To look at her, it is hard to believe the trials Catherine Ho has faced. The petite woman radiates with the grace that only a truly devout believer possesses.
Persecution of Catholics
Ho was born in Shanghai, China, in 1935. Her parents sent her to Catholic school, and she became a Catholic in 1950 and joined the Legion of Mary. Ho was baptized one year after the Communists took power in China.
Before her baptism, Ho was called to the office of a nun at her school and told to think about her baptism. She was told she could delay her baptism because of the persecution that the Church was facing. However, Ho said, “Once God called me, I will follow Him forever.”
In 1955, she was arrested with 100,000 priests and Catholics for belonging to the Legion of Mary, a so-called “para-military” organization. Because she refused to join the Communist church, she spent 22 years in prison camps for being a “counter-revolutionary.”
“We didn’t oppose the government, we only wanted to practice our religion,” Ho said.
Life in Prison
While in prison, Ho said Catholics were isolated, interrogated, and brainwashed. The Communist propaganda did not sway Ho’s beliefs. “But by the light of the Holy Spirit, I knew it was a lie,” she said. “If I lost my faith, I would lose everything.”
While she was tortured in China, Ho would pray, “God, please let me die. I cannot suffer. I cannot bear this cross, too heavy.”
As she crossed the bridge into Hong Kong in 1979, she prayed, “Thanks, God.”
While in Hong Kong, Ho wrote a book about her experiences as a Chinese-Catholic. The book has been translated into English and Italian. Ho received the honor of delivering her book to Pope John Paul II. He told Ho that he prays for the Catholics in China every day.
In 1986, Ho, her husband, and her son moved to the United States. She and her husband currently live in Stanford, Connecticut.
After suffering through 22 years of torture and persecution, Ho’s faith is still very strong. She is still a member of the Legion of Mary and continues to write and speak about her experiences in China.
Bob Fu was a pastor of the Christian House Church in Beijing by night, and a teacher of communist ideals during the day. In 1996, this double life was revealed to authorities and he faced a similar fate to Ho. Fu possesses the signatures and affidavits of over 1,000 evangelicals who have been accused of being “counter revolutionaries” and belonging to a “Satanic, evil cult.”
“Do we deserve to live in horror just because of our faith?” Fu said. “Though facing arrest, we will never give in. For we know what we believe is the truth.”
Fu explained the severe punishments incurred upon Christians in China; fines equating 6 to 10 times a person’s annual income, destruction of books, statues and all things related to Christianity, the demolition of the homes of Christians, and severe torture of Christian believers. There have been three deaths reported to be associated with this severe torture.
Fu, just like Ho, has not given up hope. “By God’s grace, sooner or later, millions of Chinese believers will enjoy the manifestation of their religion together, without anyone closely surveillancing,” said Fu.
Fear Still Reigns
Many Chinese people living in America are scared to discuss their religious beliefs even though they are now outside communist rule. They are scared that if authorities in China learn what they practice, their family members still living there will be punished. Fu and Ho are certainly exceptions to this rule.
The cases of Chinese citizens being treated so brutally are hard enough to stomach, but it is not only Chinese citizens who suffer.
Dr. Charles Li, an American citizen, traveled to China to inform his parents of his upcoming wedding to Yeong Ching Foo. Li was arrested as soon as he stepped off the plane and he has been detained in China for over 40 days and he faces up to 15 years in prison for false charges.
Li was blacklisted in China as a practitioner of Falun Gong, a practice that is believed to improve the body, mind and spirit through exercise, meditation and teachings based on ancient Chinese culture.
Throughout China, Falun Gong practitioners are targeted and persecuted, as are those who practice any religion other than the atheist communist religion.
Gail Raichlin, Falun Gong practitioner and lead international spokesperson, said since 1999, there have been 587 known deaths of Falun Gong practitioners and over 100,000 have been sent to forced labor camps.
To many, it is hard to understand why the Chinese government would be so threatened by people who strictly adhere to a philosophy of non-violence, and practice their philosophy to increase their health and provide themselves with moral boundaries.
“There is no justice in China,” said Li’s fiancee, Foo. “I need your help. We need to call the president and the State Department. He did nothing wrong. We must help Americans like Charles.”
There are 36 American families who have relatives detained in China for practicing Falun Gong.
Dr. Jingduan Young is seeking help to rescue his sister, In October, she was arrested and no one knew where she was for two weeks. Young asked “Why are they afraid of her?” Young’s sister is 55 years old, and this is her second arrest. She practices Falun Gong and the values it promotes: truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.
“This is not about my sister or Charles Li,” he said. “This is about the values they are trying to preserve. This is really about fundamental universal values.”
On March 7, over 500 people rallied outside the U.S. State Department in Washington to ask the State Department to fight for the release of Charles Li.
Falun Gong practitioners were joined by the former ambassador of Hungary, and members of the Free China Movement.
Scott Weinberg, the director of governmental affairs for the Population Research Institute said, “I’m an American. Charles Li is an American. This attack on Charles Li is an attack on all Americans, an attack on freedom itself. This is why we are activating the Republican Leadership, the White House and the U.S. State Department to fight for the return of Charles Li.”
After hearing the testimonies of these people who have suffered persecution in China because of their beliefs, it is easy to doubt that any religion, other than the Communist Church, could exist there. Catherine Ho believes differently.
Before communism came to China, there were 3 million practicing Catholics in the country. Now there are over 10 million believers.
“Political power cannot destroy the Church,” said Ho.
One Child Only, No Choice
Each year in the United States, an estimated 1.6 million babies are killed by choice. In 1973, Roe v. Wade made it legal for a woman in America to have an abortion based on the simple decision that she did not want a child.
Each year in China, millions of babies are killed by force. Since the 1979 One-Child Act was enforced, it has become a crime for a woman to conceive a child without permission, and a so-called “unregistered” child will be aborted, or even killed at birth.
While laws in America have made it legal for a woman to decide if her child lives or dies, women in China can only wish they had the option to let their children live.
China began working on the one-child policy in the 1970s after Chinese scientists traveled to Italy where they read the Club de Roma Report. The report, which was later found to be fraudulent, discussed population growth and the lack of non-renewable resources. After reading this report, Chinese officials decided that China could only support a population of 600 million.
In the late 1970s, Chinese officials began enforcing the one-child-per-couple policy. In the 1980s, the policy was amended slightly to allow a second child for couples living in rural regions whose first child had been a girl.
In order to enforce the one-child policy, after the birth of the first child, the insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD) is mandatory. If a couple is given permission to have a second child, they have to wait four years. Any pregnancies that occur before the fourth year will be terminated. After the second child, either the woman or her husband will be sterilized.
Steve Mosher, president of Population Research Institute, was the first American social scientist to conduct research in China. He lived in rural China in 1979 and experienced, firsthand, the horrors of China’s one-child policy.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has had a presence in China since the 1980s, UNFPA claims that its presence in China is to help women, and promote women’s rights. According to “UNFPA’s County Program in China: Providing Quality Care, Protecting Human Rights,” written in 2001, UNFPA claims that in the 32 counties where it is present, family planning is “fully voluntary,” and there is no coercion. It also claims that targets and quotas no longer exist, women can chose the timing and spacing of pregnancies, and abortion is not promoted as a form of family planning.
According to the UNFPA Web site, the priorities of UNFPA include, “protecting young people, responding to emergencies, and ensuring an adequate supply of condoms and other essentials,”
UNFPA claims that one of its priorities is to protect young people, but as Population Research Institute representatives found when they visited China in 2001, UNFPA officials are sharing offices with the very people who kill an unimaginable number of children each year in the name of “family planning.”
“Conception is a crime that carries the death penalty for the babies,” said Guzel Birlik, a woman from China. “Babies, as human beings, have the right to live. Even animals are protected. Why is there no protection for these women?”
Mothers in most third-world countries would consider food and water to be essentials. UNFPA adds condoms to that list.
In September of 2001, PRI conducted an independent investigation of UNFPA in China. Most of the investigation took place in Sihui County, one of 32 counties where UNFPA was present.
PRI had no assistance from China’s government in its investigation and interviews were conducted privately, without Chinese officials present, so those being interviewed would feel free to speak.
The PRI team gathered testimonies from over two dozen victims and witnesses of coercion. In those testimonies, PRI was told, “There is no voluntary family planning in Sihui,” and that the coercive family planning in the county included “age requirements for pregnancy, birth permits, mandatory use of IUDs; mandatory sterilization, crippling fines for non-compliance, imprisonment for non-compliance, destruction of homes and property for non-compliance, forced abortion and forced sterilization.”
Mosher continues his research, and statements and documents he has gathered recently from China are “damning.” Even today, almost 25 years after the one-child policy was first enforced, Mosher has found, “Babies are being killed.”
A Chinese doctor, head of surgery, said people assisting in abortions are instructed to cover the mouths of babies being aborted to guarantee that babies don’t cry out. If a baby does cry, it is regarded as an “accident” because “it would sadden the woman to the point of hysterics.”
Of course there are a small percentage of children who are born in hiding, without the government‘s permission. These children are referred to as “black children,” and the parents of these children must pay numerous fines in order to register their children for medical care, education or employment.
Residents of Sihui County told PRI investigators that population control is invoked by coercion and force by the government, and they laughed at the existence of UNFPA’s “client-oriented” approach.
Victim and Witness
Guzel Birlik is both a victim and a witness of China’s one-child policy. After the birth of her first child, she was obliged to have an IUD inserted, and although she suffered from a severe allergic reaction to the device, it was illegal for her to remove it for three years.
In 1997, she was accepted for asylum by the Canadian government. She has visited China in the past year, and continues to be in contact with women there.
“At this very moment, thousands of little babies are being murdered by the Chinese government,” said Birlik. “I am speaking not with my voice alone, but with the cries of thousands of babies who are being murdered. These women and children suffer, and cry out to the world, but their voices are not heard.”
Nobody that Birlik spoke to in China has heard about UNFPA’s claims that abortion policies are more relaxed. When she asked a woman if she was going to have a third child, the woman said, “You went to Canada and you forgot our policy?”
According to Birlik, the one-child family policy and practices of coercion are “very strict, and continue today.”
Birlik is part of China’s Uyghur population, a minority group from Xinjiang Providence in Western China. The Uyghurs are particularly persecuted by the Chinese because they practice Islam and possess an ethnic culture different from mainstream China.
“Everyone has the God-given right to live,” said Birlik, “My sorrows, my feelings, my agony, my emotions are all true because I was a victim.”
UNFPA responded to PRI’s investigative findings by conducting its own field research. The group from UNFPA spent five days in China, where they went on guided tours of family planning clinics, accompanied by Chinese officials.
Based on its guiding principles, UNFPA is bound to accept on good faith, the claims of the Chinese government. Because they have not proved that coercion does exist, UNFPA claims that it does not exist.
USAID in Afghanistan
In July 2002, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that UNFPA was in violation of the Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits the U.S. from funding organizations that support coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. Because of this, $34 million was pulled from UNFPA and designated to go to USAID programs in Afghanistan.
USAID efforts in Afghanistan, where infant and maternal mortality rates are at an all-time high, do not consist of simply handing out contraceptives or using abortions as a birth control measure, but it provides immunizations to children, pre- and postnatal care, trains mid-wives and helps women so that they have healthier babies.
PRI conducted a survey in Afghanistan in June of 2002 and found that of the 140 women surveyed, 25 percent of them had received an abortion or had been sterilized in a United Nations refugee camp.
These same women said that they want clean water, immunizations for their children and the chance to learn more about natural family planning. The majority of them want more children.
In this same area of the world, UNFPA is operating mobile “reproductive health clinics,” where abortions can be performed.
While many lawmakers would like to see the money used to support USAID in Afghanistan, some congressmen are withholding the money.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT.), the senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is, according to Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, “seeking to undermine the president’s authority.” Leahy is pro-abortion, and feels that the U.S. should support UNFPA.
“While Washington plays games, women in both countries suffer,” said Rios. “If they succeed, more Chinese women will be forced to abort babies, courtesy of U.S. tax dollars.”
This year, UNFPA unveiled its Fifth China Country Program that will last until 2005, and it claims not only that the Fourth China Country Program was “a success beyond expectation,” but that the Fifth Program will be expanded from 32 counties, to up to 800.
In January, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), vice chairman of the international relations committee, spoke to the European parliament. Because the international media has not focused much attention on China and its policies, many were disbelieving that coercion still exists.
“I am disgusted beyond words that a U.N. agency would continue to see that they’ve so aided and abetted this kind of action against women,” said Smith. “There’s been such denial on the part of the international community that it is breathtakingly tragic.”
Smith feels that “rather than just take their funding away, they ought to be held accountable in a court of law. It’s not just those who do the killing, but those who aid and abet. This is all about repression.”
On behalf of PRI, Mosher urges people to contact their representatives in Congress to ensure that UNFPA will receive no support from the U.S., and that the money will go instead to USAID to assist women in Afghanistan who are seeking help, not abortions.
This article first appeared in two parts in the Arlington Catholic Herald, March 13 and 20, 2003. Reprinted with permission.