, to watch more movies, to do so many other things, but instead she left so soon. I’m so sad because my mother finally raised her children — I finished college a few years ago, my brother is in college right now. And we have grown up. I’ve graduated and can earn money now. In just a few more years our single-parent household really would have had a better life, in a substantial sense. But instead my mother was tortured by cancer and left us too soon. I think Providence is unfair. This world is so beautiful and yet so cruel.
Of course I wanted my mother to live longer, to see the cherry blossoms again, to be there with me for so many things. So all this time I find myself wondering, in this beautiful and yet cruel world, did mother have a good life? Was she truly happy?
In fact, I can’t decide for her. I have to find the answer for myself. But just like in this photo, she was always smiling, she smiled through it all. She knew how hard her life was, but whenever she saw something beautiful, whenever she saw the cherry blossoms, she was smiling. I believe she was happy, after all, with her children by her side, playing piano for her, spending time with her, she was happy.
What we can do is always remember her, remember her smile, remember her voice, remember that she kept up hope, she kept up her courage, and remember that she was a beautiful person who once graced this cruel world. Thank you.
*Zhang Qing and her son moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2016. — Translator
Yang Tiance (Peter)
Even though my mother passed away so soon, she actually accomplished a lot in her life. She raised the both of us, alone in America. When she first got here, she couldn’t even speak English. Not only did she raise us on her own, she also graduated from college and grad school here. She faced challenges at every turn, yet she persisted. My mother was also a brave person. In China you could only have one child, but she wanted another, she wanted me, so she persisted, and she had me. She was cheerful with everyone, and she was on good terms with everyone.
Qing was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. After we were introduced to each other in April of 2009, we became friends and she never ceased to amaze me.
She was brave, kind, loving, strong in her faith in Jesus, and stood up for her children’s rights in every situation. Immediately after she came here she became, along with her children, to the “English as a Second Language Class” that I was teaching, as she knew that learning the language of this country was very important. I remember going to her apartment and seeing lists of vocabulary words posted all around on the walls so that she could immerse Peter, Sara, , and herself in this new language.
When she needed help, she always sought it out so she could provide a good education for her children. Her efforts garnered the best education that Midland had to offer for Sara and Peter.
She never failed to attend a worship service at her church, Stonegate Fellowship, where Peter and Sara were both baptized. And we always seem to have fun together, enjoying a meal or coffee at the local Starbucks.
When I think of Qing now, I think of her smiling, joyful countenance that was always with her even in the darkness of days. She was very bright and totally surprised me by getting her degree from University of Texas Permian Basin in accounting, all while learning a new language and providing for her two children.
There are so many details to Qing’s stories that due to constraints of time, I cannot include here, but I want to reiterate to anyone who is listening that Qing was well loved and she loved well.
(Transcribed and translated by China Change)
In Memory of Zhang Qing
This 13-minute mini-documentary, filmed and edited by Ai Xiaoming and re-edited and subtitled by China Change, depicts Zhang Qing’s first visit to her husband Guo Feixiong in Meizhou Prison. It is also a snapshot of the life of Zhang Qing and her two children in 2007 and 2008 in Guangzhou.