‘I’m Fed Up Being Ripped Off’

Yulong Shen, a 37-year-old guitar teacher, had decided long ago to move out of China. To him, life in China was hopeless. He couldn’t afford to be sick. He couldn’t afford a condo. And he had no freedom to speak his mind.

You can work hard your whole life, yet at the end, you are still being ripped off.

My name is Yulong Shen. I’m from Xianyang. While in China, I was a guitar teacher. I’m 37 years old.

I was a rebellious kid, and I fell in love with rock music. About 10 years ago, I started to use VPN and found out the differences between China’s political system and that of the West. One is authoritarian, one is democratic.

I don’t like the environment in China mainly because it’s really unfair.

Shen’s mother was seriously ill in 2008. Without money to pay her high medical bills, the family decided to stop treatment, and she passed away.

I used to think this is just life, that it’s the same everywhere. But then I realized there’s a difference. The unfairness in our society … I feel like average Chinese people have no rights.

I also feel like I’m being ripped off, no matter what. For example, if I want to have a family in China, I’ll have to have a condo. But I really don’t want to be chained to a mortgage my whole life. In China, you might work hard your whole life to get a condo, but eventually, the property is not yours. Eventually, it goes back to the party. Isn’t that exploitation? [In China, land is owned by the government, which gives property rights to homeowners for 70 years].

Nowadays, medical care and education have been commercialized … but these things are related to people’s livelihood. It shouldn’t be overly commercialized. Different interest groups are taking money from average citizens. I just feel like we are being ripped off.

I had been critical of the government on WeChat, then they censored me. I couldn’t even apply for a debit card. … Life was really hard then.

When I went to seek medical care in Xi’an, I was summoned by the police by phone. I was afraid … that they had started to put me under surveillance. We all know once you are put under surveillance, your life will become difficult. They will watch everything you do, everything you say. … I was really anxious and said to myself that I had to get out.

Honestly, I once had hopes for China. I was thinking that when we have a new leader, our country will become better. But then I was disappointed, especially on how the government dealt with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The last free and democratic land in China has been ruined. … I thought to myself, ‘If I don’t get out now, there might be no chance in the future.’

My plane ticket was on July 12 [2021], but I actually flew out on the18th. They tried to persuade me to stay four times in between.

The reason was, ‘Don’t go out of the country unless it’s absolutely necessary’ [because of the COVID-19 pandemic]. I told the security guard [at the airport] that I had to get out. … I had to go earn money to support my parents. They took my phone away to examine it. … They checked all my social media, my chat history … but I was prepared. Others with similar experiences had told me how to prepare. So, I archived all the sensitive stuff and deleted it from my phone.

Before the move, to deceive those guys, I wrote a few posts on WeChat about how much I love the party — it was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party. They couldn’t find anything on my cell, and I successfully got out.