Having lived through the Chinese Communist Party's Cultural Revolution and other political campaigns and purges, my father became smitten by the values of democracy he experienced in Canada as a PhD student. He gave up his medical career and instead devoted his life to what he believed were basic freedoms long overdue to the Chinese people. Exiled from his homeland, he spent 20 years travelling the world and working towards the democratic transformation of his China.
In 2002, while in Vietnam, my father was abducted into China and arrested by Chinese police. Six months later, he had a sham trial, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. Today, he continues to serve his sentence in solitary confinement, where his despair and isolation have sent both his physical and mental health into devastating decline.
In a country without meaningful rule of law, my family has no means appeal my father's conviction, despite having secured exonerating evidence for the charges against him. The lawyers we've retained on his behalf are routinely intimidated by authorities, obstructed from visiting him and threatened with disbarment. Because of my outspokenness, the Chinese government repeatedly refuses my visa applications. Consequently I have been unable to visit him for the past seven years.
In 2008, I deferred going to university, and moved to Washington, DC for one year to advocate full time for his release. Since then, I have continued to meet with government officials, NGOs, journalists whoever will hear my story. In 2013, my efforts were fictionalized in the young adult novel, Nine Days by Fred Hiatt. Now, the documentary, Inside These Walls on CBC, poignantly chronicles my family's journey.
My campaign started as a fairly lonely venture. But recently, I have been joined by an increasing number of other young women whose fathers are also imprisoned in China: political refugees who only recently settled in North America. Together, we support each other's efforts to reunite our families.
Unlike our fathers, who went into their activism willingly, our burdens are largely inherited and not of our own choosing.
Bridgette, fled China three years ago to seek asylum in the United States. Her father, Liu Xianbin, has been in and out of prison for most of Bridgette's life, for writing about social injustice. Grace's dad, Gao Zhisheng, is a renowned human rights lawyer who was severely tortured during years of arbitrary detention. And Angela's father, Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong-based bookseller, disappeared a year ago and is suspected to be in Chinese custody for selling politically-sensitive books.
Despite our collective efforts, the past few years have been marked largely by a sense of defeat. My father remains in solitary confinement. Grace's dad, though released, is in dire health and the true state of his freedom remains ambiguous. Meanwhile, the human rights situation in China worsens, as the government continues to escalate the crackdown on outspoken democracy activists and human rights defenders. Our little group of second generation "dissident daughters" is growing, with more activists are being thrown into prison with each passing week.
They often wonder what is the purpose of organizing the endless and seemingly fruitless press conferences, interviews and meetings? What do we have to show for our years of work? Frustrated with the futility of their campaigns, it is easy for my sisters in arms to be overcome with fatigue, and wonder if their efforts to raise awareness for their fathers' cases were ultimately in vain.
Unlike our fathers, who went into their activism willingly, our burdens are largely inherited and not of our own choosing. Yet, somewhat ironically, our efforts in trying to win our fathers' freedom has given us firsthand experience to the anti-democratic, anti-human-rights practices they fought against and has thus instilled in all of us a genuine conviction that China must change. But we often lack our fathers' courage and brazenness and, as young women just trying to make our way in the world, find it difficult to share their all-consuming commitment to political reform. And so, despite our constant campaigning, our fathers continue to languish in prison, causing us to doubt our work.
But I know it is a privilege to be given this mission, to take part in such a noble cause. Honouring our fathers' sacrifices doesn't mean we must all become extraordinary democracy and human rights activists ourselves. But it gives us a chance to stand on the right side of history, and to make our own small contribution to human progress. By speaking out for them, we are made better, our lives are made richer, and our perspectives are broadened. And for that we can be thankful.
Second, I remind myself is that we are not alone. Confronting the ever more powerful Chinese government can feel isolating and lonely. But seeing students in Hong Kong, persevering in their struggle for the right to choose their own leaders and our friends from Tibet working patiently and against tremendous odds to win a measure of freedom, we remember that our fathers' imprisonment is part of a much larger struggle for basic rights. And given that these allies are often facing challenges considerably more daunting than our own, we need only look to them for wisdom, inspiration, and support.
Finally, I take comfort in the fact that history tells us that no sacrifice for just causes is wasted and that progress is a cumulative effort. So while not all of our endeavors will have dramatic results, I believe they all move us in the right direction -- perhaps only slightly, perhaps even imperceptibly. But the important thing is that we keep moving. At the very least, every day that we choose to fight on, instead of giving up, contributes to keeping hope alive.
Part of our jobs as daughters of Chinese political prisoners, then -- the most important part -- is to stoke these embers of hope, by telling and retelling our fathers' stories, which are gradually becoming our own.
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