Marching in an Independence Day Parade is not supposed to be a gut-wrenching experience, but for me last weekend in Philadelphia, it was. Don't get me wrong; I love playing my waist drum, in my waist-drum troupe. It's just that July 4th always triggers memories of the day I left behind my husband and child in China, to escape to America.
I recall secretly wiping away my tears so that my mom wouldn't see the depth of my sadness. I told my 1-month-old daughter, who was fast asleep, "I promise you a bright future, but for now, mommy has to leave you here in China."
It was a bittersweet moment. The future promised freedom in a new country and an end to persecution in China — where everyone I loved still lived.
While I was a medical student in China, I suffered from insomnia as well as severe back and abdominal pain. Shortly after I started practicing "Falun Gong" all of my ailments completely disappeared. For those who are not familiar with Falun Gong, it is a Chinese spiritual practice that consists of meditative qigong exercises and teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.
However, in July 1999, China's Communist Party Chief Jiang Zemin condemned the popular practice, fearing it was a source of ideological competition for the Communist Party. I became a target and was arrested four times. Police vehicles often parked outside my apartment on China's so-called "sensitive days," including national holidays.
I was first arrested on July 22, 1999 on the road to appeal for Falun Gong in Beijing, but I escaped the second day. I was next arrested in late October of the same year, in Jinan City, Shandong Province, while I was on a train; a police officer found my hand-copied Zhuan Falun (the main book of Falun Gong) in my bag.
In 2000, I was arrested and imprisoned for inviting two Falun Gong practitioners over for dinner. In China, three people gathering together can be considered as an illegal party. I recall looking out the window of my cell, where I was held for several months, and seeing young girls my age walking about, oblivious to the fact that I was being jailed simply because of my spiritual beliefs. I thought of throwing a piece of paper out the window with the words, "Please help rescue me!" scribbled on a piece of note paper.
The fourth time I was arrested was at my work place at a pharmaceutical company. I was taken to a brainwashing center and held there for 45 days.
After I got my PhD, although I got highest score in our school and published three papers, I was not able to find a job in my home city because of the arrests. Thus, I traveled to Nanjing City in 2003, where no one knew me. I was later hired and awarded two large research grants.
In 2004, I obtained my U.S. visa to begin my postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health. I couldn't hold back my tears. The one word that filled my heart was "freedom." I kept asking everyone in the visa office, "Is it true? Did I really get a visa to go to the United States?"
My family drove me to the airport, still fearing that the Chinese police would stop me there. After I had checked in my luggage, I walked directly to the plane, leaving my family — including my baby girl — behind.
My mother later complained, "Why didn't you take a second to look back at me?" I told her, "Because I still couldn't believe that I was finally escaping China! I only believed it was true when an immigration officer in the United States stamped my passport!"
Six months later, I was reunited with my husband and lovely daughter in Baltimore. Of course, none of this would've been possible without the help and support of the U.S. government.
This July 4th was my first as a U.S. citizen. It was a special treat glancing over at Vice President Joe Biden in the 2014 Philadelphia Independence Day Parade, while playing alongside my fellow Falun Gong practitioners in our waist drum troupe, despite the memories it stirred. If I had done anything like this in China, I would have been imprisoned and tortured. And if that's all that had happened to me, I would have felt lucky!
Multiple independent investigators have confirmed that tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners had been killed and their vital organs surgically removed against their will to fuel China's burgeoning and illegal organ trade.
Last year, the U.S. Congress introduced H.Res. 281, calling for an end to this immoral and barbaric practice. There are currently 180 co-sponsors to the resolution, including Maryland congressmen Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes, Andy Harris and Chris Van Hollen.
I sincerely hope that this resolution will be voted on — and passed — soon, to show that Americans will not stand silent in the face of China's egregious human rights abuses.
Dr. Yuwei Zhang is a research scientist at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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