Christina Yuan typifies what many would call the American dream -- humble beginnings, hard work, a Harvard education, a fulfilling life and a successful career in New York City.
Christina's mother, Ms. Benlan Yu, typifies an on-going nightmare in China -- stripped of all rights to freedom of speech and freedom of belief, horribly tortured by Chinese police, and sent to a forced labor camp without trial.
After volunteering much of her free time over the years to seek a peaceful end to the violent persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, Christina now finds herself struggling to rescue her mother from that nightmare.She is one of over 100 family members from more than 16 countries who are part of an international effort to rescue loved ones from persecution in China because of their practice of Falun Gong.
Humble and Happy Beginnings
Christina is a United States citizen, but was born in Central China in 1970. She grew up in a small one-room apartment, and was mostly raised by her mother, who worked as a technician in a nearby hospital. "I remember my brother and I would play in the hallway, while mom sat in our dimly lit apartment sewing clothes for us," recalls Christina. "She made most of our clothes since we couldn't really afford to buy them."
In her childhood, Christina developed a great interest in calligraphy, traditional Chinese art and Chinese poetry, but after finishing High School Christina's talent for science led her to study applied physics at China's prestigious Tsinghua University -- often referred to as “China's MIT."
After two years she decided to move to the United States to continue her studies at Cal-Tech University. Following graduation she went to Harvard University where she received a Master's degree in Biophysics.
Mother and Daughter Begin Practicing Falun Gong
In April of 1996 while studying at Harvard a fellow classmate introduced her to Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese exercise and meditation practice. Christina was intrigued. "I was impressed with the simplicity yet profoundness of Falun Gong," she remembers.
Shortly after beginning the practice Christina quickly recovered from several chronic illnesses that had plagued her before. She also noticed becoming more productive at work and less stressed about life.
Christina became so interested in the practice that she traveled back to China in 1997 to attend a Falun Gong Experience Sharing Conference in Changchun. While in China, she also went home to visit her mother, Benlan.
Immediately Benlan noticed a huge change in Christina. "Mom noticed that I was no longer short tempered and impatient with my family," recalls Christina. "She thought I was more tolerant and able to listen to others." Christina made such an impact on Benlan that she began the practice herself in the beginning of 1998.
Benlan had suffered from an old injury to her leg that made walking difficult for her. Shortly after starting the practice her leg healed and her walking became much better. Benlan also frequently commented how she looked and felt much younger after beginning the practice.
Peaceful Appeal, Administrative Detention and Forced Labor Camp
Immediately after Jiang Zemin launched the persecution of Falun Gong in July of 1999, Benlan went to the State Department Appeals Office in Beijing to voice her concerns. While she was there she saw several Falun Gong practitioners being arrested simply for trying to appeal.
In October of 1999, she was detained twice for 15 days for peacefully demonstrating against the persecution in Tiananmen Square. In July of 2000, Benlan wrote a letter to the Beijing Municipal Government to appeal for an end to the persecution. A few weeks after she wrote the letter, police showed up at her apartment telling her that they wanted to speak with her. After she let them in they arrested her. It wasn't until Sept 10 2000, that her husband received notice from Changping labor camp that she was being held there and he needed to go there to bring her more clothes for the winter.
Benlan spent eight months in the labor camp.
While in detention she suffered severe mental and physical torture. Everyday she was forced to watch and read material that slandered Falun Gong. The rest of her time was spent doing hard labor with only five hours a night allotted for sleep. According to information Christina obtained from China, on many occasions Benlan suffered horrific forms of torture, such as being stripped naked and submerged in feces or sewage water for extended periods of time, and shocked with electric shock batons. 6 out of the 9 people in her cell were Falun Gong practitioners.
After being released Christina had the chance to speak with her mother on the phone. Their conversation, however, was very limited, as the police had tapped Benlan's phone. "From what I could discern, they drove her to the brink of what a human being can endure," says Christina. "The trauma was unimaginable."
Sentenced to Over Two Years Forced Labor Without Trial
After being released Benlan refused to give up her beliefs and continued to practice Falun Gong in the privacy of her own home. One day in September 2002 right before the mid-autumn festival, several policemen again came to her door. When she asked them if they had a warrant they replied no, so she refused to let them in. The police then forced their way into the apartment, ransacked her home and took her away. While going through her apartment they found Falun Gong books.
Benlan was taken to the national security bureau's detention center in Fang Shan County. There she was sentenced to two and a half years of re-education through labor simply for having Falun Gong materials in her home. Since her sentencing her husband has only seen her once.
Determined, Peaceful Appeal
After the start of the persecution in July of 1999, Christina was followed and monitored by Chinese men she believes were from the New York City Chinese consulate. She has had her phone tampered with several times and received a number of threatening phone calls.
"They're afraid I'm going to tell the world what they're doing to my mother and tens of millions of people like her in China," says Christina. "They're afraid and they should be because I'm not afraid. I will tell the world what they are doing to my mother, and I believe, in the end justice will prevail."