Interviewed July 2011
Bob Fu was a leader in the student democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He later converted to Christianity and became a house church pastor and a founder, along with his wife Heidi, of a Bible school. In 1996, he was arrested and jailed for running a secret bible school. After his release, he and his wife escaped to Hong Kong. They were admitted to the United States as refugees a few days before the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997.
Fu founded the China Aid Association (CAA) in 2002. CAA monitors and reports on religious freedom in China, particularly focusing on the fate of believers who belong to banned or unofficial house churches, which encompass 60 to 80 million followers. CAA issues frequent news releases on cases of religious persecution involving Protestant house church congregations and assists victims to assert their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice in China.
CAA also provides a forum for discussion and information exchange among experts on religion, law, and human rights in China through its bilingual journal, the China Law & Religion Monitor, and a bilingual website. Its headquarters are in Midland, Texas, where Fu now lives and works.
Yeah, we were imprisoned in May of 1996. And the first three days and nights we – it’s just non-stop day and night, 24 hours interrogation. And most of the questions are focused on my connection with our fellow Christians, especially Christian leaders and overseas interaction.
And how many members, and where they are, and some of the leadership in our church already escaped? And so they are focusing on these questions. And where is the finance from for our underground Bible school, et cetera? And because I had a law degree, so they didn’t really use electric shock baton, torture me, as they did to other prisoners, even in my prison cell.
So after three days of the interrogation, they throw me into a prison cell with about 20 to 30 prisoners staying together. About 20 square meters. Small room. We’re almost packed with a concrete bed, and even on the ground, full of prisoners.
And many prisoners, as I observed, were tortured. And I even saw the electric shock batons just outside the prison cell were used against prisoners. And some prisoners were even beaten up and with legs broken, arms broken, and had to crawl into our prison cell. It was a tough time. But I deeply felt that the Chinese prison itself is really a place of deep human rights violators, deep violations. And the prison guards had no respect at all on the basic rights of the prisoners, and the use of the prisoners to have, like, the first day, three courses of so-called pre-interrogation. And it just involves, you know, torture and beating.
And I myself, again, actually was forbidden to talk. And other prisoners [were] afraid to talk to me because they received a pre-warning by the prison officials that I would have some poisonous messages. Means the Christian Gospel to them if they talk to me. So they tried to prevent me from sharing the Good News in the Gospel to them. And later on, I found that and of course was able to communicate with these prisoners very extensively.
I think some of several drug dealers at least showed the sign of conversion when after I shared. But again, I was being watched, and at one time I was taken to the police – the prison officers’ room after somebody betrayed me from my cell, said I was sharing superstitious message.
And the prison officials just pumped the desk and said, "This is the holy land of the Communist Party. You can’t share your superstitious message." At one time I was kicked and beaten just to forbid me to share anything. And so later on, I have to just to sing some Christian hymns, with that way to share my faith by singing.
Well, whenever I got a chance to talk with them, and even my interrogators, I just did not have any hesitation sharing my faith and what it’s about and we’re good citizens. And there is a famous saying among the Chinese Christian community that there is ”one more Christian, one less criminal, one more church, one less prison.”
Said, "Yeah, we are actually trying to help the society to be a more stable and a peaceful society in China. And we’re not the destabilizer. And we are true patriots." So that’s my message to them.
The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, after a decades-long civil war between communist and nationalist forces. The communist victory drove the nationalist government to the island of Taiwan. While tensions have eased in recent years, both the nationalist and communist forces still claim to rule all of China. China ranks as the world’s third largest country by area, and the largest by population, with over 1.3 billion people.
Since 1949, China has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong led the country until his death in 1976. Mao’s era was marked by dramatic swings in policy, massive crackdowns on perceived opponents of the regime, and harsh repression. Since 1976, the Chinese government has broken with Marxist economic orthodoxy by instituting limited market-based reforms, but the party has retained its monopoly on political power.
Freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion are severely restricted, and the people of China are denied the right to change their government. The courts are controlled by the Communist Party and do not provide due process of law. Government control extends into every aspect of people’s lives, most notably in the one-child policy in which unauthorized pregnancies often result in forced abortion and sterilization. While technology has spread quickly in recent years, Freedom House ranks China as one of the three most repressive governments in the world in terms of Internet freedom.
While the rapid expansion of the private sector has dramatically changed the Chinese economy, fundamental principles of free market systems are lacking, including property rights and independent labor unions. Official corruption remains a major obstacle to developing a fully free economy.
In 1989, 100,000 people gathered in a peaceful demonstration in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to protest human rights violations and demand democratic reforms. The protest lasted several weeks and inspired similar nonviolent demonstrations in other cities throughout China. On June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army converged on the area with troops, tanks, and other advanced military weapons. Estimates of the death toll ranged from several hundred to several thousand. The army used similar tactics to suppress demonstrations in other cities and subsequently rounded up and imprisoned many thousands of protestors. The government vigorously defended these actions and instituted a campaign to purge those who had sympathized with protestors from the party and the government.
Although the Tiananmen Square massacre put an end to hopes for a speedy transition to democracy, courageous Chinese citizens have continued to risk imprisonment and worse to demand freedom. These human rights activists have included students, workers, lawyers, artists, and writers; Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims who demand respect for their cultures, traditions, and religious practices; members of the spiritual discipline known as Falun Gong; Catholics who insist that their church is headed by the Pope rather than by government-appointed religious officials; and members of the “house church” movement, representing millions of Protestant Christians who are forced to worship in secret because their churches are not authorized by the government. China’s many prisoners of conscience include members of each of these groups.
In 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo. His wife was arrested in order to prevent her from attending the award ceremony, and the government employed a range of coercive techniques to prevent other human rights activists from attending. China’s leading human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, disappeared in early 2009 and is presumed to be in government custody.
The most recent Freedom in the World report from Freedom House gave China scores of 6 for civil liberties and 7 for political rights, where 1 is the highest and 7 the lowest possible score. Freedom House categorizes China as a “Not Free” country.