Zhang Qing (L), the wife of Chinese human rights activist Guo Feixiong, speaks at a press conference before a subcommittee hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, DC, as her daughter Yang Tianjiao looks on, October 29, 2013.
© 2013 JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images
“Never could I imagine the Chinese authorities were capable of such inhumane cruelty – to keep him locked up when my life is coming to an end,” said Zhang Qing, wife of the prominent Chinese human rights activist Guo Feixiong, in December. Zhang passed away on January 10 in a hospital in the United States, after being diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer in January last year. She was 55 years old.
In the past year, the Chinese authorities had repeatedly prevented Guo from leaving China to care for his wife, citing farcical national security concerns. In his letter to Premier Li Keqiang and Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi in January 2021, Guo pleaded, “You public servants are also husbands, [blessed with] marital love, must also have empathy of ordinary people.” Instead of allowing him to leave China, authorities forcibly disappeared Guo in December, rendering his whereabouts unknown.
Guo Feixiong, the pen name of Yang Maodong, is a 55-year-old writer, publisher, and lawyer, best known for his central role defending the rights of villagers against corrupt officials in Taishi Village in 2005, a landmark case in the rights defense movement in China. As a result of his activism, Guo was twice imprisoned between 2006 and 2019, serving 11 years in total. He had been repeatedly tortured, including with electric shocks.
The authorities’ unrelenting harassment of Guo’s family led Zhang to flee to the US with their two young children in 2009. Zhang eventually settled in Maryland, raising the children through multiple part-time jobs. Before her death, Zhang and Guo had been forcibly separated for 15 years. “Looking at my mom throughout these 13 years has showed me how hard, how difficult, how arduous life is for a wife of a political activist,” the couple’s older daughter wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to help her mother.
The Chinese authorities’ cruelty toward the couple is emblematic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of its critics and their families. Just one day before Zhang’s death, the father of imprisoned human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng passed away, unable to see his son since he was jailed four years ago.
Now Zhang is gone. Only by releasing Guo and allowing him to leave China to attend her funeral can Chinese authorities begin to mitigate the cruelty inflicted on the couple and their family.