At Long Last: Mother And Daughter Reunite In Queens
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By By Thomas Lin
By Thomas Lin
As China Airlines flight CR12 approached John F. Kennedy Airport on the night of Nov. 8, a small crowd gathered in arrivals just like for any other flight on any other day.
Among the greeters, a woman in a red denim jacket waited pensively, clutching a floral wreath in one hand and a child’s purple winter coat in the other. A companion unfurled an orange banner that read, in Chinese, “Welcome Dou Dou,” and in English, “Welcome to the U.S.A.”
Like a sigh of relief, she let out a laugh, telling how she had kept herself busy that day crafting the wreath and banner.
She called what she was doing – waiting at the airport for her daughter – an anomaly. “Daughters should be with their mothers,” she said.
She noted the full moon that night – in Chinese culture, she explained, the full moon represents family togetherness. The plane had yet to land, and the 36-year-old mother allowed herself a nervous smile.
The undersized coat, she said, was for the cold winter’s night in Queens. Her daughter was accustomed to the warmer climate of South China.
By the time the first passengers emerged from the sliding doors, the waiting room had filled with a contingent of supporters and friends, many fellow practitioners of Falun Gong, a type of Chinese meditative exercise. Expecting her daughter at any moment, Forest Hills resident Amy Li began to weep, at times sobbing uncontrollably.
She knew little Meng Lin had grown much these past three years.
Three Years In The Making
The night before her daughter’s trip to the United States, Li described the gifts she’d bought for her daughter – the toys, clothes, and “things girls like” – to the Tribune, and sounded as if she was crying tears of joy and heartache. “My daughter has gone through too much. I feel very guilty.”
Meng Lin was separated from her mother three years ago, after Li – a Falun Gong practitioner – fled Communist China, where the meditative art is banned.
“I feel we have been separated so many years, like we’ve been in different worlds,” Li said. She added that she didn’t expect to sleep much that night. “I am very excited. I will call Hong Kong to keep checking on her. I won’t relax until she arrives.”
Friends consoled Li as she waited anxiously at the airport that Saturday night, wiping away the tears. With each whoosh from the sliding doors came a surge of hope, then disappointment. Li averted her eyes, as though blinded by the glass doors, too full of hopeful radiance, like the full moon shining in the night sky.
Twice, an official approached, saying there was still paperwork to finish inside, that the girl could soon come out. The doors opened – and closed. Finally, as the doors parted once again, Dou Dou stepped out and into her mother’s arms.
The tears were ones of joy and relief, in sharp contrast with the story behind the separation.
Telling Her Story
The night before, Li discussed the separation in a lengthy phone interview conducted in Chinese with the Tribune.
She attributed her talkative mood to anticipatory exuberance. Her daughter within hours of safety, she felt she could tell her story, even if it meant revisiting the worst moments of her life.
In 1997, she explained, as the Canton Province manager for a fashion company, Li turned to Falun Gong – a discipline of meditative exercise and cosmology founded in 1991 by one-time Queens resident Li Hung Zhi when he combined Qi Gong with Buddhist principles – as a way to relieve stress and improve her health.
Her daughter, then three, practiced alongside her.
At first, Li said, the Chinese government had nothing against the practice. But, by July 1999, after the 1998 Census showed that the 100 million Falun Gong practitioners exceeded the 60 million Communist Party members, Falun Gong had been outlawed.
The government described it as a superstitious cult, saying that children should learn science, not Falun Gong.
On July 19, 1999, the mass arrests began, she said.
Soon after, she departed for Beijing with fellow practitioners to appeal to the government not to outlaw Falun Gong.
But, on July 21, they were arrested en route.
“The government’s goal was to destroy all of Falun Gong within three months,” Li said. “But after four years, they still haven’t got the job done.”
Behind Locked Doors
By May 2000, hundreds of Li’s friends were in prison. One friend, she said, had been strung up for three days and nights, hanging by the hands. Another friend had been tortured to death. She decided to go to Beijing by herself to make another appeal.
If she couldn’t speak out in protest, she thought, she could write the words instead. In Beijing, she went to Tienanmen Square and held up a banner: “Falun Da Fa Hao,” which means, “Falun Gong is Good.”
Immediately, she said, the police ripped up the banner, struck her to the ground and threw her into a police vehicle. Outside, she saw the police grab two meditating Falun Gong practitioners and proceed to hit their heads against the ground. As other practitioners spoke out against the beatings, they too were beaten and arrested.
The group was sent to a prison in Beijing, where Li was held for 15 days. On the first day, when told to remove her clothing, she refused and was beaten unconscious. When she came to, Li saw the others tied to beds and subjected to electric shocks.
Instead of the electric shock treatment, she said, she was tortured by being force fed through a tube inserted into her nose and down her throat.
After 15 days in the Beijing prison and another two weeks imprisoned in Canton, Li was allowed to go home. But the police and members of the secret “610 Office” came to her every day, trying to force her to confess her crimes.
To escape the daily visits, Li and her daughter moved to another apartment. The authorities kidnapped both of them and put Li in a “brainwash center.” Every day, she was forced to watch CCTV. At night, CCTV would be left blaring, in effect preventing her from sleeping.
That’s when she started a hunger strike. Her husband, a government officer, came with his boss, together begging her to give up Falun Gong. Because of her involvement, everyone connected to her was suffering as well.
Li’s husband had been interrogated all night. Their daughter was not allowed to study at any schools. They risked losing their house.
Finally, she and her husband were forced to divorce, with custody of their daughter going to the father.
Meng Lin, nicknamed Dou Dou, was five when her family broke apart.
After the divorce, Li found her own place. It was the end of 2000. She had lost her family and her job.
Finally, Li realized there was no hope for her in China. In January 2001, with no money, no personal belongings, she left for the United States.
“In China, I lost everything,” she said.
Starting Over In Queens
When Li first arrived in Washington D.C., fellow Falun Gong practitioners – strangers – found places for her to stay and helped her gain political asylum.
Since then, she has moved to Elmhurst and most recently to Forest Hills. Her primary task these last three years has been to bring her daughter here. Li said she’s grateful to her colleagues and to everyone else who wrote letters to the Chinese government, including Massachusetts Congressman Michael Capuano.
Earlier this year, Meng Lin’s passport finally came through.
“I feel the future is bright and filled with hope,” Li said. “The worst is behind me, so I have confidence in the future.”
“In America,” she added, “people are respected. Everyone’s beliefs are respected.”
Although the Chinese Consulate in New York City has repeatedly denied the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, Falun Gong groups in Queens say it’s very real and are looking for help.
For more information, log on to Falundafa.net.