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report on The Society of WomenWriters Newsletter -August-September 2005

3632

August - September 2005 Report of Meetings April and May 2005 Page 6

June Report


Jill Morris




Jennifer Zeng, author of Witnessing History: one
woman''''s fight for freedom and Falun Gong published
by Alien and Unwin



In April, 2000, Jennifer Zeng was sent to a Chinese
labour camp for ''''re-education''''. Her experiences there
were harrowing and - it quickly became clear - her
memory of them still raw.

The reason for Jennifer''''s arrest and imprisonment was
her adherence to the beliefs and practices of Falun
Gong. One of a number ofqigong movements, Falun
Gong is an exercise and meditation practice that
advocates three principles: truthfulness, compassion,
forebearance.

Jennifer opened by telling us how overwhelmed she had
been by the freshly-announced defection and request for
Australian asylum other compatriot, Chen Yonglin.
Australia, she told us, should take seriously the
diplomat''''s claims that China has a thousand spies
operating in our country, with kidnapping of former
Chinese nationals as part of their brief. She herself had
experienced the feeling of being ''''watched'''' since her
arrival here three years ago. She warned that other
countries, too, had likewise been infiltrated.

Jennifer Zeng was born in 1966, the year the Cultural
Revolution began. In 1984, after finishing high school,
she moved from her native Sichuan to Beijing where
she completed a Masters degree in Science
(geochemistry). Some time later she contracted
Hepatitis C and became seriously ill. Seeking relief
from the physical distress that Hepatitis C inflicts, ''''I
tried other qigong (movements with a religious /philo-
sophic core) but none of them gave real benefits. After
one month of Falun Gong, my symptoms were gone''''.

Unfortunately for Jennifer, Falun Gong is a movement
that the Chinese government sees as a threat to its
authority. In April 2000, as mentioned, Jennifer was
arrested and sent for re-education - in a camp which she
described as a ''''living hell on earth''''. Compared with a
Chinese labour camp, ''''the camps of Hitler and the Gulag
(were) far less cruel''''.

Like other inmates, Jennifer had to perform forced
labour, making garments - ''''for sixteen hours a day,
sometimes with no sleep at all''''. All these garments, said
Jennifer, are exported. You might even be wearing a
garment that I made''''.

The main purpose of this camp - and others like them -
is ''''to crush the will of prisoners. The police tell the
guards to torture to the best of their ability'''' - with the

less than zealous ones themselves likely to be subjected
to torture in their turn.

A favourite punishment is sleep deprivation. Jennifer
mentioned one woman who became insane following
fifteen days and nights without sleep, compounded by
psychological torture. The use of electric prods was
another measure commonly used. Subjected to such
treatment, Jennifer on one occasion ended up losing
consciousness.

After six months of enduring and witnessing such
horrors, ''''a voice came to me. I must write a book about
these crimes which should not exist in the twenty-first
century''''.

Coming to this decision was one thing. Implementing it
was another matter. Before she could write the book,
Jennifer had first to get out of the camp. And before she
could do that, she had first to satisfy the authorities by
denouncing Falun Gong. This Jennifer decided to do, in
October 2000, and was then faced with a particular
refinement of cruelty. As proof that her denunciation
was bona fide, she was required also to torture other
inmates. Jennifer''''s naked emotion in telling of this is,
something none of us will quite put from our minds.

One month after her release, Jennifer started her book.
In doing so she ''''[had] difficulty as a non-writer trying to
find the words to express my experience''''. Her task was
made the harder by her needing to relive the trauma of
mat experience. Having completed a portion of it,
Jennifer copied it to two floppy discs, wiping the hard
disc clean. These floppy discs she contrived to send out
of China to a friend in New Zealand.

In September 2001, Jennifer managed to come to this
country, having secured a visa with the help of an
Australian. Once here, she had still to live with
uncertainty. Would she be granted refugee status? (It
took two years). Would she find a job? And there was
constantly that fear of being ''''watched''''.

Despite these preoccupations and uncertainties,
Jennifer''''s priority remained the completion other book.

In a voice mat-was a tumble of emotions, Jennifer now
read to us a passage from the book''''s preface. In it she
speaks of the driving purpose behind her writing of it
and the fact that, Tor this I am prepared to sacrifice my
life''''.

''''It''''s happening every day,'''' she told us regarding the
ongoing persecution of Falun Gong members, two
thousand of whom had been tortured to death in the past
six years. ''''I want the Australian people and government
to know. This kind of people is not to be trusted. It is
not wise to deal with people you don''''t understand. I''''m
crying my heart out for the world to know the real
China that''''s under the curtain today.''''

Central to the discussion that followed Jennifer''''s speech
was the question as to why the government is so bent on
eradicating Falun Gong. ''''Why does it label the
movement an "evil cult"?'''' The answer mainly lies in the
fact that the Chinese government is a centralised one.
As such it sees as vital the maintenance of rigid control
over its teeming millions. In introducing Jennifer,
Valerie Pybus told us that on a trip she had made to
China she ''''had never seen human beings so controlled''''.
Against that must be set the fact that, in the last seven
years, Falun Gong membership has grown so rapidly
that it outweighs Communist party numbers. Add to
this the fact that Falun Gong, though very loosely
organised, subscribes to a non-materialistic view oflife-
a view inimical to the government''''s thrust to economic
development above all else. Unable to reconcile the
opposing views, the Chinese government has -
regrettably-resorted to persecution and repression.

Understanding the Chinese government''''s motives does
nothing to excuse them. ''''We are all a little non-plussed
(at them)'''', said Dorothy Keyworth, in her vote of thanks
to Jennifer. Essentially, Falun Gong adherents were
''''practising being good''''. Two of Dorothy''''s abiding
memories, after reading Jennifer''''s book, were the vision
of the unfortunates being tortured with electric prods
and the vision of''''all those women in a cell, knitting
fifteen hours a day.''''

To Valerie Pybus, the last word: ''''I challenge you all to
read this book. It should be compulsory reading for the
younger generation.''''

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