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China 18 member Zhu Yufu's son visits US, discusses hardships faced by families of prisoners

Monday, November 17, 2014

China Aid founder and president, Bob Fu, accompanied Zhu
Ang, center, during an interview with Radio Free Asia reporter
Ms. Zhang Min. (Photo: China Aid)
China Aid Association

(Washington—Nov. 17, 2014) In late October, China Aid helped Zhu Ang, the son of the imprisoned pro-democracy advocate Zhu Yufu, travel to the United States to attend leadership training and visit family members living in the U.S. Zhu Ang’s father, Zhu Yufu, is a member of the China 18 campaign and is serving a seven-year sentence for writing a poem on democracy. 

In October 2013, China Aid helped facilitate Dr. Devra Marcus and Vice President of China Aid Kody Kness’ travel to China in an attempt to visit Zhu Yufu in prison and request that he be able to receive a medical examination as Zhu’s health was deteriorating, including exacerbating heart complications. Unfortunately, Marcus and Kness’ requests to visit Zhu Yufu and arrange for a medical examination were denied. 

However, while in China, Marcus and Kness were able to spend time with Zhu Yufu’s family and better understand the difficulties they experience as family members of an imprisoned pro-democracy advocate. It appeared that the family’s ability to find employment or create community were significantly strained due to the stigma of being associated with human rights and democracy advocates, especially those in prison.

Zhu Ang, like most family members of human rights defenders and pro-democracy advocates in China, faces extreme difficulties securing employment and creating a life in China, which he elaborated on in the interview below. These family members face persecution from the Chinese government and are often ostracized from society simply because of their family members’ attempts to peacefully advocate for human rights and democracy in China. 

Zhu Ang’s sister, facing similar difficulties, has recently secured employment in Japan, where she currently lives with family members. However, Zhu Yufu’s wife remains in China and refuses to leave her husband, though supports her children’s travels to the U.S. and Japan in order to have the opportunities that they could never have in China. 

China Aid continues to support the family member’s of those working at their peril to advocate for religious freedom and basic human rights in China, and we invite you to be a part of these stories. 

China Aid: First of all, please give a brief introduction to the experiences of your father, Mr. Zhu Yufu.

Zhu Ang: It was at the end of 1978 that my father first joined the democratic movement. As one of the founders, he devoted himself to the Democratic Wall movement in Hangzhou. In 1979, he founded “April 5 Monthly,” a major pro-democracy publication in Hangzhou, and he was elected as an editor. After that, he was summoned many times by the authorities, and his home was searched many times. In 1989, he was again summoned for supporting the student movement. In June 1998, he actively devoted himself to planning the founding of the Democracy Party of China. After its Zhejiang Planning Committee was founded on June 25, he went into the streets on June 30 to distribute flyers, [called] “Public Declaration of the Founding of the Zhejiang Planning Committee of the Democracy Party of China.” For this, he was detained for 48 hours by the police.

CA: As I learn about Zhu Yufu’s story, I feel very shocked. First of all, I’m shocked at the brutality and vulgarity with which the Chinese government suppresses the pro-democracy movements. In the meantime, I also feel shocked that in the past 30 years, your father devoted himself to pro-democracy movements out of his own will with passion and persisted in his goal and became braver and braver at each setback. Could you talk about the motivations that made him passionately pursue democracy?

ZA: To tell the story of my family, I’d like to start with my grandfather. I have never seen my grandfather. It is said that he became a very strict man due to the hardships in his life. He would vent all his anger only onto my father. Once, he beat my father with a carrying pole, [used to carry heavy loads over one’s shoulder], until it was broken. Though my father told me this story with a smile when I was a child, I was still terrified. This might be my father’s initial motivation for fighting against spiritual repression. [Laughs] Since my grandfather once worked as a clerical worker in the Kuomintang government in Nanjing, he was publicly denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Unable to endure the insult, he drank some pesticide and killed himself. When my father found him the next day, my grandfather’s body was already ice-cold. After that, my father helped his mother raise his brothers and sisters, who were still young.

Once when I visited my father in his prison, he told me this story again. He said that at that moment, he suddenly felt like he would have to take the burden of supporting the whole family. He asked me, in all seriousness, whether I could do the same thing if he were no longer in the world. This made me speechless and tremble with fear. Now that I think back on it, I know he had made the worst plans.

While in the U.S., Zhu Ang was able to visit with his
aunt Zhu Xiaoyan, center, and his cousin. (Photo: China Aid)
CA: When your father was imprisoned, you were still in elementary school. How do your father’s experiences affect your life?

ZA: After [his imprisonment], I was raised by my grandmother until I entered middle school. When he participated in the Democracy Wall movement in 1979, I was not born yet. When there was suppression after the student movement in 1989, he was detained for a month. My grandmother took me to the prison, but we couldn’t see him. I was in 2nd grade then. For this visit, I had to ask the teacher if I could leave, but I dared not tell him that my father was suspected of having violated the law. So I told him an excuse as instructed by my grandmother. However, the teacher saw through this, and I was so worried that tears fell from my eyes. The teacher then relented and gave me permission to leave without questioning me further. In the fragmented memories of my childhood, I know my father loves me very much. Once he brought me to a train when the driver was not there, and we secretly added some coal to the furnace chamber there. Another time, he pointed at the woodcarvings on the gate of Huqingyu Hall and told me the legend of how the White Woman stole herbal medicine to save her husband. I also remember that once my wrist was cut open by glass, and I cried, and he ran to the hospital with me in his arms.

Such episodes in life with my father are too few. During the time my sister and I grew up, he was always absent. When my middle school teacher assigned us an essay describing our fathers, I could only write about faint, trivial parts of his life. At that time, my life was relatively peaceful. Several years later, there were really storms in our life. Right after the founding of the Democracy Party of China in 1998, it was immediately suppressed and several founders were sentenced to prison. My father was detained and investigated for several months before he was released. The authorities claimed that his case would be handled separately. After he was released, my father was still fearless and continued to engage in the organization work in the Zhejiang area. By this time, I was already in the 12th grade and basically knew the overall political situation in China, and I could now tell right from wrong. It was in the early period of the Internet, and I helped my father send and receive mail and contact friends. In 1999, he was once again arrested and was sentenced to a long imprisonment of seven years. The jailors watched over him closely, and he persisted in his struggle and never pleaded guilty. He never yielded in exchange for even a day off his sentence.

CA: I’ve heard that you were also once detained and sentenced to prison. Did you always participate in democratic movements with your father?

ZA: While I understand my father’s choice, I have never participated in his activities. I haven’t inherited any art genes from my family. My grandfather could write very beautiful script in small Chinese characters, and my father has some accomplishment in photography, painting, calligraphy, music and sculpture. In sharp contrast, I had outstanding abilities in math, physics, chemistry and other natural sciences. I always tried to find answers where adults couldn’t. When my schoolmates were drawing five-pointed stars, I taught them to draw stars that have 20 points. When they counted how many sides a cube has, I tested them and asked how many sides a five-dimensional cube has. When they used pens to calculate two to the 10th power, I used a calculator and came up with a number that had more than 300 digits. Then I told them that the number is the answer for two to the 1,000th power.

Therefore, I was given special attention by the teachers, and I won many awards in math contests. I am an introverted person by nature, and I don’t have interest in socializing. However, I was often assigned leadership functions in the classroom. I often got up early in the morning and ate instant noodles before I got on my bike to go to school. After my father was sentenced to prison in 1999, I was accepted into Zhejiang University with a high score from the entrance exam. Though I was outstanding in my studies, I never had a chance to be assigned leadership functions in class. The academic vibe and the unhealthy habits there disappointed me. After graduation, I only had a very small space in which I could find jobs due to my father’s situation. Finally, I found a small company where I made a living by depending on my own abilities.

CA: You distanced yourself from this matter. Why were you still taken into custody?

ZA: That was in 2007. The Public Security Bureau searched my residence while they were trying to nab a friend of my father’s. It happened when I was getting off work, and my father sent me a short text message to tell me not to go home. Since I thought I was innocent in this matter, I didn’t care too much about it. When I was walking upstairs, I found a crowd of police officers at the door. After I realized what their intention was, I turned and went downstairs. The police officers followed me downstairs, grabbed me outside my building, and demanded that I show them my ID. They also wanted me to go to the police station with them. Since I knew I had not violated any law, I wouldn’t listen to them. At last, the police forcefully caught me by pinning me on the ground and grabbing my arms. There was an excruciating pain in my joints, and I shouted. At that moment, my father was headed our way from his house. He crossed the street in big strides, pushed the police officers away, and condemned them for arresting me for doing nothing. The police immediately called for reinforcement, and several people surrounded my father and me, took us to a vehicle, and went to the police station. On the second day, we were placed under criminal detention and thrown into a detention center on the charge of undermining the implementation of the law.

CA: Though you were thrown into a prison, you really didn’t commit a crime. Relatively speaking, did you have a better experience in there than you thought?

ZA: Once I entered the detention center, I experienced first-hand all that I had heard about the prison life. Such life is about the same for all inmates. The first few days were the hardest. Generally speaking, inmates in the same case are assigned to different cells. In order to set rules and show his authority, the head jailer looked for trouble every day. They beat me until my ribs were fractured. For two months, I couldn’t sleep on my side at night. However, I felt peaceful at heart. While most inmates can’t eat when they are first imprisoned, I ate my first meal clean in an attempt to restore my health as soon as possible so that my father wouldn’t worry about me. Once I hit upon the thought that my father has to go through this type of torture every time he is imprisoned and that he never told us about this, I felt sad at heart.

My father found a way to pinpoint my location in the prison. After that, he often made efforts to collect some books and newspapers and had them brought over to me. In the idle prison cells, this is a precious commodity. The detention center often held meetings and encouraged inmates to inform on one another in order to win merits. During each meeting, all the inmates were brought to a lobby while heavily armed police officers stood on the sides. This was the only opportunity for my father to see me. Fearless, he shouted my name in a loud voice. When I heard him, I waved in response. When he saw that everything was fine with me, he felt at ease.

During the court trial, my little aunt came to visit. My father and I walked into the court. She called me by my name, and I turned back and greeted her. Tears came down her face. Our family members, who love each other, can only use this opportunity to see each other. As my father is a repeat offender, he was sentenced to a long imprisonment of two years while I was sentenced to probation and was taken home on the same day. After that, I was regarded as a criminal, and I lost my job. Fortunately, a friend of my father’s knew my situation, and he happened to need some technical talents, so he hired me. This way, I could just make ends meet. From then on, I’ve been the target of surveillance by some government departments. Every few months, police officers would come to my home and learn about my recent state of mind.

CA: When you were imprisoned, was your grandmother still there?

ZA: No. She is no longer with us. Before my father was first released from prison, my grandma had passed away, and she didn’t see my father before she died. My father feels very sorry about this. Grandma had led a hard life. She was widowed in middle age, and through hardship, she raised six children. In her old age, she had to face my father’s imprisonment. She raised me in hardship, and she repeatedly brought me to see my father in prison. All these memories are etched in my heart and can never be erased. After my grandma passed away, my father had no more hesitancy. As soon as he got out of the prison, he got in contact with his old friends. The Domestic Security Protection Squad (DSPS) agents and police officers have always bothered him. Multiple times a week, they came to harass him at his home, but he didn’t care about it at all.

CA: How are your mother and your younger sister?

Zhu Ang: My mother is a member of the Communist Party. She is diligent and honest and pursues advancement in her career and thinking. She joined the Party before my father joined the Democracy Party of China. However, there isn’t ideological conflict between her and my father. As a law-abiding Party member at the bottom of the organization, she pays Party fees every month, attends meetings occasionally, and doesn’t have many demands. As a family, we usually don’t talk much about political ideologies. At the dinner table, we usually talk about trifles in our life, and after that, we get busy with our own things. Since my father was sentenced to prison, my mother took the burdens of the family upon herself, and she does not abandon my father. In the meantime, my younger sister studied very hard and completed her graduate program at the China Academy of Fine Arts. She is an introverted and peaceful person and is gentle by nature. Now, she’s almost 30. Mother has been asking her friends to help find a boyfriend for my sister. These boyfriends all liked her at first. However, when they learned about our family, they all left her. My family has suffered the full extent of inhospitality and isolation by the Chinese society. I sometimes even wonder whether it is worth the sacrifices that my father has made.

CA: Your father was arrested for the third time because of a short poem. What kind of poem was it?

ZA: This is a short poem published on the Internet. The date was March 5, 2011. There are 12 lines and 108 characters. For this, my father was sentenced to seven years in prison. For each line, he got six months of prison time. This is the poem:

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
With your own two feet
It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
A song belongs to everyone.
From your own throat
It’s time to voice the song in your heart.

It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
China belongs to everyone.
Of your own will
It’s time to choose what China shall be.


CA: What is your father’s condition right now?

ZA: After 13 years of prison life, my father has developed many diseases for which he hasn’t gotten effective treatment. He suffered a perforated eardrum, which affected his hearing. He also has a herniated disc, heart disease, indigestion, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insomnia. He used to be a tall, energetic man with strong arms, quick thoughts, and a resonant voice. The image of such a man has faded in my memory. Now, I only see a gray-haired, low-spirited, gaunt and shaky old man who is short of breath.

CA: Can you talk about your father’s Christian belief?

ZA: After my father finished serving his second sentence and was released to come back home, he began to follow the advice of his Christian friends and studied Christian doctrines. People stood guard at his door 24 hours a day. When he went out, two people always accompanied him. He was basically in a state of house arrest. He could only contact his friends on the Internet or the phone. Even with so many restrictions, he still managed to be baptized and became a Christian. Occasionally, he went to church. His fellow Christians are all my elders. They began to talk to me about Christian ideas.

After my father was sentenced for the third time, I became furious. Why does the government persecute my family again and again? Why does it torture such an old man who doesn’t have any weapons? Why does it not let my family enjoy a moment of peace? Our strength as individuals is so small; where should we go to look for help? Just because of this short poem, the evil people can do unscrupulous evils. What a horrible era we live in! At my weakest and lowest point, I took up a Bible and learned the sacrifices Jesus made for the world 2,000 years ago. I was relieved to know that the Lord has already given His kingdom to people like my father. Beyond my horizon, there are many kind-hearted and righteous people who are worried about my father and who are worried about all the persecuted people.

What I have seen in America has confirmed how God blesses such a country of kind-hearted people. My abilities as an individual are so small. However, like what the Lord has said, one should not be afraid. As long as one believes in Him and has faith, things will change for the better. While still in China, I was so desperate and was like a beast, struggling to extricate himself from the thorns. However, there has always been the light of hope in my heart. In the blink of an eye, I have already got on a brand-new road in this blessed country. I have no doubt the Lord will save my father and all the prisoners of conscience who are suffering with him. The Lord may even pardon, forgive and save my motherland China because of the sacrifices made by these righteous people. I firmly believe that whoever endures to the end will be saved.


China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Contact
Tel: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: r.ritchie@chinaaid.org
Website: www.chinaaid.org | www.monitorchina.org


"Bob Fu has dedicated his life to bringing freedom of religion to the Chinese people. His story is a testimony to the power of faith and an inspiration to people struggling to break free from oppression."
—Mrs. Laura Bush

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