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The thought crimes of Jennifer Zeng

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The thought crimes of Jennifer Zeng

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G''''day. Chris Saliba is a regular contributor. His last piece for Webdiary was There’s a riot goin’ on. His blog is here.

The thought crimes of Jennifer Zeng

by Chris Saliba

‘Beijing’s top leaders all know of you,’ he said, ‘and they all agree that you are a key member of Falun Gong. They were going to arrest you sooner or later.’ I said I was a very ordinary Falun Gong practitioner; I was not even an assistant, so why did they see me as being key to anything?’ ‘Because of your thoughts,’ he said, after a long pause. ‘The law can punish people for their thoughts?’ I smiled. Witnessing History, Jennifer Zeng

When former Chinese diplomat Mr Chen Yonglin did a runner from his post at the Sydney consulate last May, he threw out in his wake enough extraordinary claims to keep the Murdoch press in headlines for years.

In his May 25 letter to the Department of Immigration, he confessed to the monitoring of ‘Five Poisonous Groups’, including Falun Gong practitioners and pro-democracy activists. "The job is majorly focusing on implementing the Chinese Government policy of prosecuting Falun Gong practitioners overseas," he explained to the Immigration Department, "which is seriously against my consciousness and will". In Chen’s rudimentary English, he described his anguish in near Shakespearian language, writing ‘my hair turns white quickly in the last four years for frequent nightmares.’

That was just for starters. Over the coming days and weeks his claims became even more and more bizarre. Australians reeled at what seemed like some bad b-movie plot. The unflappable Chinese Ambassador Madame Fu demurred, "We are very busy, very, very busy working to develop our own country. So these kind of stories is really very absurd."

There were a thousand spies working in Australia, Chen said. A man had been drugged, kidnapped and shipped back to China on a fishing boat. The 6-10 office most certainly did exist. Chen also assured his listeners that the Chinese Government feared it was being undermined by Falun Gong practitioners abroad. Guilty countries included Australia, Canada and the United States.

On June 22nd, Mr Chen held a press conference and elaborated on his claims, maintaining that "Chinese officials have successfully built close personal relationships with their Australian counterparts, all for the purpose of establishing leverage in the Australian government". This included economic carrots being dangled in order to get Australia to avert its eyes on human rights issues. Chen even all but accused Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of appeasement:

In March of 2002 Tang Jaixuan, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited Australia and questioned the Australian government on certain issues, including issues related to Falun Gong. On the day before Tang Jiaxuan arrived in Canberra, Alexander Downer, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, signed an article banning Falun Gong practitioners from setting up signs and banners or using loud speakers to protest in front of the Chinese embassy. Since then Downer has continued to sign similar articles every month, which has made Tang Jiaxuan very happy.

The potential for major embarrassment loomed ominously. Afterall, our prime minister has described the Communist authorities as ‘our Chinese friends’. Instead of granting Mr Chen immediate political asylum, the would-be defector, with his rich bag of state secrets, found himself unceremoniously dumped in a DIMIA queue. By some amazing process (considering DIMIA’s turn around times), Mr Chen was granted a permanent protection visa a mere six weeks later.

What should we make of these extraordinary claims? Are there Chinese spies in Australia, monitoring so-called ‘poisonous groups’? Does the infamous 6-10 Office, allegedly created to crack down on Falun Gong practitioners, really exist? Speak to anyone who’s endured the country’s re-education through labour camps and they will tell you yes, yes and yes to all of the above.

Jennifer Zeng (her name in Chinese is Zheng Zeng) spent twelve months in a re-education camp. Her crime: practicing Falun Gong. In her book Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight For Freedom and Falun Gong, she describes a year in ‘hell’.

During her ‘re-education’, Zeng endured sleep deprivation, torture with electric prods, extreme physical hardship and twenty hour days spent in forced labour. She was made to recite labour camp regulations for sixteen hour stretches, and attend lectures to study the People’s Daily editorials. Being verbally abused for hours on end was also part and parcel of the re-education process. In a scene that would be funny were it not so serious, Zeng describes one policewoman giving an anti-Falun Gong lecture and whipping herself up into such a frightful frenzy that she almost fell off her podium.

Zeng describes in agonising detail one of the torture methods. Inmates were made to squat outside in the full glare of the sun all day, lowering their heads and clasping them.

My legs went numb and started to tremble, I could hardly breathe and I thought I was going to vomit. I had heard people talk of a day feeling like a year but now I knew in the deepest recesses of my being what it was for a minute to feel like a year, for a second to feel like a year. So many times I felt I couldn’t take any more. I wanted to collapse on the ground and desperately hoped that I might pass out so that I would be numb to this terrible anguish. But no matter how I longed to pass out, it just wouldn’t happen. Instead , I vividly felt every intense second of excruciating pain.

Then there was the horror of having your body violated with electric shocks from a prod. After a bout of refusing to cooperate with camp officers, Zeng was dragged into the middle of a courtyard and assaulted with a barrage of electric shocks. After leaving their battered victim to go and torture another inmate in the courtyard, the two officers later returned to Zeng.

Both of them were prodding me but I wouldn’t let go of my knees. The crackle grew louder and I could feel the current rippling through my body. As it grew in intensity I squeezed my eyes shut, mustering all my will against the black despair sweeping over me and against this monstrous evil threatening to engulf me.

The whole notion of the re-education through labour camps is an interesting one. In 1979, China passed the Reeducation Through Labour Act. Through this legislation, individuals can be incarcerated for one to three years, solely at the discretion of local officials, as happened to Jennifer Zeng. It was a local policeman, Officer Wu, who had Zeng imprisoned.

Indeed, the entire law making system should be briefly considered here. If the same system were applied in Australia, it would be deemed lawless. As Maria Hsia Chang wrote in her recent book Falun Gong: The End of Days:

The CCP government seems to have convinced itself that instituting laws is all that is required to for China to have the rule of law. But it takes more than the existence of laws to make a rule of law; these laws must be approved by a duly constituted authority.

That duly constituted body in China is the National People’s Congress, which meets once a year for a week! Thus one fifth of the world’s population has its laws passed in one week. Added to this mix is the fact that the National People’s Congress is stacked with politically orthodox communist members.

The Chinese legal system has other problems, such as retroactive laws. When Beijing banned Falun Gong on July 22, 1999, the actual law was not passed by the National People’s Congress until three months later in October. Imagine if John Howard declared a law existent, without it passing through the Senate. Even with his government’s Senate majority, law making is still no picnic for the prime minister.

As mentioned above, Falun Gong practitioners often find themselves denied a trial, and simply dispatched to a camp for ‘re-education’, a euphemism that allows China to claim it isn’t imprisoning people.

That re-education process, as described by Jennifer Zeng, has five stages. Guarantee, renunciation, exposing and repudiation, going public and finally, becoming an education aide. Becoming an Education aide means that you must help the police to help others reform, employing the methods used by camp officers. In other words, torturing fellow inmates. When (and if) you go public you must read out your repudiation in an auditorium in front of the whole camp. The process is videotaped and archived. Once you have achieved this you become a ‘typically reformed student’.

Does this sound like thought control? Well, that’s what the aim is. As part of the reform process, inmates are made to write ‘thought reports’. As Zeng explains:

There was never any shortage of pens and paper in the camp, as we were always being forced to write ‘thought reports’. Each time we had to sit through a ‘lecture’ or to ‘study’ an article or broadcast attacking Falun Gong, we had to write a report about the conclusions we had reached after our ‘study’. Sometimes we even had to write a thought report after a family visit.

For the most time, Zeng’s time in camp was spent knitting sweaters twenty hours a day for export, including Western countries. One multi-national she worked for was Nestle. The camp received a rush order for 100,000 toy rabbits, to be made for the corporate giant. Falun Gong practitioners worked around the clock, under police guard, for three months to get the job done.

Anyone watching the ABC’s Lateline programme on June 23rd would have marvelled to watch Trade Minister Mark Vaile delicately disentangle trade and human rights in our dealings with China. The newly elected Nationals leader explained:

What I do say, Tony, and where you are leading with this question, and I continue to make this point, that we do have an ongoing dialogue with China on human rights issues and we will continue to be candid and frank on that front, but at the same time we maintain an ability to continue to enhance our economic relationship with China which is going to be so critically important for the future development of the Australian economy and we intend to keep it that way.

Zeng in her book discusses how the forced labour camps form a part of the Chinese economy:

Forced-labour re-education camps have an annual profit target but negligible labour costs, which has given them an unbeatable competitive edge. Tiantanghe’s (the camp where Zeng was imprisoned) steadiest customers are local village and township enterprises, who take on export orders and pass the work on to the camp for very little outlay, making a tidy profit in the process. Two brands I know of that do this are Shunhua and Fenghuang (Phoenix) knitting mills and sweater factories. Foremen from these processing factories were in and out of the labour camp teaching inmates new technology and checking on quality, so that quality controllers such as Zhang Lei were on very familiar terms.

Zeng, who was granted refugee status by the Australian Government in 2003, is currently working with the ABC on a documentary about labour camp products. I asked her if she knew of any other multi nationals she had inadvertently worked for. No, she said, adding:

To be frank, while in the labour camp, the only feeling I had towards life is tiredness; the only longing I had was one more minute of sleep. Every day I worked like a machine or an idiot and fought so hard to achieve my quota. I did not have any ability to think or ponder about anything. I even had no time or ability to miss my family. The only two thoughts that were constantly on my mind were: when will we be allowed to sleep today; what kind of trick or torture method will they use next to “reform” us...

Although she does know through her Falun Gong network that products made in labour camps have made their way to Australia’s supermarket shelves and bargain stores.

Several other Falun Gong practitioners even discovered labour camp products in Coles, Woolworths, and bargain shops everywhere in Sydney,’ Zeng said. Other products that Falun Gong practitioners were forced to make will be familiar to Australian consumers, including things like Christmas decorations, mobile phone bags, silk flowers, hand knitted hats, slippers, teddy bears, umbrellas and a variety of clothing items.

I asked Jennifer Zeng what she thought Mr Chen Yonglin’s claim of a thousand spies working in Australia. "I was not surprised at all by Mr Chen’s claims," she said. "My family back in China warned me more than a dozen times that they were not only warned, but also convinced by Chinese authorities that everything I am doing and saying here is monitored."

(Interestingly, in the midst of my email communications with Jennifer Zeng, her computer was targeted and corrupted with a malicious file. Jennifer sent me a comprehensive virus report, which found that the an email attachment contained a ‘Trojan that installs itself as a service and then connects to an address in China’. Furthermore, the report found, ‘None of the files appear in a search on common viruses, so this is definitely a tailored attack on Jennifer’s computer’. For more details on the sophistication of the Chinese Communist Party’s internet filtering system, its high-tech surveillance system ‘Golden Shield’, and the major Western corporations that work with the Chinese police and internal security apparatus, should read this Washington Post article.)

Zeng feels the number of a thousand spies a credible number due to the volume of Falun Gong practitioners in Australia, coupled with the Chinese Communist Party’s intense paranoia and suspicion about their activities. Remember, state propaganda designates the movement as an evil cult, and believes that the Falun Gong menace is now not only a domestic problem, but has become globalised, a malignant force active in many Western countries. "Mr Chen also mentioned that the Chinese Consulate has a black list of more than 800 Falun Gong practitioners. You can hardly achieve this (monitoring of Falun Gong) with only dozens of spies."

Are we only helping China further in its crackdown by turning a blind eye and keeping quiet on the subject, in the hope of winning more trade concessions? Zeng thinks so.

As far as I am concerned, the closed door human rights dialogue does no good at all. Mr Chen mentioned he read the summaries of the human rights dialogue in Beijing and did not see any cases raised. Another very good example is the case of a Melbourne resident, Mr Ouyang Yu’s brother, Mr Ouyang Ming. He had been listed on the report of Australia and China Human Rights Dialogue for two years, but in that time, Ouyang Ming suffered all kinds of torture in a Chinese labour camp and eventually was tortured to death. So in Mr Chen’s words, the human right dialogue is just a “show”. The saddest thing of all this is, yes, every single penny put in China could be used some way to help the CCP to persecute innocent people.

You would think that after successfully seeking asylum in Australia, Zeng would be free of the CCP’s tentacles, but this is not so. Not only does she have to put up with having her computer hacked into, there is also great suspicion in the Australian Chinese community of Falun Gong practitioners, who believe Communist Party propaganda. On her life in Australia, she says:

Many people in the Chinese community are either still deceived by the CCP propaganda against Falun Gong, or too fearful to befriend us. We are monitored, harassed, discriminated against and treated like “abnormal” persons. I did not expect this when I planned to escape to the “free world” back in China. However, I don’t complain. I know there is no free lunch in the world and we have to continue to fight our way to the end.

Jennifer Zeng’s year in hell reminded me of the ordeal that Winston Smith endured in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four. After being broken down physically and mentally through torture and brainwashing, Winston Smith finally says that he loves Big Brother. I asked Zeng what she thought of this analogy.

The idea of  Nineteen Eighty-Four would not have come into Orwell’s mind out of nowhere. Perhaps it is exactly for this day, for people in the West to understand the real face of the CCP regime. It is exactly like ‘Ingsoc’ no matter how the CCP wants to disguise this with its ‘opening to the outside world’. And the CCP has twisted the Chinese culture and language, re-written the whole history and all the dictionaries to create its own ‘Oceania’. And ‘thought criminals’! Didn’t the police of the CCP tell me that I was arrested because of my thoughts? How many “thought criminals” are still in the CCP gulags and jails?

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