New Tang Dynasty, a Chinese-language TV station based in New York, recently hosted a one-hour live call-in program. Callers from both inside and outside of mainland China congratulated Mr. Yuan Sheng, a flight captain of China Eastern Airlines based in Shanghai, on his successful defection on August 9, 2006. Mr. Yuan is now applying for asylum in the United States.
Mr. Yuan’s story, appearing in this issue’s "In the News" section on page 6, is a modern version of escaping from one’s homeland to avoid religious persecution. Mr. Yuan is no criminal. The only offense he committed was that, while chatting casually with somebody who spoke his hometown dialect before the flight took off, he recommended a book called Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, and advised that person to quit the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The conversation also exposed Mr. Yuan’s identity as a member of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that embodies traditional Buddhist and Daoist principles but has been banned by the CCP since July 1999. Unfortunately, that person reported Mr. Yuan to the police and turned his world upside down.
In China, the CCP regards Falun Gong as a most fearful enemy after its seven-year, ongoing persecution has failed to put the Falun Gong issue to rest. The CCP is even more nervous about the ongoing campaign of quitting the CCP. Those who get caught promoting the book and related information are given harsh sentences. One internal document revealed that simply owning a copy of the Nine Commentaries can spell a four-year jail term for a Falun Gong adherent. Fortunately, the airline and passengers raised an uproar and refused to let the police detain Mr. Yuan at the last minute on the basis of a conversation. The police let him get on the flight, but told him ominously, "We will handle you when you come back."
For Mr. Yuan, the callers’ congratulations could offer him scant comfort. In a matter of hours, he was cut off indefinitely from his job, home, wife, and daughter. Of course, the callers pointed out that if he were in China right now, he would still have none of those things and face jail and likely torture, to boot.
In the United States, Mr. Yuan can now say and practice whatever he believes—privately or in public. For millions of his fellow citizens, however, such freedom is still a pipe dream. Opportunities to escape China are few and far in between. For now, Mr. Yuan has a sense of purpose: take advantage of his newfound freedom to urge others to quit the CCP and call on all democratic governments to take action. To Mr. Yuan, that’s the only way he can help his fellow Chinese and have any chance of reuniting with his family one day.