By Zhang Jing, Women’s Rights in China, December 2023
Editor’s note: The author heads a group focusing on women’s rights in China. Here she describes the shocking incongruity of an awards ceremony presided over in Beijing by high officials of UNESCO, in conjunction with the wife of Xi Jinping, to honor activists for the rights of women and children, amid several cases in China in which those rights are wantonly violated. Throughout runs the classic totalitarian theme, in which opposing the Party’s right to rule completely unchallenged is classified as mental illness. Current Chinese psychiatric facilities are used for purposes at least as reprehensible as the Soviet mental hospitals of yore where dissidents were warehoused, though perhaps the Chinese facilities have better PR.
75 years ago this month, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the end of the same year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was established. UNESCO claims that it is the first United Nations agency to place the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the heart of all its actions, indicating that the organization’s purpose is closely related to human rights.
The United States joined UNESCO at its inception, but withdrew in 1984 due to a growing gap between U.S. foreign policy and UNESCO’s practices. The United States rejoined the organization in October 2003. But 20 years after the United States discovered that China was waiting for opportunities to infiltrate, UNESCO has again increasingly deviated from its own professed direction and has become more like a marionette, at the mercy of China. In 2017, the Trump administration announced the United States couldn’t tolerate UNESCO behavior anymore, and withdrew the U.S. from UNESCO again. As a result, the organization’s pro-Beijing director-general Audrey Azoulay and special envoy Peng Liyuan have been re-elected again and again. In July 2023, President Biden changed his own global strategy, and firmly returned to a core role in the global architecture, including UNESCO.
On September 29 this year, UNESCO Director-General Azoulay and UNESCO Special Envoy Peng Liyuan co-hosted the awards ceremony of the UNESCO Girls’ and Women’s Education Awards in Beijing. The winning units in 2023 were China’s “Spring Bud Project” and Pakistan’s “Star School Project”. Accompanied by First Lady Peng Liyuan, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Ms. Azoulay. Xinhuanet and others published this news and promoted the remarkable international achievements of these children. However, there were not many official and individual media reprints or on-site interviews. Perhaps the award ceremony was a glittering castle in the sky, far from events transpiring on earth. Indeed, the current situation in China is so far removed that even the Director-General of UNESCO and Special Envoy Peng cannot sense it. And yet we still must try our best to speak loudly and let people see that in fact all Chinese children are also “Spring Buds”. Why are some seen, even as it is pretended that others are not to be seen? Why are there such differences between the back of the hand and the palm of the hand?
Two young girls who were forcibly detained in a mental hospital for many years
The experience of He Fangmei, the founder of the Chinese human-rights group “Vaccinated Baby Shelter” [a group founded before COVID-19 and devoted to the cause of infants harmed by past defective Chinese vaccines], his wife and their three children is well known on the Internet. Perhaps it is only Ms. Peng Liyuan, the UN UNESCO Special Envoy for Women and Girls’ Education who is also China’s First Lady and who hosted the awards ceremony, who does not know. Or does not want to know, just as when, even as 1 billion Chinese people cried out for the tragic experience of Xuzhou’s “Woman in Iron Chains” in 2022, Peng Liyuan remained silent from beginning to end, choosing instead to see, hear and speak no evil. It is as if “UN special envoy” is just an empty title handed down from heaven — too far away from the earth, especially from the land of China, and so the envoy cannot be troubled to bend over and listen.
He Fangmei began her journey of petitioning for justice after her daughter became disabled due to a toxic vaccine. An open letter by “Vaccinated Baby Shelter” listed incidents of vaccine harm to children, including the 2004 fake vaccine case in Suqian, Jiangsu, illegal vaccination in Sixian, Anhui in 2005, the 2008 rabies vaccine fraud in Hebei, Jiangsu, the Dalian vaccine illegal-adulteration incident in 2009, the 2010 Shanxi Jiangsu vaccine-fraud episode, the 2012 Shandong Xiaofang illegal-vaccine case, the 2013 Shanxi Jiangsu vaccine-fraud incident, the 2013 hepatitis B vaccine-fatality incident, the 2016 Shandong vaccine incident, the 2017 DPT vaccine incident, the 2018 Changsheng Biotech vaccine incident, the 2019 Jiangsu expired vaccine incident, and on and on.
In October 2020, He Fangmei again took her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter to the Huixian County Government in Henan Province to seek an explanation, but they were all forcibly sent to a mental hospital. He Fangmei was pregnant at the time. Not long after being detained, she was forced to give birth to another daughter in a mental hospital. Since then, He Fangmei has lost contact with the outside world. It was not until March 2022, two years later, that He Fangmei’s family suddenly received an official arrest notice for her on March 23, 2022, saying she was charged with “bigamy, picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Only then did the family learn of He Fangmei’s whereabouts, and hurriedly hired a lawyer. But later, the family learned that her trial had not only already begun, but had actually ended long ago.
In the same month that He Fangmei was arrested in 2020, her husband Li Xin was also taken away by the police and then disappeared. It was not until 2023 that it was learned that the former media personality Li had been sentenced to 5 years in prison and was serving his sentence.
He Fangmei with her son and eldest daughter. (Internet picture)
This couple, human-rights activists who sought justice for their children, were sentenced and imprisoned in different prisons. Their two daughters (now 7 years old and about 2 years old) were detained at the “Xinxiang Fongji Psychiatric Hospital” in Henan. The daughter has not left a mental hospital since the day she was born. He Fangmei’s eldest son was also forced to live in a mental hospital until he was 9 before he was adopted by an unrelated family. Although the children had many relatives and an aunt who were willing to take care of them, the Henan local government still forcibly transferred him. He Meifang’s three children were imprisoned and lived with adult male and female mental patients. They grew up with screaming, wailing, violence, drugging, kidnapping and sexual assault. Just before and after Peng Liyuan presented an award on behalf of the United Nations to the Spring Bud Project, which had made “outstanding contributions” to caring for Chinese children, the sister of He Meifang finally got permission to visit and met her two nieces, one the 7-year-old child, who “smelled.” After the girl told the aunt a “secret” about what happened in the mental hospital, the aunt understood that the girl had been sexually assaulted. She immediately questioned the hospital and informed a lawyer and others. But result was not justice for the child but that the aunt could no longer see her nieces, and those who knew about the incident were warned not to pass on this information to the outside world.
Part of the exterior of the Xinxiang Gongji Psychiatric Hospital in Henan Province. (Internet picture)
As of now, the five members of this family are being forcibly detained in different places. The most intolerable thing is that the authorities of Henan Province in China continue to commit crimes against innocent young girls!
Children who are of no concern to the “Spring Bud Project”
Dissident poet Wang Zang was sentenced to four years in prison by the Chuxiong Prefecture Intermediate Court in Yunnan for “inciting subversion of state power.”” After his wife Wang Liqin saw that her husband was unjustly imprisoned, she called attention to him through overseas Twitter. In doing so she also “subverted state power.” In July 2020, she was arrested by the Chuxiong Prefecture Procuratorate on the same charge and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison. She left her four young children, ranging from 3 to 12 years old, to be looked after by their paternal grandmother. The children suddenly lost their mother and father, and their cries were heartbreaking. Especially at night, the young girls and young children could only cry to express their yearning for their mother.
Despite Wang Liqin being extremely distressed over not wanting to leave her babies, she was sentenced to a mental hospital and prison respectively by the public-security and national-security personnel. While she was asserted to be mentally ill, she was also said to be fully responsible for the crime of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to prison. Every day she was serving her sentence, Wang Liqin’s heart was bleeding. Her husband was also serving his sentence in prison. Is he being beaten and tortured again? Do the four underage children have enough to eat? Does grandma have money to buy them warm clothes in winter?
It was not until Wang Liqin was released from prison two years and six months later that the children saw their mother, but the eldest son, who had begun to understand the world, became silent.
Wang Liqin and her husband were sentenced to prison, leaving behind four young children. (Internet picture)
In almost every country, if a couple are both convicted, the mother with minor children at home will not serve her sentence in prison. Relevant legal provisions enabling serving the sentence outside prison are generally used to allow the mother to stay at home and take care of the children. However, in China under the rule of the CCP, the degree of cruelty to women and children is far beyond the comprehension of civilized people. Children’s lives will only be treated decently when CCP officials need it. For example, when First Lady Peng Liyuan needs to present an award in the name of UN, some typical examples will be carefully selected as props.
On September 29, 2023, the same day that Peng Liyuan presented the “Spring Bud Project” award in Beijing, Wang Liqin, who had just been released from prison, posted old photos of her husband Wang Zang and their children. She sat with her four children and awaited another Mid-Autumn Festival reunion with a full moon but without loved ones. The children also innocently showed their paintings that they wanted their father to see during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Wang Liqin wrote on Twitter that Wang Zang was still eight months away from returning home.
On November 22, Wang Liqin looked forward to her monthly visit to her husband, but she received a call from the Yunnan No. 2 Prison. The other party told her that the visit to Wang Zang had been cancelled, and she could not make any phone calls. Because Wang Liqin has posted things about Wang Zang that had already been published on social media. Wang Liqin said she had not written anything that was not true and she refused to yield. However, her complaints were fruitless and she could only pray with her children for Wang Zang’s safe return. On November 30, 2023, she wrote, “Wang Zang is still six months away from returning home, and he has already spent 1,277 days in prison. I hope he is well there and everything is going well!”
A loving wife, a strong and brave mother, an ordinary women exuding all that is best in humanity.
I cannot help but ask Peng Liyuan: Wang Liqin’s family in Yunnan has four “Spring Buds.” Can they be included in your Spring Bud project? Don’t say that this spring bud is not like those spring buds. These are children of the same origin and the same country, and equally human. These children are among the most victimized and helpless in China. They deserve the attention of the UN special envoy. But the fact is that they have never heard of your “Spring Bud Project” since they were born.
A “Spring Bud” right in the capital, yet unseen by the UN special envoy
Even if the above-mentioned families in trouble are too far away from the capital to merit UNESCO Special Envoy Peng Liyuan’a attention, let us briefly call to her attention two other children who are in trouble, near the very place where she presented the award.
On April 13, 2023, Beijing human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng (whose law license was revoked after the mass lawyer arrests in the July 9 incident) and his wife Xu Yan were invited by the EU office in China for a visit. On the way, they were suddenly intercepted by multiple Chinese plainclothes national-security officers. They were sent to the Bajiao Police Station in Shijingshan, Beijing, and then criminally detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” There has been no news for eight months. Another couple arrested together, leaving a lonely teenager at home.
Lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife Xu Yan. (Internet photo)
Without the love and encouragement from his parents, being looked down upon at school, and not knowing how to express the grievances he suffered, but with the longing and pain in his heart seen by his relatives and friends, their child finally could not resist the despair. On November 19, 2023, according to lawyer Wang Yu, who was also detained at the same time as her husband, she received a call from a man claiming to be a Beijing policeman, using the mobile phone of Yu Wensheng’s son Yu Zhenyang, telling him that Yu Zhenyang had overdosed on drugs due to suicidal tendencies and was now being treated at the Mentougou District Hospital in Beijing. Lawyer Wang Yu said that Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan are still in custody, and she called on friends who could easily visit them to check on their children.
Another helpless child, whose parents were imprisoned and sentenced for fighting for the rights of others, yet the child’s own rights were not upheld. His parents disappeared overnight, and his financial support correspondingly disappeared overnight. Who can know the pain? I wonder if Peng Liyuan, the UN UNESCO special envoy for maternal and child education, who also lives in Beijing, knows this? Can Yu Zhenyang’s name be added to the list of beneficiaries of the “Spring Bud Project”? Of course, Peng Liyuan will not know about this unless Yu Zhenyang perhaps holds up a piece of white paper and stands in front of her home, on the sidewalk or in the corner of the park; or unless he anonymously forwards the information to Xi Jinping’s First Daughter Xi Mingze on the Internet, then she and her father Xi Jinping will quickly learn that 19-year-old Niu Tengyu has absolutely no chance of escape. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined 130,000 yuan. Dozens of teenage netizens were also imprisoned.
In fact, many children in Beijing have either been deprived of their right to education or have been subjected to completely unreasonable difficulties. They are not just “low-class” migrant workers, but highly educated human-rights lawyers, such as the children of Wang Quanzhang’s family or Li Heping’s. When parents help people defend their rights, they are unjustly disbarred and imprisoned. For their children, even going to school becomes a problem. It is obvious that the tag “defense of human rights” brings trouble. With these words, the basic human rights of all the young and old in these families are then violated, or eliminated altogether. In other words, the members of the peasant class in the “low-end population” that the government no longer needs will be kicked out, and their children will suddenly lose their places in school. But the lawyers in the “high-end population” who help them defend their rights will also be expelled, and their children also kicked out. Everything is done purely according to the whims of the government.
As the UN UNESCO Special Envoy for Women and Children’s Education, can Peng Liyuan do anything for the children from these groups in Beijing? Can mothers be saved from persecution and children from the fear of not being able to go to school?
This month includes the 75th International Human Rights Day. The basic rights of the Chinese people, especially those of Chinese women and children, are still not protected. The degree of civilization of a country depends on the government and society’s understanding of women and children. If they are are not treated well, no matter how many nuclear bombs and rocket ships a country has, it will not be respected by others. If it continues to conduct itself this way, China will never truly rise!
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The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of this journal.