Article by WRIC Volunteer: Li Hui
Editor’s note: The Birth Planning Policy has been implemented for 30 years and has caused human tragedies unseen in history. Those hundred million newborn and stillborn innocent souls killed by this national policy cannot be forgotten. Among these souls are those that would have been grateful for being brought to this world, but were wiped out. For example, these adopted girls at the nunnery should have had a happy childhood and a warm family, but this kind of normal life was strangled by the widely evil national policy before even emerging. What a tragedy! Nowadays, the problem of ageing population has surfaced, the gender proportion of the population is unbalanced, and child trafficking is rampant. The government’s policy is the origin of all these disasters, but not only does the government refuse to aid, comfort and solve the difficulties of the victims, they do the opposite and block all news, prohibiting the outer world from learning the truth, and even use suppression and threats to obstruct social assistance.
In July, WRIC helped a young Taiwanese female photographer arrange for a visit to a nunnery that takes in abandoned babies. Unexpectedly, the photographer was repeatedly harassed by the local police and officials from various government departments. She became so frightened that she could only end her trip and escape from mainland China as quickly as possible. We feel very helpless and frustrated about this incident. It was the first time for this girl to visit Anhui, China. She had been dreaming about being close to her mother’s hometown and feeling the vibe of its ancient civilization, but now she has been intimidated by the officials and the police and had to run away. It is a sad sight. In regard to the political situation of Taiwan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has said they were “one family” on the surface, but in practice, they exert all energy into squashing up the survival space of Taiwan. Taiwan citizens are chased around the world and beaten up by the CCP just because they are fighting for a pitifully small amount of dignity and rights. This girl just walked around freely for a few days in China, would the sky collapse then? Before she boarded the plane, when she was still in Taiwan and had not even set foot on the mainland, the CCP had already collected relevant information. From this, we can see how much “homework” the CCP did, and what resources they tapped on, all to stop a girl from visiting another girl.
About 2 months ago, Taiwanese girl Mian Man was chatting with WRIC Jing Zhang. Jing gave her an introduction on the nunneries in mainland China which adopted abandoned babies. This practice was brought about by the Birth Planning Policy. Some rural families abandoned newborn girls at monasteries to keep the birth quota for a boy. Before this practice, some people gave away their baby girls or even killed them. Eventually, some parents didn’t have the heart to do so since it was their blood and flesh, so they thought of nuns, who were full of compassion. The parents secretly placed the newborn girls in front of the monasteries, hoping that the kind Buddhists could help keep the babies alive. The nuns did adopt the babies, since Buddhist doctrine specifies helping the wounded and dead, so they can’t leave someone who is about to die. Secondly, nuns cannot marry and have children, so they consider about their future and prefer to have disciples and someone to take care of them when they get old. Surprisingly, this act attracted a large amount of abandoned babies, all of which were girls.
After listening to Jing Zhang introduction, Mian Mian had a deep interest in the topic and wanted to go to see it herself, hoping that WRIC could contact the nunnery and assist. On one hand, she was indeed a Chinese, and her mom was from Anhui, so she could search for her ancestors in the mainland and view this old, mysterious land to realize her dreams. On the other hand, as a photographer, it was rare in the contemporary world that nunneries would adopt a large number of abandoned girls, and this humanistic wonder was also original material that she wished to obtain to create her art.
Not long after, Yao Cheng from WRIC sent me a message asking if I could be the guide for this Taiwanese girl to visit a nunnery that adopted girls. To ensure that the visit would be successfully accomplished, he didn’t tell me which nunnery it was, where it was located, and who to contact, only telling me that the visit would be in mid-July.
Around 2013, I was a volunteer for WRIC and participated in projects to assist women and children. It was especially because I took part in advocating for the right to education for Anni Zhang that I was detained, summoned and blocked at the border many times by the police and Public Security Officers from places such as Hefei and Fuyang. I was even sentenced. When Yao Cheng was working on this project in the mainland, I had already learned about the situation of these nunnery girls and wanted to visit these poor children. I was busy dealing with some matters before this, but now I had a chance, so I was more than glad to go.
In the morning on July 17, Yao Cheng told me that the Taiwanese girl would arrive in Shanghai two days after (19th) and would take the high-speed rail to Hefei, so I should pick her up at South Hefei station on the 19th and take her to our destination: Linjiang Nunnery along the north shore of the Yangtze River in Fuxing Town, Susong County, Anhui Province.
In the early morning of the 19th, I was already on my way to Hefei. Not long after I arrived at South Heifei station (at around 10am), I received a message from Yao Cheng that Susong County Bureau of Religious Affairs and the Fuxing Town police both called Linjiang Nunnery. At first, they asked if a Taiwan reporter was coming there, then warned them that they could not meet with her. Shi Hongwen, a girl from the nunnery replied that she never heard that any a Taiwan reporter was coming. (At that time, due to a flight delay, the Taiwanese girl hadn’t even crossed the Chinese border. I really admire the level of monitoring of the Public Security Bureau. Although we used chatting software from foreign countries and used a new cell phone number, the resourceful cyber police, penetrating every corner, had immediately monitored the content of our conversation and had preparation plan ahead of time). Due to the flight delay, it was already 8pm when I picked her up. We could only stay in Hefei for the night.
Young Taiwanese photographer Mian Mian (third from the left) and the girls at the nunnery.
Form lift : Mian Mian and Shi, Hongwen. In 2012, WRIC raised money for Hongwen heart bypass operation. Ten years old Shi, Hongxin. Mian Mian and WRIC volunteer Li Hui.
It was too hot the next day so we decided to get to the nunnery by car. At around 12pm on the 20th, after a long journey of almost five hours, we finally arrived at the remote nunnery in Fuxing Town, Susong County, Anhui Province. Although it was called a nunnery, it was actually a few makeshift houses that were just built. Since the flooding of the Yangtze River, the already torn Linjiang Nunnery was soaked and lay in disarray. The three master and disciples could only live a harsh life in some makeshift houses. The old master was almost 80 years old and had adopted two girls: one just turned 20 and the other was only 10 years old. The elder girl was named Shi, Hongwen and had Congenital Heart Disease. In 2012, WRIC raised money for her heart bypass operation. The younger was named Shi, Hongxin and was studying at the village elementary school. Besides the government subsidy of RMB600 that the 10-year-old receives (which will cease once she turns 18), the three can only live on sparse donations. Now that the nunnery was flooded, life was extremely difficult for them. They lived from hand to mouth, not knowing at dawn what might happen by dusk.
Just a few minutes after the Taiwanese girl and I had arrived, seven to eight government officials came. They were from the Susong County Bureau of Religious Affairs, the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, the Propaganda Department etc. They claimed that they had been sent to take part in flood relief (which was false, it was more to monitor us). Actually, they had already came in the afternoon on July 19th (since they didn’t get the latest information on the flight delay), and had got nothing. These few middle-aged men had no respect for the serenity of a Buddhist temple and randomly barged into the nun’s bedrooms. They kept monitoring us and tried to talk about nonsense. Even when we were having lunch, they stood at our side and refused to leave. I didn’t shy from telling on them, and said to one official from Bureau of Religion, “Since you are from the Bureau of Religious Affairs, you should know your duty: how many real-life problems have you solved for the nunnery? How much money have you donated? How much funding have you applied for them?” He argued, “They don’t have the proper registration, and are not recognized by the government, so they cannot be helped.”
I said, “The three here are old, weak, sick and disabled. They don’t even have enough to eat and keep warm, how would they be able to register? They have such a difficult life, but not only do you ignore them, you obstruct social support that can rescue them! Friends from across the border have travelled dozens of thousands of miles to donate and assist them today, but you aren’t welcoming them, and even treat them as criminals, guarding them closely. There were so many of you barging into the nunnery! You scared the children so much they aren’t coming out. What impact have you brought to those around you? (At that time they suddenly charged into the nunnery and did scare 10-year-old Little Hongxin, who rarely sees men. So many tough-looking men busted in that the little girl immediately panicked and closed the door to hide from them. She was too afraid to even come out for lunch).
After we finished lunch, the United Front Work official from the Department of the CPC Central Committee got straight to the theme with me, asking for my name, phone number, address etc., then started questioning my Taiwanese friend on why she was here and told her to show her passport and relevant ID. They asked for details regarding the aim of this trip and took photos before leaving. Not long after this group left, 4 Fuxing Town police came, clearing the road with their police car and arriving with weapons and all. One of them was even a policewoman. Just after getting out of the car, they demanded Mian Mian for her ID and took pictures, and had her fill in a form. They told me to give personal information as well. Following that was again a series of investigation and questioning. One of them seemed to be the little leader.
His face tightened and he left with arrogance, saying “Foreign nationals staying the night at a nunnery must report to the precinct upon arrival to our town. If you don’t leave tomorrow, we won’t come to serve you, you must go to the precinct.”
The next day, we planned to walk around the village after getting up. Just as we walked out, a police car followed us like a shadow, staying on guard in secret. They took no notice of the scorching, fiery sun in the midst of the hot summer, and rode dozens of miles to this remote countryside in the early morning to stalk and “protect” us. How dutiful of them! If they had used so much manpower and resources to really serve the people, why would they have to worry that the social situation was unstable? This sovereignty of China sees every person as an enemy wishing to overthrow them. A young Taiwanese girl born in the 80s travelled tens of thousands of miles to mainland China just to understand the lives and conditions of the girls at a nunnery. For a small matter like this, they had to dispatch so many people in such a state of insecurity and panic! They didn’t take into account the heat of the day and for three consecutive days, dispensed so much manpower for surveillance and harassed us. This sovereignty looks strong and unbeatable, but is actually the weakest.
According to sources, due to the Birth Planning Policy, abandoning babies at nunneries have become common. These nunneries are mostly located in poor and remote rural areas, such as in Anhui and Chongqing. The majority of these nunneries are not recognized by the government. WRIC has started this rural girls; assistance project since 2008, but because of the interference of the Chinese government, it has not been able to function normally since 2011. These girls’ health is not guaranteed. Buddhists are vegetarians, so the children can’t even eat eggs and milk, not to mention fish and meat. They don’t have medical insurance, so when they get sick, they can only allow themselves to be treated by folk methods from the masters. They cannot receive normal education from the family and school, and can’t feel the love from a father and mother, so have serious psychological problems. A lot of them have autism. From my short time of meeting with them, I already discovered that 20-year-old Hongwen and 10-year-old Little Hongxin both have this kind of autism, especially Little Hongxin, who never spoke and only nodded or shook her head when I asked anything, with no smile on her face. She never communicates with strangers and doesn’t have any books and toys; she doesn’t have a spiritual world. We put in a lot of effort and gave her some toys. Finally, right before we left, we saw a hint of a smile, and she promised to take a picture with us to keep for memory. They have lived in such an environment since they were a child, so when they grow up, they naturally can’t assimilate into society. Therefore, many girls choose to become nuns.
Mian Mian originally intended to stay in the mainland for a week, so her return ticket was scheduled for 7/26, and she planned to go to other places. However, what happened right before her eyes showed that she should not stay long in the mainland. Thus, after donating RMB1000 to the nunnery, she refused my repeated pleas for her to stay, and suddenly changed her high-speed rail ticket date, disposed of her original flight ticket, and bought a flight ticket to Taipei within the shortest time possible. She experienced hardships and passed through tens of thousands of miles from the U.S. to China, but only stayed for three nights, and fled back to Taipei during the midnight on July 22. Before she left, she called me and in an extremely excited tone, told me that she was so lucky to leave this country; she didn’t want to stay one minute longer in the mainland. Since the internet here is often blocked, she couldn’t login to her email and social network accounts and couldn’t contact her friends. More unbearable was that she herself was treated as a hostile force and was monitored and harassed. She couldn’t feel any sense of security, and said that she would never go the mainland again.