Wang Qiaoling, October 6, 2023
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In the long year of 2018, there was a bright spot – that May, we found a school for my eight-year-old daughter.
As early as 2016, my daughter was admitted to a bilingual school, which was the same school her brother attended for junior high. It also offered kindergarten and elementary.
When the 709 crackdown on human rights lawyers occurred, my daughter was in the senior class of kindergarten. Overwhelmed by the blow and the ensuing scrambling, it was only in May 2016 that I realized she was already about to start elementary school.
Parents living in Beijing without Beijing household registration had already been busy obtaining dozens of documents for enrollment in the capital, preparing their children for entrance exams. I was way behind due to my circumstances and had to seek a last-minute solution.
Our landlord lived in Anhui and was willing to make a trip to help me apply for a temporary residence permit at the local police station. This was the primary document required for out-of-town students to attend school in Beijing.
At the Bo’xing Road (博兴路) police station in Yizhuang Development Zone (亦庄开发区), Beijing, the landlord and I submitted all the required documents. Just as the printer was about to produce the temporary residence permit, the policewoman on duty received a phone call. She said, “I’m sorry, the leadership says it can’t be processed.”
The policewoman knew I was applying for a residence permit so that my daughter could enroll in school, but she didn’t know what the denial was all about. She made an attempt to comfort me, saying, “You can explain your situation and try to get approval.”
I appreciated her kindness and thanked her. The landlord was called upstairs by the police, and I left the police station due to other urgent matters. Halfway down the road, the landlord called me to say he could rent the apartment to me, and that I should go back to the police station.
But it turned out that the landlord had misunderstood the police. Once I returned, I was told the paperwork couldn’t be processed, and the landlord said he couldn’t rent me the apartment any longer. Back and forth, the whole morning was gone.
At that time, I was carrying a large canvas bag with materials related to the 709 case. I was in a hurry to meet with a lawyer downtown.
Even though I was frustrated by the temporary residence permit issue, I still held out hope. Without the permit, we couldn’t enroll, but my daughter could still receive education without official enrollment.
The subsequent events only proved how naive I was.
I went to the service office set up by the Development Zone Management Committee specifically for residents enrolling their children, just across from the school, to explain the situation. The committee personnel said, giving me a cold shoulder, “If you don’t even have a temporary residence permit, what are you doing here?”
Defeated, I left the office, holding onto my last hope, and called the school. I said, “We don’t need official enrollment, as long as my child can attend classes here.” The school immediately rejected this: “Impossible! The Education Committee doesn’t allow it!”
I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore. When I left, the mother of my daughter’s classmate, who had come to register as well, saw me. She gave me a hug, but she was in no power to offer help. When my daughter’s kindergarten teacher found out, she suggested I look at other schools. She recommended a home school program.
I went to see it, but learned that this school was frequently harassed by the Guobao, domestic security police. The head of the school was also hesitant after learning about my situation. I thought, forget it. The police were just leveraging my daughter’s schooling against me, trying to discourage me from continuing to advocate for my husband. If she couldn’t go to school, so be it. I could teach my children myself.
That was May 2016.
That June, we, the 709 wives, protested by holding red buckets outside the Tianjin Second Intermediate People’s Court.
In July, for the one-year anniversary of the 709 crackdown, we protested outside the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, wearing names of our husbands on our clothes.
In August, the 709 wives were placed under house arrest due to the trial of four 709 detainees, including lawyer Zhou Shifeng (周世锋) and Elder Hu Shigen (胡石根).
My contract with the landlord expired at the end of August, and I moved to a new place. But my new landlord didn’t dare hand me the keys, having received threats from the police.
I stayed all over the place, in budget hotels, at friends’ homes, drifting for a month.
In September, my son moved to his high school dormitory, and my daughter had no school to go to. She stayed with my mother [in Henan] and didn’t return to Beijing.
I quietly rented a new place to bring the children back to. Every time before I got home, about four or five stops away, I would turn off my phone. I took my daughter back and she really liked the new place. “Mom, how long can we live in this apartment?” she asked.
To be honest, I was saddened. I had never thought that having a stable home, or children going to school, would be a luxury. I thought for a moment and replied, “Everything is in God’s hands. If God allows it, we will be able to stay. If we are forced to move again, God will open another door for us.”
And this was how I explained to my daughter about her schooling: “I want you to play for one more year.” My daughter was overjoyed! She was six, of course she was happy!
Teaching my daughter was something completely doable for me, I knew I was good at teaching children. However, my ability to homeschool her would be seriously impeded, if I had to move around stealthily when going out to advocate for my husband’s release and turn off my phone before returning home; if something urgent came up – my phone by my side 24 hours a day for that possible call — I would have to put my daughter second.
I taught her every character we saw when we went out. I made it a habit without being able to assess her progress. As for math and English, I couldn’t teach her consistently. Extracurricular tutoring programs were not systematic teaching. I could only focus on her acquisition of Chinese characters. (This method achieved excellent results. Later, when she entered first grade at eight and a half years old, her classmates came to ask her all the characters they didn’t know. The teacher also said that she knew all the characters, but she didn’t know the pinyin. She was a successful example of “reverse learning.”)
My daughter was out of school for two years. During this time, Heping came back from nearly two-years of forced disappearance. His police minder deplored him: “Have you made an effort to enroll your daughter?”
I wished I was there with Heping when he relayed what the police said to me. I wanted to ask the police in return: “I did enroll her, but you did everything in your power to keep her out of school. You did this to my daughter so as to give Li Heping an opportunity to “make an effort” for her schooling after he is released? Li Heping didn’t bow down to you under torture, and he is not about to bow down to you for his daughter’s schooling.”
I cannot find words to describe the shamelessness of the police. They are fully aware of the vile and inhumane actions they are engaged in, yet they take pride in and derive pleasure from it. I can’t fathom them.
They deprive children of their right to education to coerce parents. Then they have the gall to suggest that parents “make an effort” to send their children to school, that is, to supposedly beg the authorities for mercy. How can they be so iniquitous and devoid of any sense of shame? As government officials, does the oath they once swore to uphold the Constitution mean anything?
Wang Qiaoling is the wife of 709 lawyer Li Heping (李和平). Follow her on X @709wangqiaoling.
Eight Years as a Mother (1), Wang Qiaoling, October 3, 2023.
‘Screw Your Suspended Sentence’: ‘The 709 Cases Are Far From Over,’ Says Li Heping’s Wife, China Change, April 28, 2017.
“My Name is Li Heping, and I Love Being a Lawyer”, Li Heping, Ai Weiwei, August 21, 2016.
The Anti-Torture Work of Lawyer Li Heping That Irked the Chinese Authorities, January 25, 2017.