Post-Gazette, Feb. 16, 2003
By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Cailu Xu, a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh, wants to send a Valentine to his wife.
But the Oakland resident knows it probably will never reach her without help from U.S. authorities. That’s because his wife, Xiaomei Jia, 41, remains jailed in a notorious prison in China.
On the front of the Valentine, two butterflies take flight, symbolizing the 40-year-old Chinese engineer’s hope that his wife of 14 years will be freed and travel 6,800 miles to join him in the United States.
Since November 2001, Jia has been held in Beijing’s Female Forced Labor Camp, a place where prisoners are reportedly deprived of sleep and proper nutrition, and denied use of the toilet, exposed to extreme temperatures and tortured with electric batons.
Jia and her husband practice Falun Gong, a Chinese form of meditation and five slow physical exercises designed to improve the mind, body and spirit. Practitioners say they strive for truth, forbearance and compassion.
A variation of an ancient Chinese practice called qigong, Falun Gong gained widespread popularity in China after Li Hongzhi, a former clerk, lectured there from 1992 to 1994. Li later left China.
Falun Gong was banned in July 1999 after Chinese president Jiang Zemin called it an “evil cult.”
WHAT IS FALUN GONG?
Falun Gong is a Buddhist-like practice that combines exercise and meditation aimed at self-improvement of the mind, body and spirit. In their daily lives, practitioners strive to demonstrate the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
China banned the group in July 1999 after 10,000 practitioners surrounded Communist Party headquarters in Beijing, subsequently imposing strict penalties for membership on what the government calls an “evil cult.”
Communist leaders traditionally worry that any group capable of organizing people outside the party might accumulate political power, and China’s president, Jiang Zemin, particularly detests the organization.
Falun Gong activists say Chinese security forces have killed hundreds of followers during the campaign to crush the sect.
At least 10,000 have been incarcerated in labor camps and jails.
Falun Gong’s controversial leader, Li Hongzhi, has lived in the United States since 1995. China has issued an international warrant for his arrest and has asked Interpol, the international police coordination agency, to help capture him. Interpol has declined to help.
— John Pomfret, The Washington Post
Xu fears his wife, also an engineer, is being brainwashed and tortured by prison guards. Many people who have been released from the prison report being beaten and tortured.
“In China, a forced labor camp is a horrible place, just like a Nazi concentration camp. She has been told, ‘If you give up Falun Gong, we will let you go,’ ” Xu said during an interview.
Xu and Jia met at Beijing Institute in 1987 and married a year later.
Beginning in 1996, the couple practiced Falun Gong outside their apartment building.
In June of 2000, Xu was detained for about 30 hours in a police station after meditating and exercising outside the couple’s apartment building.
Jia was detained on several occasions at police stations. In an effort to avoid arrest, Jia left home in October 2001 and lived in a suburb of Beijing. A month later, Chinese authorities arrested her while she was passing out fliers about Falun Gong.
After her arrest, she was held in a detention center. Xu visited the facility twice and brought her clothes but was never allowed to see her.
Xu lived in fear after his wife was jailed. He left China in July to attend an academic conference in Boston and never returned. After living in Maryland for four months, he moved to Pittsburgh when he found a job at Pitt.
The couple’s son, Tianchu Xu, 13, lives with an aunt in Beijing.
Xu fled to America, he said, because, “In China I can do nothing.” He hopes that Pennsylvania’s senators and other U.S. officials can help him persuade Chinese authorities to let his wife go.
The son of peasant farmers, Xu survived the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976. During this time, universities were closed and Communist Party leaders insisted the country’s residents adopt the teachings of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
In 1978, Xu entered Zhejiang University, where he studied material science and engineering for four years.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1982, Xu did graduate work at Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials for 2 1/2 years. He received a master’s degree in January 1985.
In 1990, the Chinese government awarded a scholarship to Xu so he could study in Munich, Germany. There, he earned his doctorate in engineering and did post-doctoral work. He returned to Beijing in 1996 and took a job at Tsinghua University, a prestigious school in China’s capital city.
Through the government-controlled media, Xu said, Communist Party leaders began criticizing Falun Gong practitioners as early as 1997.
A year later, police bureaus in China sent out notices to each precinct, saying authorities would investigate Falun Gong practitioners. In three Chinese provinces — Fujan, Xingjiang and Liaoning — the homes of Falun Gong practitioners were ransacked, and they were arrested even before the investigation began.
Chinese officials tried to disrupt Falun Gong practitioners by aiming fire hoses at them as they meditated in public parks in the morning, Xu said.
On July 20, 1999, China began a nationwide crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners, harassing and intimidating them.
During the Chinese New Year of 2001, the couple went to visit Jia’s parents. Authorities arrived at her parents’ door, Xu said, puncturing it and blocking the entrance to the home for three days.
When Xu and Jia returned home, they found that their phone lines had been cut and the fuse box in their residence had disappeared.
“You have to think exactly as Communist leaders think,” Xu said, adding that that is what Chinese leaders mean by the term “re-education.”
As each day passes, Xu fears more and more for his wife’s mental and physical well-being.
“She didn’t do anything wrong. She was put into a forced labor camp because Jiang Zemin is wrong.”
Ying Wan, a Monroeville woman who practices Falun Gong with Xu, said the Communist Party did not like the fact that in the mid-1990s, between 70 million and 100 million people in China began doing the meditations and exercises, often in public parks.
“The Communist Party does not like ordinary people gathering. They don’t feel comfortable. They just want to control everyone,” Wan said.
On weekends, Xu practices Falun Gong with Hong Ming Jin, a software engineer who lives in Shadyside, and Wan, who is pursuing a doctorate in education at Ohio State University.
Xu communicates with his wife’s two sisters by phone and e-mail, but wonders if they are being candid because the government monitors communications.
The sisters were imprisoned in the same labor camp but released last year.
Xu tried writing to his wife, but her sisters told him she never received the letter.
If Xu could write to his wife, he said, he would tell her: “You are still a good person and still a good wife to me. I love you and I will always love you.”