This memoir of a Falun Gong practitioner arrested in China is a “powerful reminder of what can happen when government power runs unchecked” (Booklist).
Zheng Zeng was a graduate in science from Beijing University, a wife, a mother, and a Communist Party member. After a difficult emotional period, she found comfort in a spiritual practice known as Falun Gong, a form of qigong rooted in exercise and meditation and based on simple tenets of Truth, Compassion, and Forbearance. It quickly improved her life—and then shattered it, when the government began a crackdown on Falun Gong and arrested her.
After twice being held at a detention center and refusing to recant, she was sentenced without trial to reeducation through forced labor. Her “enlightenment”—in part undertaken by fellow prisoners incarcerated for prostitution, pornography, and drug addiction—took the form of beatings, torture with electric prods, starvation, sleep deprivation, and forced labor. She was compelled to knit for days at a time, her hands bleeding, to produce goods contracted for sale in the US market. Many Falun Gong practitioners died under the harsh conditions. Zheng Zeng was lucky.
Thousands of others have been deprived by an oppressive Chinese government of their freedom of speech and assembly and the freedom to believe as they choose. This is a testament to her ordeal and theirs.
For Westerners, one of the most perplexing recent obsessions of Communist China is the mass persecution of hundreds of thousands of mostly middle-aged, middle-class devotees of Falun Gong, a system of exercise and meditation on "Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance." Equally puzzling is the well-documented determination of practitioners to defy the notoriously repressive government. While this memoir doesn't provide definitive answers, it does shed light on the issues and offer a hair-raising first-person look at China's brutal concentration camps (Zeng spent a year in one), where prisoners are beaten, electrocuted, deprived of sleep, forced into hard labor and subjected to constant "reform" propaganda, aka brainwashing. Zeng, an investment consultant, turned to Falun Gong after the difficult birth of her daughter and a botched medical procedure left her weakened and depressed. The practice improved her health and outlook almost immediately. Like other practitioners, Zeng couldn't believe the government would go as far as it did to crack down on something so seemingly harmless and beneficial, until she found herself under arrest in 2000. After stubborn resistance for a year, Zeng finally pretended to "reform," and when released, managed to escape to Australia. China watchers should be attentive to this simply written but invaluable report from the front.