The Comment Factory: The story of William Huang, Falun Gong and human rights activist, imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese Communist dictatorship

By Stephanie Lam

When we buy pistachio nuts from the store, their shells are always open. Pick
one up with the opening facing you, and you’ll see a smile. That’s why Chinese
people call pistachio nuts “happy nuts” and make it a tradition to
eat them during the Chinese New Year. The processing of the food before it is
sold, however, isn’t that joyful. In unfavorable weather or when the tree is
infected with fungi in the Alternaria genus, pistachio nuts will be harvested
with their “mouths” shut. When that happens, the tears of many people
create that smile.

William (Kui) Huang is one of the people who spent their youth cutting open
the nut shells with pliers. During an interview he told me that he had to work
at least sixteen hours a day. The work was done in Cell No. 27 of Zhuhai 2nd
Detention Center, which according to Huang was less than twenty square meters
in size and was home to over twenty people. The room was full of products and
the raw materials that they are made out of. To attend to natural calls one
had to climb through these materials to reach the latrine pit in a corner which
was not separated from the rest of the room. The room was never cleaned and
the air was turbid. Huang witnessed a prisoner dying, not because he was beaten,
but because he couldn’t stand the environment.

Huang recalls the bed that he shared with all the other detainees as a single
piece of big wooden board, which during day time, became the table on which
they processed pistachio nuts and other goods such as ornamental flowers and
Christmas lights. Huang has shockingly seen these exact same products on the
shelves of the grocery stores that he is now shopping at in the United States.

Huang goes on to say that the nuts came from a factory nearby. When they arrived
at the prison, each detainee was given a pair of pliers. From 6am to 10pm-sometimes
until midnight and even overnight-every day, they were made to create slits
on the nut shells. I was stressed by Huang’s description of the work: Hold the
tiny nut in one hand, and the pliers in the other. Carefully, press on the pliers
and cut the shell-not too hard, not too soft. You have to do it slowly and with
strength. Yes, that is hard, and over time it leads to blisters forming on your
hand, or old blisters breaking and thus releasing pus and blood, which then
might drip onto the nuts. But remember, it is not acceptable to make the slit
too big or too small, nor to break the shell even a bit. Doing that to too many
nuts would result in less profit for the factory and the prison guards, which
meant punishment of all prisoners in the cell. What kind of punishment? The
ones that were imposed on Huang include being forced to squat for three days
consecutively, being deprived of sleep for a month, and being shocked with high
voltage electric batons. But don’t be too careful either, because those two
fierce eyes of the prison guard are constantly staring at you. How dare you
do the work so slowly?

Huang said that if the prison guard is in a good mood, maybe he will just have
you stay up all night to finish the required amount of work, but if he is not
happy at the moment, then you might be subjected to violence. What’s more, don’t
breathe hard no matter how stressed and tired you are. According to a prison
guard, right before they were sent to the detention center, the pistachio nuts
were fumigated with industrial bleach to expel borers and to make their color
brighter. Because of the poor environment, the deficient in nutrition, and the
lack of sunlight and exercise, most of the detainees were sick, and Huang has
seen some of them faint while cutting open the nut shells because the bleach
was concentrated.
So what crime did Huang commit to be treated that way? “Subverting the
political power of the state”, or in other words, not agreeing to the Chinese
Communist Party’s (CCP) atheistic ideas and exposing its crimes against humanity.

Huang’s story began in 1998, when he was a senior in Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua
University majoring in precision instruments and mechanics. At that time, the
traditional Chinese cultivation practice Falun Gong was very popular in China.
It consists of exercises and meditation but also requires its practitioners
to improve their character. According to government estimates, within seven
years since its introduction to the public, 70-100 million people were practising
Falun Gong, and its central book, Zhuan Falun, was listed as a bestseller by
the Beijing Daily, the Beijing Youth Daily, and the Beijing Evening Daily. Huang
recalls that there were Falun Gong practice sites in almost all the parks in
China, and in Tsinghua’s campus alone, there were ten of them.

Since its teachings on morality attracted him, Huang started doing the practice
that is based on truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, in the beginning
of that year. As a university student, Huang had to spend a lot of time studying,
and if he sat for too long, his legs would get cold. However, within a month
after he started practicing Falun Gong, this problem disappeared. He became
more energetic and was able to concentrate on his studies more. Besides, Zhuan
Falun answered his question about the purpose of life, and guided (and is still
guiding) him to be a better person. He found that after following Falun Gong’s
teaching, he was also able to resolve problems better. As a result, in the Moral
and Intelligence Assessment that year, he came in first in his class for both
aspects, and later he was accepted into a PhD program in Tsinghua without testing.

Huang’s story was just one of many. In 1998, the Chinese government did a health
survey on 12,731 Falun Gong practitioners, and found that their overall rate
of health improvement through practicing Falun Gong was 99.1 percent. Of the
80.3 percent of the practitioners who had obvious health improvement, 58.5 percent
experienced complete recovery of sickness. Besides, 96.5 percent of the practitioners
felt a significant improvement of their mental well-being.

An overseas example could be Sterling Campbell, drummer of the B-52’s, who no
longer had the desire for smoking, drinking, and taking drugs within a month
after he started practicing Falun Gong or retired computer programmer Jane Chen, who after reading Zhuan Falun, accepted the fact that her son is mentally retarded, and began to find her happiness.


But despite the benefits that Falun Gong has brought to the society, the Chinese
government’s suppression of Falun Gong began. The CCP saw Falun Gong’s popularity
the same way it did with religions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Muslim.
Since there were more Falun Gong practitioners than CCP members, the CCP, especially
the then-president Jiang Zemin, felt that Falun Gong was threatening the people’s
loyalty to the Party and the president.

Huang’s copy of Zhuan Falun was a pirated edition, because since 1996, Falun
Gong books have been banned from publishing. Since then the police had been
interfering with the Falun Gong practice sites all over the country. Some broadcast
unpleasant noises with loudspeakers, some drove tractors next to the practice
sites, and some even used high-pressure hoses to shoot water at Falun Gong practitioners
to force them to leave the practice sites. Huang mentioned that he and other
Tsinghua students were forbidden to put up Falun Gong banners, and Tsinghua’s
secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party told them
not to be involved in Falun Gong affairs.

On April 11, 1999, Teenager Expo, a magazine in Tianjin, published an article
comparing Falun Gong to the Boxer Rebellion, a violent movement at the end of
the Qing dynasty, or late 19th century, that was anti-foreign and anti-Christian.
Since the article was full of fabrication, many Falun Gong practitioners went
to the editorial office of the magazine to tell the editors their own experiences
and to ask them to retract that article. On April 22 and 23, armed policemen
beat Falun Gong practitioners in front of the magazine’s office and detained
45 of them. Then they suggested Falun Gong practitioners at the scene to go
to the central government in Beijing to address their grievance because the
Public Security Bureau was involved in this matter, and they could not release
the practitioners without the authorization from the central government. So
on April 25, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered outside the State
Council Appeal Office, which is near Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound,
to request the release of the detained practitioners and the lifting of the
ban on Falun Gong books. Soon after the petition began, the police told the
practitioners to follow them to Zhongnanhai. They divided the practitioners
into two columns, and instructed one column to match from south to north, and
the other from north to south. As a result, the two columns met at the gate
of Zhongnanhai, encircling the compound (The Conscience Foundation 14). Although
representatives from the practitioners were able to talk to the then premier
Zhu Rongji and the detained practitioners were released, Huang heard that some
plainclothesmen took some practitioners from foreign provinces to an unknown
place, and Falun Gong was later incriminated for “besieging the central

Then, just a few days later, Huang said, some Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
agents spread the rumor that some Falun Gong practitioners planned to go to
Xiangshan (Fragrance Hill), a park in Beijing, to set themselves on fire on
May 1. And more was yet to come. On June 10, the CCP formed the 610 Office specifically
to persecute Falun Gong. This agency has absolute power over each level of administration
in the CCP and all other political and judiciary systems.

After a month of preparation, the 610 Office was ready to start the nightmare
for millions of Chinese people. On July 20, 1999 at midnight, Falun Gong’s voluntary
coordinators in various parts of China were arrested simultaneously. Huang remembers
that the coordinators in Tsinghua were monitored. Policemen stood outside their
homes, keeping watch on them. Their phones were tapped, and even their Internet
activities were spied on. In the next two days, Huang, along with many others,
went to the State Council Appeal Office once again to petition. This time, no
government official talked to them. It was the police who was waiting for them.
They used violence to force the Falun Gong practitioners to get into trucks.
They were taken to Shi Jing Shan Stadium and Feng Tai Stadium, where they were
beaten and met by the police from their hometown, then taken away. Huang, who
was taken to Shi Jing Shan Stadium, witnessed over a dozen of policemen beating
a practitioner who refused to get into the car. Another practitioner was beaten
with a baton so severely that his t-shirt was broken into strings. Soon Huang
was taken back to school by Tsinghua officials.

On the 22nd, the CCP’s mouthpiece CCTV started broadcasting programs that slander
Falun Gong. All over China, work units requested the workers to stop their work
and watch CCTV. At about 3pm, Huang and his classmates were told to go out to
the hallway of their department building. A big television stood there, informing
the students that the Falun Dafa Association was banned, and that CCP members
were not allowed to practice Falun Gong.

Huang told me that he was originally accepted as a PhD student in Tsinghua,
but that fall he was forbidden to register for classes. Later he was interviewed
by Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy founder Frank Liu Siqing.
In October, he accepted another interview from an Australian reporter, and as
soon as he stepped out of the reporter’s apartment, he was arrested by the Ministry
of State Security and was interrogated. After that Huang had to go into hiding
because the police was constantly looking for him. He could not go back to school,
and no company would employ him because of his belief. In light of the government-controlled
media fabricating incidents of deaths and suicides to demonize Falun Gong so
as to justify the persecution, Huang and ten other Falun Gong practitioner started
the Epoch Times to clarify the truth and to report on all kinds of human rights
abuses in China, since the victims of these issues had no means to voice their

They rented an apartment in the Guangdong province, thinking that the police
wouldn’t know where they were. But on December 16, 2000, more than ten policemen
broke into the apartment, arrested everyone and took all the equipment. The
chief editor of the Epoch Times was a Macau resident, but he was still sentenced
to ten years of imprisonment and is still in jail.

Without any legal process, Huang was put in the Zhuhai 2nd Detention Center,
where he faced interrogation every day. Meanwhile he was put to work for 16-20
hours per day, making export goods in the prison cell. He once went on a hunger
strike to protest, and after five days without food or water, the prison guards
chained him to a cross made of wooden planks. They pried his teeth and held
his throat open with chopsticks, then force-fed him with rice porridge.

After ten months he was finally tried, and another year later, charged with
“subverting the political power of the state”, he was sentenced to
another three years in Sihui Prison. On top of slave laboring, he was given
brainwashing sessions there. He painfully recollected the memories of being
forced to read books and watch videos that traduce Falun Gong, while prison
guards would talk to him to convince him to give up his faith. At one point
he was brainwashed for a whole month non-stop. Three prison guards, each working
eight hours a day, made sure that he couldn’t sleep at all. Another practitioner,
Tantai Dongdong, was beaten so severely that three of his ribs broke.

One day the guards organized a denunciation meeting for Huang and Fan Chenyu,
another steadfast Falun Gong practitioner. There were anti-Falun Gong slogans
and banners on the walls, and in front of hundreds of prisoners, they were forced
to kneel. Huang refused to do it, so the prison guards kicked him to the ground.
Then more than ten prison guards shocked each of them with high-voltage electric
batons. The worst part, Huang said, was that they shocked him in sensitive parts
like his palms and ears.


That, however, is just a small part of the violence imposed on Falun Gong practitioners.
The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, has reported
that, “Falun Gong practitioners made up the vast majority of torture victims
in China, who experienced beatings, electric shocks, painful shackling of limbs,
denial of medical treatment and medication and hard labor”. As quoted in
an article in 2002 in the Guardian, Chinese dissidents have been locked up in
mental hospitals and labeled as “political maniacs”. Recently an old
woman in the Hubei Province died after being forced fed harmful drugs and injected
with toxic medication. What’s more, living Falun Gong practitioners in labor
camps have had their organs harvested for the organ transplant industry. In
2006, human rights lawyer David Matas and Canada’s former Secretary of State
for Asian Pacific Matters David Kilgour conducted an investigation on the matter
and confirmed the allegations. They reported an interview with an accountant
and ex-wife of a surgeon of a hospital in China. She mentioned that in 2001,
she noticed a sharp increase in the hospital’s purchase of food and surgical
equipment, and later her former husband told her that he had to remove the corneas
from Falun Gong practitioners. In some phone calls made by people pretending
to be interested in purchasing an organ, Chinese doctors have also admitted
that healthy Falun Gong practitioners are the sources of the organs. Some detained
Falun Gong practitioners’ families have received their corpse after they were
persecuted to death, and their organs are missing. Moreover, practitioners who
have escaped being killed have reported that they were given intensive medical

But Huang and his fellow practitioners wouldn’t give in, because they know that
Falun Gong is a practice that truly guides people to righteousness, and it also
brings good health. Falun Gong can solve the conflicts between people and bring
good effects to the society, Huang said. “The persecution is wrong,”
he added, “it is based on lies.”

Many may remember the so-called self-immolation of five Falun Gong practitioners
in the Tiananmen Square on 23rd January, 2001. The television in Sihui Prison
was always turned off, but on that day, the prison guards turned it on and Huang
saw that fabricated news. As a scientist, it was very obvious to him that it
wasn’t real. If it was real, he said, how come Wang Jindong’s hair didn’t catch
on fire? How come the plastic bottle between his legs didn’t burn? When someone
sets themselves on fire, the surrounding air would become so hot that it hurts
the throat when they breathe. However, the little girl Liu Siying could yell
loudly for her mother. Could all that be true? This is why the brainwashing
and torture could not change Huang’s mind.

In December 2005, Huang was released. The police escorted him back to Tsinghua
and had him report to the 610 Office there. He was monitored by the school’s
secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and a year
later, some police talked to him to work out how strong his faith still was.
Because of these pressures, he decided to go to another country so that he could
have an unrestrained cultivation environment, and so that he could tell other
people about his experience and expose the CCP’s persecution.

He arrived in the United States on March, 2008, after receiving a scholarship.
When he goes to the grocery stores there, he would often see the products that
he had once processed. On top of feeling sympathetic for the customers who buy
these products without knowing about the poor environment that they were made
in, he would recall the days when he was in Cell No. 27 building the smile on
the nuts with his own tears, and wonder how his friends who are still imprisoned
are. In order to help the people who are still suffering, he has written articles
and accepted interviews in the United States to let the world know what is happening
in China.

When asked if he wants to go back to China, he said sadly, “I can’t anymore.”
But if the persecution ends, he would love to go back, because “after all,
I am still a Chinese. That land is still my motherland.”
Now, perhaps because it reminds him most of his beloved motherland, we can see
Huang promoting the Divine Performing Arts’ Chinese New Year Spectacular in
grocery stores. As he hands out the flyers, his heart is with his family and
friends in China. He calls on the people in the free world to pay attention
to the events happening in China, and to write to their governments and international
organizations asking for the resistance of such persecution, so that the “happy
nuts” on the shelf next to him would once again be a symbol of happiness,
not oppression.


Posting date: 13/Mar/2009
Original article date: 5/Mar/2008
Category: Media Report


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