Jennifer Zeng made the speech "From A Prisoner To A Writer" at a summit organized by Fire of Liberty Movement in New Zealand on April 7, 2007.
When I first joined the Independent Chinese Pen Center (ICPC) I said that I was not qualified to be a writer since I had only written one book "forced by the cruelty of the reality of life." In my heart, "writer" has a noble connotation. It represents responsibility and accomplishment. This laurel is reserved for those who have achieved scholarly accomplishments. It should not be used when referring to a "faker" like myself.
Perhaps the process of how I was forced to become a writer happens to fit the topic of this conference, which is the social responsibility of a writer. Therefore, please allow me to briefly explain the process of how I became a writer.
Back in October 2000, I was arrested in Beijing and sent to Xinan Female Labor Camp because I practice Falun Gong. It was the fourth and final time that I was arrested, which lasted half a year. During that time, my daily schedule was arranged to not even allow for a 30-second break. Various kinds of high-strain physical and psychological tortures, as well as forced labor dragged people to the edge of mental collapse every minute of every day. The things that happened to me as well as around me were incredibly cruel and go far beyond a person’s imagination and ability to endure. If I had not been there to experience it myself there would be no way for me to believe that something even more evil than what transpired in the Nazi concentration camps is actually happening in the 21st century, especially in the so-called "heart of the motherland," a place barely 20 kilometers away from Tiananmen Square in China. In order to force Falun Gong practitioners to give up their practice and accomplish the 95 percent transformation rate ordered by high-ranking officials, the police adopted the most terrible and evil torture methods known to exist on this planet. For example, they tied an unmarried female Falun Gong practitioner to a chair. Then, a couple of male police officers used 7 to 8 electric batons to shock her vagina, breasts, and head until she urinated on herself and lost consciousness for days. Afterwards, she was unable to walk for a long time due to injuries inflicted on her pudendum. In addition to the routine use of high-voltage electric batons, long-term sleep deprivation is another "routine" way of forcing people to follow orders. The personnel in the labor camp summarized that, "(We) don’t beat you and scold you, we don’t let you sleep and torture you to death!" The longest I was ever kept from sleeping was 15 days and nights. I held the record at that time. It was said that later this record was broken by someone who went a month without sleep! I once witnessed a twenty-something year old female Falun Gong practitioner from Gansu province get tortured for four days and nights straight. She collapsed mentally at the end of it, which was most terrifying. An angel suddenly became a demon, a normal, caring person had been tortured into a lunatic.
People ranging from 18 to 83 years of age, people who have gone blind or are permanently handicapped, are all being tortured every moment until they lose their lives or their sanity.
Worse yet, these kinds of crimes are not isolated or temporary. If the number of people in the Beijing Xinan Female Labor Camp can increase from only one or two hundred to a thousand, then how many labor camps are there across the entire country? How many people are being continuously sent to labor camps and transformed to the point where they lose their humanity?
What I mean when I say that the Communist regime’s labor camps are more evil than the Nazi concentration camps is their so-called "transformations." People are called people because, in addition to their flesh body, they have their thoughts, spirit, will, moral standards, and principles of living. "Transformation" destroys the most fundamental factors that make a "human" become "inhuman." That is, a demon, suffering from mental disorders or loss of mental awareness, causing one to consider evil as righteous, righteous as evil, or loss of volition, to live only while waiting for death.
Such large scale ongoing crimes have never existed in human history. After being tortured and bathed in this death and destruction countless times, it finally ignited my strongest will and intentions: I was ready to risk my life to escape this place so that I may expose these terrifying things to the world!
I then began my "abstract writing" in my head. Since I was still in the labor camp, I was unable to write them on paper. A more serious problem was that since the first day I arrived in the labor camp, we were told that there was no way out unless you "transformed."
I had experienced being tortured with an electric shock batons to the point of losing consciousness prior to this. However, I have never allowed the thought of being "transformed" to even enter my mind. I made the choice to practice Falun Gong on my life, and I never thought of abandoning it.
In order to have a chance to write, I struggled over and over with the idea of whether or not I should "transform." After experiencing the decision "to be or not to be" which is even more painful than death, I finally made a choice, and went against my heart to be "transformed."
I have to make something clear: After practicing Falun Gong for more than three years, the principles of "Truth-Compassion-Tolerance" that Falun Gong requires has become a part of my life. Therefore, using any words or telling any lies against my will is the same as dying inside. This pain is hard to imagine for those who spread lies and are used to rape other people’s volition. Yet the standards by which one "transforms" is not as simple as writing a paper declaring that you give up Falun Gong. You must write about things that "expose" Falun Gong from deep within your soul. You have to attack your belief in front of thousands of people and video cameras while remaining calm. Furthermore, you have to help the police to torture those Falun Gong practitioners who have yet to be transformed.
After doing all of these things, are you still able to look at yourself and face the interrogation and torture via rationalization? No! Therefore, you are pushed to the edge of disassociation and mental breakdown over and over again.
My book, Still Water Runs Deep , was written after I had paid exactly that price. My publisher told me later on, "Your book was written with your life."
Upon reading my book, my Taiwanese publisher was deeply shocked and also asked, "Why are there so few people writing about it when the persecution of Falun Gong is so severe and the number of people affected by it is so vast? And why is your book the first of its kind in the world?"
I have given her questions a lot of thought. Initially I said that I was an "unofficial" writer. But I have gradually come to realize that the Chinese society needs a lot more "unofficial" historians, sociologist, jurists, artists, reporters, editors, and so on, because the so-called "official "-ters" or "-ists" have all become silent and self-censored. They have lost the ability to care about society, humanity, life, and the universe. In the face of issues such as the one concerning Falun Gong, which is treated as the number one enemy by the "Party" and is discredited by the entire machine of propaganda, almost all of the official" "-ists" have chosen to withdraw in order to avoid trouble. There are even a small number of writers and artists directly creating literature or television and film works that help the Party’s suppression of Falun Gong. Those pieces which are filled with propaganda that frame, slander, and discredit Falun Gong are of course born from the minds of the "Party’s journalists."
I am not a critic of literature, and I have no intention of commenting on the current state of China’s literary works. However, as a reader or an observer, everyone of us can feel how degenerate today’s literature and art are, and how far away they are from the Chinese people’s suffering.
Perhaps we cannot blame the writers and intellectuals’ for their silence. Intellectuals have always been the target of purging in almost all of the movements started by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since it took power in China. The party is in complete control of all social resources, and it decides your life and death. Throughout history, regardless of the dynasty or the person in power, there has never been an entity that so severely controls all of the social resources.
A much more severe aspect is the Communist regime’s control over people’s spirituality and its thorough destruction of traditional culture, through which it has established a monopoly over culture. This is something that no political party in history has ever done.
The Chinese civilization is the most ancient, as it is the only civilization in the world that has survived for five thousand years. However, the Communist regime’s destruction of it is very systematic and thorough; so much so to the extent that if we do not do anything now, the ancient culture will be completely destroyed.
The statement in part six of the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party "On How the Chinese Communist Party Destroyed Traditional Culture" has caused a giant tidal wave to wash over the whole world. This is because of the CCP’s inherent ideological opposition to traditional Chinese culture. Its destruction of Chinese culture has been well planned, organized, and systematic, supported by the state’s use of violence. Even more despicable than the CCP’s destruction of traditional culture, is its intentional misuse and underhanded modification of traditional culture. The CCP has highlighted the vile parts of China’s history, things that occurred whenever people deviated from traditional values, things such as internal strife for power within the royal family, the use of tactics and conspiracy, and the exercise of dictatorship and despotism. It has used these historical examples to help create the CCP’s own system of discourse, set of moral standards, and ways of thinking.
The communist regime’s destruction of traditional Chinese culture begins with violence and ends in people’s minds. Therefore, to resist and eliminate the Party culture’s poisonous impact, one must start by rectifying the mind.
The most important thing concerning healing our minds, I think, is to reject the values and the ideas of right and wrong imposed on us by the Communist regime, thus defying its enslavement of our minds. I have always believed that a great work comes from a great mind and noble personality. The very existence of a man who possesses a kind heart and noble soul is in and of itself, a work of art. Such a thing transcends time and location.
In the constantly developing material world, there are more and more temptations and more and more profound cultural crisis. In my opinion, for a writer, having a courageous, sober mind, and sense of responsibility is much more important than actually writing.