She Survived China’s Forced Labor Camp. Now She’s Urging Americans to Reject Socialism.
Jennifer Zeng grew up admiring the Communist Party of China and adhering to its stringent rules. But her life changed forever when she embraced religion and was swept up in a government crackdown on Falun Gong. Arrested four times as a young adult and held in as a prisoner in a labor camp, she quickly woke up to the horrors of living in a socialist state. After being subject to brutal torture, Zeng managed to escape China and now tells about the evils of socialism and communism.
At a time when more Americans are embracing Karl Marx’s teachings, Chris Wright has helped Zeng share her story as part of a network called the Anticommunism Action Team. They recently spoke to The Daily Signal along with Darian Diachok, who escaped from Soviet-era Ukraine as an infant and has helped former Soviet satellite states democratize and overcome their failed communist systems.
The full audio is below, along with a lightly edited transcript. Some of the content is graphic and not suitable for small children.
Rob Bluey: We are joined by Chris Wright, Darian Diachok, and Jennifer Zeng. Darian and Jennifer both have experience with communism and have graciously agreed to share their stories. Chris Wright is doing phenomenal work in getting the message out about the horrors of communism through the Anticommunism Action Team. Welcome to all three of you, and thank you for being with us.
Chris Wright: Thanks for having us, Rob.
Bluey: Chris, I’d like to begin with you. Can you tell us about the Anticommunism Action Team and the work that you do?
Wright: In 2013, my Alexandria Tea Party had a big program and Dr. Lee Edwards from The Heritage Foundation was one of our speakers, and it was all about survivors of communism.
I went on to form a separate entity, the Anticommunism Action Team, in 2014 to formalize the activity. We added the speakers bureau in 2016. We have survivors of communism from Cuba, Bulgaria, Vietnam, China, Ukraine, as well as subject matter experts who now appear on the radio in several states.
We’ve been in front of classrooms and groups, and my speakers have a very powerful message. We’ve been down the socialist road, and we know what’s at the end of it, so Americans better wake up.
Bluey: Chris, we are living in a time when socialism is getting a lot of attention, or democratic socialism is, as some people prefer to call it. You have described to me Marxist theory and how socialism fits in the realm of that theory, and how it is the step before communism. Can you explain?
Wright: Marx saw stages of history, inevitable stages of history, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and communism. Socialism is the stage before the final stage. Socialism is characterized by the common ownership of the means of production.
Communism is when the state withers away because there’s no more dominant class, no more private property. You don’t need a state because there’s no more economic exploitation, and so that’s a great fantasy, but it’s never happened anywhere.
One of our speakers from Ukraine has a joke about all this. He says, “What comes after socialism? Communism. What comes after communism? Alcoholism.”
Bluey: We have with us two people who have told incredibly personal stories. They are, in many cases, heart-wrenching and tragic. I really thank you both for being willing to share and talk about your experiences.
Jennifer, I’d like to begin with you. You’re somebody who was born in China. You were arrested four times. You were held as a prisoner in a labor camp. You were able to escape that camp and leave China.
Can you tell our listeners what it was like, that experience, how you ended up in that camp? Then we’ll get to your ability to escape and now share your story with millions of people across the world.
Jennifer Zeng: I was arrested, like you said, four times and sent to the Beijing Female Labor Camp for practicing a spiritual practice called Falun Gong. It is a spiritual practice based on truth, compassion, forbearance, and plus five sets of gentle exercises, including meditation.
Because it’s very obvious health benefit, within seven years, there were more Falun Gong practitioners in China than Communist Party members.
At that stage, in 1999, the party decided to crack down on it. So, I ended up in the Beijing Female Labor Camp.
The first day was feeling like going directly into the hell.
For the first moment, we were forced to squat under the baking sun for 15 hours, and whenever someone couldn’t endure it and fainted away, they were shocked by electric batons so that they could wake up.
Every day, in the camp, it was a battle between life and death.
On June 17, I was in London at the Independent China Tribunal. They handed out their final judgment about this organ harvest and transplant, and they gave the verdict that the Communist Party is guilty of anti-humanity crime.
I only realized that I had a very narrow escape from being a victim of this organ harvesting because I had Hepatitis C.
While I was in the camp, apart from torture every day, apart from hard, forced labor, we were also given repeated physical checkups so that if anyone need an organ we could be killed on demand if we were a match.
Fortunately, I told the doctor I had Hepatitis C before I practiced Falun Gong. I was able to be exempted from becoming a victim of organ harvesting.
Bluey: In the camp you experienced both brainwashing and mental torture and physical torture. Many of the people in the camp were sexually assaulted and raped. Can you share what some of those things that you observed and endured were like?
Zeng: Yes. Actually, on the second day of me in the camp, two police officers dragged me from the cell to the cold, threw me on the ground, and applied two electric batons all over my body until I lost consciousness.
The torture I experienced and I saw was beyond description.
I saw a female Falun Gong practitioner tied to a chair, and she was shocked by four or five male police guards on her head and on her private part until she lost control of her bowel movement. As a result, she couldn’t walk for several months.
They also would tie four toothbrushes together and with the sharp end outside and push this inside the vagina of female Falun Gong practitioners and twist it, twist it until they saw blood came out.
The police would also throw females into the male prisoners’ cells to have them repeatedly gang-raped. So, this kind of thing happened in the camp.
I think the worst part for me in the camp is the brainwashing part. Because the police made it very clear, the only purpose for you to be sent there is to get you reformed, which means to change our minds toward Falun Gong.
So, we were forced not only to give up our beliefs in truth, compassion, and tolerance, but also to help the police to torture our fellow Falun Gong practitioners in order to prove that we were transformed.
After I think I spent six months in the camp, I suddenly developed such a strong desire to write a book to expose this all because when I was there, I couldn’t believe this was happening in the 21st century.
I thought this could only happen in a Nazi concentration camp. This should have already become part of the history. It couldn’t be present, but it is still happening.
To write a book, I have to get released. But, if I don’t prove to the police I had been transformed, I couldn’t be released.
So, every day, the struggle was in my mind of whether to transform or not to transform nearly killed me for another 1,000 times.
Little by little, I was forced to do all these things the police asked me to do in order to prove that I have reformed.
Little by little, I feel like becoming empty in a human shell. Actually, it was my very essence of a human being taken away like your thoughts, your soul, your free will, and your human dignity. I feel like a non-human being and doing whatever they force us to do.
That was a very, very disgraceful process. Worst deal, after I was released, they still expected me to go to the brainwashing centers to be used as example of reform and to continue to help them to do their reform job. So, I had to escape from my own family only five days after I was released.
Bluey: It’s just terrible. You were able to get asylum, though. How were you able to flee China and escape this terror?
Zeng: I think in this regard I was luckier than many of my fellow practitioners. I had a very good education. I graduated from Peking University with a Master of science degree. I spoke good English.
I met an Australian couple who went to China to teach English. I told them how terrible my situation was and how terribly I needed to leave China. They were able to help me to get out of China, so I sought asylum in Australia and was granted refugee status.
Bluey: We are so blessed that you’re with us today. We’re going to get back to your book and the movie and the work that you’re doing.
I do want to ask Darian to share his story. Darian, you were able to escape from Ukraine as an infant. You’re somebody who’s also witnessed communist governments through your work with USAID. Tell us about your own experience and what it is that helped you to understand about communism.
Darian Diachok: Actually, I have two sources of experience with communism.
The first one was through my extended family. We escaped from the Red Army as the Red Army was closing in toward the end of World War II.
We were extremely lucky to have made it to the United States because I think the statistics are that only one out of about 12 people who were escaping from eastern Europe actually made it to the West. They were picked up everywhere.
The [People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, abbreviated NKVD] had forward units waiting for people. Matter of fact, my parents ran into a forward NKVD unit but were able to give them the slip. So, we were extremely fortunate to have made it to the states.
Once we got here, people started telling stories, I guess, every Christmas, every Easter, escapees would get together and just talk to anyone about their experiences, how lucky they were, how something happened like they got on the last train or a pistol didn’t fire or something, how they were all able to escape.
My brother and I listened to these stories over the years, and my wife, who’s not Ukrainian, as I told her one of the stories, she said, “You should write a book about this.” So, I decided to do that.
Bluey: Your book is called Escapes, for those listeners who might be interested.
Diachok: Right, and the book is interesting in that my extended family … were represented pretty much in every aspect of World War II.
My father was a Polish officer fighting against the Germans. I had two uncles who were in the Red Army. I had another uncle who was picked up by the Reds and tortured and all of that. So, we have direct experiences with the communist takeover.
There was one particular day in which everybody was invited or actually ordered into the town square for a major announcement. No one knew what it was for. I hadn’t been born yet. My parents didn’t know what it was for.
They brought out all of the town leaders, the postmaster, the mayor, the vice mayor, everybody who was in the town council, and they shot them in front of everybody.
They announced the new era where all of your bourgeois tormentors have been taken care of, and now we will live in a new communist system. So, they had experienced things like that.
That’s one aspect. The other aspect is returning to the former Soviet Union later as part of the reform effort from USAID and other international agencies, and to discover what the devastation was and what the Soviet system left behind after it collapsed.
Not only in the infrastructure that didn’t work, not only in the environment that was ravaged, but also in people’s thinking, and also in the lack of institutions, the daily institutions, which we take for granted, all of which were broken and destroyed under communism, just the total human devastation in a way.
We saw the effects of what it was, of what the communist system actually did. We were faced with what do we do next, what do we do first.
Bluey: The picture that sometimes we see on the outside that’s painted by the state-run media or that those communist countries like to project is quite different from what you have experienced up close and personal. Can you share with us an experience that may come to mind that would help us better understand why it’s not so rosy, the picture that sometimes is painted?
Diachok: At USAID, we had counterparts. We had local counterparts. I was in energy, so I had an energy counterpart.
One day, he was called off. He got a phone call that his daughter was bitten in school. … We were very concerned that she was hurt.
He left, and we later learned that he had to apologize and to pay a huge fine because obviously, in a communist society, dogs represent power. They represent the authority, and if the dog bit the girl, she must have been misbehaving.
That was such a shock. We couldn’t imagine this.
On a more professional level, what we were discovering was that there was an overall pervasive sense of corruption. It came from the system, which didn’t work, and so people had to be corrupt in order to satisfy their daily needs.
In a centrally planned economy, everybody’s needs are supposed to be taken care of, and the central authorities cannot make any mistakes. They are infallible. So, you have to make do with what they have planned for you.
The centrally planned economy always has difficulty in finding out exactly what people’s needs are, how many people need what, what people’s shoe sizes are, everything else. In a centrally planned economy, all those kinds of things simply cannot be done efficiently.
Consequently, people do not get what they need, and they have to learn to barter for things. They have to do things under the table.
You’re not allowed to barter for anything because that’s going against the state. If you barter for anything, that means that you are a private entrepreneur who is working against the state.
So you’re not allowed to barter, but you have to provide for your family. Your family needs milk. They need food, and it’s not available, so you have to wheel and deal.
The whole system became completely corrupt. People learned to be corrupt. That’s on a daily consumer level. People learn to be corrupt.
On a more professional or a more, let’s call it, a more industrial level … every company, every firm had quotas that they had to reach. If they didn’t reach those quotas, the consequences were horrendous. They could be sent to Siberia. They could be shot, so meeting your quotas was … life and death.
The central planning system never gave you exactly what you needed to make the quotas, for the same reasons I had discussed earlier.
The central planning system couldn’t foresee the needs of every single, let’s say, radio manufacturer. They didn’t get it right, but yet you had the quota.
So, people learned to wheel and deal, to barter under the table in order to make the quotas.
The whole system also became corrupt in the sense that they were working against the communist system to satisfy the communist system. It got to the point where people just found shortcuts in order to satisfy the system.
If you were supposed to produce things in tonnage, like you had to produce a certain number of tons of irons or radios or any kind of household equipment, they would add huge amounts of metal to it just simply to increase the weights so that they would meet the quotas.
Everybody knew that they were producing junk, but yet the quotas were made. No one really took their job that terribly seriously. The object was to make the quota and not to produce anything of value.
There were really weird examples, too, in the Soviet Union where people would have quotas to produce certain kinds of trucks, and the next factory over needed broken-up trucks, needed wrecks.
So, they would take these trucks straight off of the assembly line, drive them a mile, and then destroy them, and deliver them to the next factory, which needed junked trucks.
People did not question that. If you question that, you were questioning the wisdom of the party, and that was punishable by all sorts of things.
The whole system became crazy, and this is what people learned. This is the environment in which people learned to operate so that when we got there, the ex-Soviets that we were working with were very, very attuned to what the party wanted because missing that was life and death.
So when we were talking to them, they were very attuned to what they thought we wanted to hear. They pretended to be on board with us, but then, at the first opportunity, they would go around us and try to exploit the system for everything it was worth.
Bluey: Darian, thank you so much for sharing those real-life experiences. That is just incredible to hear, and it’s disheartening on some level that the generational effects are still there.
I want to ask both of you about the books that you’ve written. And, Jennifer, in your case, also the documentary. Can you tell us about those books, and not only what is contained in them, but how we can go about learning more about them?
Zeng: Yes. I finished writing my autobiography detailing what’s happening on a day-to-day basis in the labor camps. The book is called Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong.
The U.S. version is available on Amazon, so people can search for that. I also have a Chinese version. … It’s also available on Amazon.
The Australian version is available on my publisher’s website, Allen & Unwin.
I think, up to now, my book is the only available one in English to detail what happened to Falun Gong practitioners inside the labor camp.
Actually, this year marked the 20th anniversary of what’s happening in China, and the scale of the persecution is so huge, 100 million Falun Gong practitioners, plus their families.
Now, we are hearing about millions of Uighurs also be detained in Xinjiang camps.
Because, I think, the world failed to stop the persecution of Falun Gong, now the party has the ability to expand that to other minority groups and to the entire nation. The entire nation is under very strict monitoring of the party.
I think my book has a very significant importance to be the firsthand account of what’s really happening inside the camp. It is current, and it is helping the world to know what’s really happened.
For example, several days ago, I saw a program by BBC. They and several other major media were allowed after many years of calling to go inside one of the re-education camps in Xinjiang to film. They ended up making a film of about eight minutes.
After watching that movie, as someone who had been in one of very similar places, I knew how fake that program was and how you should look at them.
I did a YouTube program about myself to discuss three small stories, especially about how the police managed to fake everything inside the camp.
When I was there, no foreign reporters were allowed inside the camp, but they even deceive their fellow police officers from other camps.
So, if they are even deceiving their fellow police officers and their supervisors from the neighbor camp system, would you expect them to show you the real thing of the neighbor camp to a foreign journalist?
I think my book and my story is still very, very relevant because this is still happening on a very large scale in China.
I hope more people can learn my story, and understand how serious this situation they are. It’s really millions of people’s lives at stake. I hope the world can stop this.
Bluey: Thank you for having the courage to share it and to tell that story. It is incredibly powerful.
Darian, I want to ask about your book. It’s called Escapes. Tell us about why you chose to write it.
Diachok: Yes, thank you.
We were passing a building that reminded me very much of the train station from which my parents escaped, and I began reminiscing to my wife on the way to a New Year’s Eve party about how my parents had to stand four days and four nights [for] the last train that was available before the Red Army closed in, and how the train was attacked by a Red fighter.
Some of the wagons were actually caught on fire. I was telling her this story, and she said, “My goodness. Don’t let that go to waste. That has to be put down. That has to be recorded for history.” That’s how it started.
Bluey: Let me ask you, at a time when it seems that there is an increasing interest in socialism, particularly among young people here in the United States of America, what is your message to them based on your own experience?
And what would you like them to know and think about and reflect upon as you’ve experienced these horrors of communist governments that embrace the principles of socialism?
Diachok: My father once said that communism is like a bouquet of flowers with a hidden dagger.
Zeng: I think for me I really would like to recommend a series of articles, editorials from The Epoch Times, called “How the Specter of Communism Is Ruling Our World.”
I think it discussed many phenomena of how the specter of communism is using both violent ways and nonviolent ways to try to rule this world. In the West, they are trying to change their names into different names, but the essence is the same.
As someone who was a victim of the communism, I really want people to know if you really adopted communism what life could be. That is what I had experienced.
I think in the early days when the Communist Party was just founded in China, they also talked about freedom, talked about equality, talked about everybody living in heaven-like communities and society.
Many young people also got deceived. They went to … the sacred place of communism.
If you look at the history, many of them ended up being killed by the party, and all their families, all their children, they all suffered for generations, after generations they suffer.
Under the Communist Party in China, 80 million people died of unnatural death. That’s all the result of communism.
Like Chris said, socialism is only the primary stage of communism. Actually, officially, or theoretically, China now is not a communist country yet. It’s still socialism with Chinese characteristics. Officially, China is now a socialist society.
If you look at what the people have suffered there … This year is the 70th anniversary of the CCP came to power in China, so the 70 years were full of killing, full of tyranny.
If you want communism or socialism, I think you should read more about China. You should read my story first to know what the socialism really is.
I think many young people, they are very easy to be attracted by those rosy, empty words, or the rosy description of how beautiful those things are, but the reality is just the opposite.
If they know what those damage or how people have suffered, more than, I think, one-half of the population of Chinese people have suffered one kind of persecution or another, they would stop having those rosy dreams about communism or socialism.
I think it is exactly because what they already have in this society, actually ensured not by the socialism, but by the fundamental principles of a free society, they forgot how cherishable, how valuable this is, and they start dreaming of those very unfortunate, I think, elusive things.
I hope people can learn the reality of communism and socialism.
Bluey: In some respects, it seems like it’s on display in Hong Kong, that resistance to China’s aggression and what it is trying to do. What are your observations about what’s taking place there now?
Zeng: I think the West, I hope all the young people can choose to really pay more attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong.
The young people in Hong Kong, they really experienced what life was really about when the Communist Party tried to erode their own freedom.
Some of them got so desperate up to now in these several days that there were three suicide cases of young people jumping out of the building to protest against this so-called extradition bill, and, I think, essentially, against the Communist Party’s erosion of Hong Kong’s freedom. They knew what life was like.
So, the Hong Kong people are really waking up to the illusion of this so-called one country, two system society, and they knew how valuable their initial freedom and the rule of law was.
They are really fighting with their life against the Communist Party’s erosion of Hong Kong. I think they deserve more help from the West, especially from the United States and the United Kingdom. We owe them support.
Bluey: Chris, I want to finish this with a comment from you. There may be some who say, “Why are we having this conversation? Why is it relevant to all of the things that are going on today?” Can you share with us why it is important that we focus on these stories?
Wright: Why is communism still relevant today? It’s just all in the dustbin of history.
We’ve reached the end of history and communism lost, so why are we still talking about this? Well, there are still five captive nations in the world, starting with China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea. That’s 1.5 billion people. It’s still relevant to them. That’s a lot of people.
Also, there’s an elected communist government in Nepal. Things are not going well there. The intelligence agencies are being weaponized. The press is being shot down. Communists are doing what they do everywhere. So, it’s relevant to the people in Nepal.
There have already been 300 people who have attempted to escape from Cuba on rafts so far this year. It’s relevant to them. It’s also relevant because, in the 2018 elections, there were 50 openly socialist candidates running for political office in the United States.
Also, there’s an openly declared socialist candidate running for president this year. The Denver City Council, there was just a woman elected there who promised that she would bring in common ownership. There it is, the quintessential definition of socialism, common ownership by any means necessary.
So, we’re entering into a period in the United States where socialism is on the rise again.
Bluey: Chris, how can our listeners find more about the work that the Anticommunism Action Team does? If a college student wants to bring some of these speakers to their campus, how do they get in touch with you?
We have a weekly roundup of anticommunism news that people can sign up for through the email address or through the website. Our Speakers Bureau speakers, wonderful speakers like Jennifer and Darian.
We have both subject matter experts and people who have survived communism who are available all over the country through video conferencing.
We’ve been on four college campuses so far this year, and we’re happy to do this anywhere in the country to a group that you think could benefit from this message.
Bluey: Chris, thank you for the work that you’re doing. Jennifer and Darian, we appreciate you sharing your stories with us.
Rob Bluey is executive editor of The Daily Signal, the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.
Copyright 2019 The Daily Signal