This is an interview with a young woman who is notable for her actions in standing up to rescue her husband, Wang Quanzhang, from prison. It is hard enough for human rights lawyers in China, but their wives and children face many more difficulties.
Wang Quanzhang from Wulian, Shandong Province, was born in February of 1976. He graduated from Shandong University Law School in 2000. He is a Beijing human rights lawyer who has represented people facing forced eviction for rural land demolition projects, dissidents, and a large number of Falun Gong practitioners. On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government began to purge human rights lawyers, activists, and legal personnel by illegally sending them to prison. This became known as the 709 crackdown. Wang Quanzhang went missing on July 10, 2015. He was treated brutally by the authorities and was made to disappear for six months. He continues to be illegally detained to this day.
Even though his wife, Li Wenzu, has been closely monitored, put under house arrest, tracked, intimidated, harassed, threatened, evicted, interrogated by the authorities, and seen their son Wang Guangwei banned from attending a kindergarten in Beijing, she has actively called on the international community to help solve the human rights crisis facing China’s lawyers since 2015.
This is Part One of our three-part interview with Li Wenzu, Wang Quanzhang’s wife
Reporter: In the past two years, I have often seen you online calling for the defense of Wang Quanzhang’s rights.
Li Wenzu: In reality, I didn’t want to expose myself. I expected to have a job I like, then go home to take care of my child, go for a walk in the park, take my child away on a holiday, or go to see the Grandpas and Grandmas. In 2011, I married Wang Quanzhang. Even though we were not together much, I still lived a happy life.
For me, the index of happiness was quite high. I have a husband with a particularly good character and a healthy, lovely, and intelligent son. My parents, grandparents, and Quanzhang’s grandparents are very kind and very good to me. I don’t have to worry about anything in our family. I usually only need to take care of my family and dress beautifully.
I started to feel the threat to my life in 2013 when our son was only three months old, and I could not connect with my husband by phone. The situation of losing contact happened before, and I was anxious and afraid. Later, I learned that he was detained while in [the city of] Jingjiang [for] court. That time, he was released after three days due to various support, and I gained a deep understanding of him at that time.
I registered on Weibo to get to know his work. When I watched Weibo, I suddenly realized that I was so ignorant. It turns out that life is like this! Our society is so dark with extremely ineffective local law enforcement, violent law enforcement, forcible relocation of citizens in order to do demolition, etc. I used to live in my own little world. I didn’t know anything, and I think I was particularly naive. Looking at Weibo made me particularly uncomfortable. I didn’t think I could do anything.
Too dark, I couldn’t stand it, even though my husband went to help other people to defend their rights and do those things, I didn’t want to face it. So, I chose to escape and no longer watch Weibo. At that time, I still held onto my illusions, held onto my luck, and thought that those horrible things would not happen to me. If I don’t look at it, don’t care about it, then it will be far away from me.
But I did not know that escape is useless. In the end, I faced such a horror — I faced persecution. I need to stand up and need to defend my rights. The 709 crackdown has disturbed my little world. It leaves one with no choice. You don’t have the right to choose the life you want. The 709 incident is a big test for me, and it has changed me.
Reporter: Someone advised you to think more about yourself. Should you protect yourself?
Li Wenzu: Many relatives and friends said that. Probably most of them told me: “You must pay attention to safety and take good care of your child. Either for your child or your own safety, you should not do these things.” Once, I told a taxi driver about 709. He said: “Look at your husband who suffers so much, and then you go and bring back more suffering for you and the child. You don’t care about how much your child suffers and run all over the place to ask for help. I call that irresponsible.”
I asked him if the toxic vaccine incident had affected him and injured his child, would he hope that someone like my husband would stand up and speak for him? I said: “What I am doing now is the best thing for our child, and is the most responsible thing because when he grows up, I can tell him very convincingly that when his father encountered difficulties, his mother took him along, and our entire family was together! I think what I am doing now is the most responsible and best thing for our child.”
In the end, the driver again advised me that it would be good to live my own life. He still thinks that I am irresponsible. The reason being: We are not gods, not so almighty, and I only have to manage my own life.
I think this kind of logic is wrong. What happened to us Chinese people? This is my husband. I can’t abandon him because of danger. Then, if this thing falls on your head, what do you want your other half to do? No matter what? We are human beings. How can normal people have such logic and such an idea?
The idea to “live a good life for yourself”… Now, I have friends who told me that they don’t want to understand. They have been living their own lives. They don’t want to talk about politics. They are not going to provoke me. Can they just avoid me? However, many victims want to live a good life at home, too. In a country like this with a weak legal system, disasters may come at any time. Where can we go to find our little world undisturbed?
Reporter: Then were you not afraid? Your husband was in such a dangerous situation, so what gave you the strength to do this? If you did not get any results, would you still continue?
Li Wenzu: People will be scared. I was followed by the police for more than a year. They dragged me down from the second floor and took me to a police station. They were very rough with me and treated me like a prostitute or drug dealer. They even took my clothes off and did a body search. I was afraid, but I still had to do it. I can’t say that because I am afraid, I will not take care of my husband.
In fact, you said that those lawyers are not afraid of being tortured. Who is not afraid? They have fear, but at the same time, they still have to follow their conscience. My husband only did what a normal lawyer should do. He is just a person who still has a conscience. He sees those who need help, and even if he is afraid, he has to help. Ah, he has to go on, just like I am today.
My husband was arrested and made to disappear. A wife should stand up and find her husband. You can’t say that you are married to a man to share the good times with him. When he is in trouble, you leave him. I think that a normal person should stick with his/her partner, for better or for worse. That is the most instinctive behavior of a normal person. My husband is still being persecuted and defamed. I will go out and get help for him. Let him come home soon.
The more I learn about what he has done, the more I feel that I should do things for him. He did it for others and ignored his safety. I now stand up for my husband to rescue him. That is my duty as a wife!
My biggest wish every day is to see Quanzhang or get a call from him. I hope that he will be released and can come home immediately, but what will happen and when he can come back is a question mark. What I can do now is to do everything in my power for him.
Reporter: As a wife, did you know the risk of doing these things at the beginning? Did you ever try to persuade him to stop?
Li Wenzu: At first, I didn’t know about his work. After 2012, he was very busy. Basically, I did not see him. When I asked him why he was so busy, he didn’t tell me. Later, I learned from friends that he represented a lot of Falun Gong cases. He was one of the earliest and took on most of the Falun Gong cases in the lawyers’ circle, and later on, he received almost all of them.
Some of those friends tried to persuade him, because this is risky, and he is not able to make money, that he could pick up other cases. After all, he has a wife and child to raise, and parents to support. He was often beaten or detained for his work.
As his wife, I am of course worried about his personal safety. I want him to be safe.
I would tell him that our son is only one year old. Can you take your son and family into consideration? Try to avoid the risk? He didn’t say anything at that time, he just told me that the lawyers who dare to represent Falun Gong cases and dare to speak were few and far between. If he was afraid and didn’t take these cases, then no one would do it. These people need help. What are they going to do?
He really had no hesitation, and he invested a lot into the Falun Gong cases. A lawyer told me that he seems to be the one being roughed up most often. Usually, it is because he was particularly persistent and angered the bailiffs. He would not back off even if they beat him or threatened him.
When I cleaned the house, I found the [camera] film [with photos] he had taken at the hospital in one of the cabinets. I asked him what happened, but he did not say. Later, a friend posted it online, and I realized that he had been beaten.
One month before being arrested, he was beaten again in Shandong. It is said that several bailiffs beat him, and he had many bruises. Later, other lawyers took pictures, and I saw his suffering face in the hospital.
It is said that several times he had to wear a black hood and was dragged into a room. They also grabbed his head and hit it against the wall and then hit his head with a mineral water bottle. They hit his head every time. If he had not defended the rights of his clients, he would not have suffered this kind of treatment.
He treated his clients like family members. I remember that in 2010, he and I went back to my family for the first time. Our family welcomed him and took us out to eat, drink, and have fun. When we were out, he sat alone with a long face, frowning, and making some uncomfortable expressions. I didn’t understand him at the time, and my family also misunderstood him.
I spoke to him afterward, saying that everyone thought that he was unhappy. He said that he took a call at that time and that there was a case in which he would be the defense attorney. He said: “In a few days, it will be the New Year. You see that this person is in prison, there is no freedom, and perhaps a lot to suffer. How can I be in a mood to eat, drink, and play?”
Some time ago, a lawyer told me about one case. When my husband defended a Falun Gong practitioner, the bailiff slapped his face for every sentence he uttered. Finally, I was told that he had been slapped more than 100 times. Can you imagine that? What kind of concept is that? (Li wiped her tears away.)