My si­lence won’t pro­tect my fa­ther in China

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - The writer will par­tic­i­pate in the 2015 Miss World com­pe­ti­tion in Sanya, China. BY ANAS­TA­SIA LIN

In many cases, fam­ily mem­bers are “in­vited to tea” by mem­bers of the se­cu­rity agen­cies, who then is­sue vague threats of reprisals if their rel­a­tives abroad don’t fall into line.

My fa­ther was never so proud of me as when I was crowned Miss World Canada in May. It’s an in­cred­i­ble honor to be able to rep­re­sent my coun­try on the world stage. To my fa­ther, who still lives in China, it was val­i­da­tion that all of his ef­forts to sup­port me have paid off.

Although ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion is re­stricted in China, news of my win spread quickly inmy home province of Hu­nan, and my fa­ther was in­un­dated with mes­sages con­grat­u­lat­ing him and wish­ing me well. But things soon took a dark turn. Now, just a few weeks af­ter I was crowned, my fa­ther is afraid to speak to me.

The rea­son for this is all too fa­mil­iar to Chi­nese peo­ple who speak their minds while liv­ing abroad.

Shortly af­termy vic­tory, my fa­ther started re­ceiv­ing threats from Chi­nese se­cu­rity agents com­plain­ing aboutmy hu­man rights ad­vo­cacy. As an ac­tress, I fre­quently take on roles in films and tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions that shed light on of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in China, and my Miss World Canada plat­form re­flects these pas­sions. No doubt fear­ing for his liveli­hood and busi­ness, my fa­ther asked me to stop ad­vo­cat­ing for hu­man rights. He told me that if I did not stop, we would have to go our sep­a­rate ways.

Many Chi­nese rights ad­vo­cates have had sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. Even af­ter they im­mi­grate to the West, the Com­mu­nist Party uses their fam­ily mem­bers in China as lever­age to si­lence and in­tim­i­date them.

In many cases, fam­ily mem­bers are “in­vited to tea” by mem­bers of the se­cu­rity agen­cies, who then is­sue vague threats of reprisals if their rel­a­tives abroad don’t fall into line. This method is rem­i­nis­cent of how, dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, chil­dren were en­cour­aged to de­nounce and in­form on par­ents, and fam­ily mem­bers were turned against each other un­der threat of per­se­cu­tion.

Some Chi­nese peo­ple, es­pe­cially those who lived through the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion and later cam­paigns, have in­ter­nal­ized the les­son that one must not speak crit­i­cally of the regime. That ex­plains why, in ad­di­tion to re­ceiv­ing many mes­sages of sup­port, I have also re­ceived letters from Chi­nese peo­ple telling me to tone down my hu­man rights plat­form, which they see as too po­lit­i­cal. But to me this isn’t am­at­ter of pol­i­tics. It’s about uni­ver­sal hu­man val­ues that should never be ab­ro­gated.

Many peo­ple have asked me why I have con­tin­ued speak­ing out af­ter my fa­ther was threat­ened. The an­swer is sim­ple: If I al­low my­self to be in­tim­i­dated, then I am com­plicit in con­tin­ued hu­man rights abuses. If I and oth­ers who share my con­cerns al­low our­selves to be si­lenced, the Com­mu­nist Party will con­tinue abus­ing its peo­ple with im­punity.

Although I have not per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced per­se­cu­tion (I moved to Canada when I was 13), my act­ing roles have re­quired me to be­come in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences of those who have. In one film, which was based on a true story, I played a Falun Gong prac­ti­tioner im­pris­oned in a Chi­nese la­bor camp who would not re­nounce her be­liefs, even af­ter en­dur­ing har­row­ing tor­ture. I draw courage from such sto­ries, and I be­lieve that they must be heard.

Achiev­ing pos­i­tive change in the world in­volves sac­ri­fice and risk. Mil­lions of Chi­nese cit­i­zens far more coura­geous than I am have taken these risks, only to be im­pris­oned, tor­tured or worse. By hold­ing to our con­vic­tions and val­ues, we honor their sac­ri­fice. It’s un­think­able that such ef­forts should hurt those clos­est to us. I was heart­bro­ken when my fa­ther mes­saged me, ask­ing for my si­lence. I wres­tled with what to do, weigh­ing what was right for my­self, for my fa­ther, for all those in­side China and for all those who have left to build new lives in free coun­tries. We all live un­der threat from the Chi­nese regime. Too easily we ac­cept this kind of co­er­cion as the so­cial norm, blam­ing those who speak out rather than those who wield the ba­tons.

But si­lence will not pro­tectmy fa­ther, and even if he can’t un­der­stand or ac­cept why I speak out, I know he is safer in the light of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion than in the shad­ows sought by the au­thor­i­tar­i­ans.

Days will pass, and this spotlight will dim. Please don’t for­get my fa­ther and the mil­lions of fam­i­lies like ours. Leav­ing China doesn’t make one free, not when friends and fam­ily there be­come hostages. Free­dom comes when we stop ac­cept­ing tyranny and chal­lenge those who would pre­serve it.

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