‘My Hopes for China Are Shattered’

Citizen journalist Lanjian Zhao was hunted by the police because of his advocacy for the mother of eight, nicknamed Xiao Huamei, who was found chained by the neck to the wall of a hut in freezing weather. The local government never gave a satisfactory answer to the angry public. Later on, the suppression of free speech that Zhao experienced exceeded his wildest imagination. After being summoned multiple times by the police, he began researching ways to leave China.

On February 10, 2021, I went to Yunnan to talk to Xiao Huamei’s uncle.

My clip was deleted from the websites. But on social media, on WeChat groups, people were still spreading it.

What I later experienced simply for seeking the truth has shattered all my hopes for China. I didn’t think that freedom of speech was such a taboo topic, and I never thought the police could be so cruel to a citizen like me.

The first time I was taken away by the police … I never imagined for someone like me, they sent over 10 policemen. They didn’t put handcuffs on me, but this group of police escorted me out of my neighborhood. When I left, the kids looked at me as if I was from outer space.

I’ve shared my experience with multiple foreign media outlets, including Voice of America.

There is no media freedom in China now. All media are supervised by the party. For me, as a citizen journalist, to get involved in seeking out the truth can be very risky. You can be arrested and be labeled as someone who’s colluding with foreign hostile forces.

I have kids. The police have kids. No one wants to see their 12-year-old daughter be a victim of human trafficking … being raped for 20 years and giving birth to eight kids. This has touched the rock bottom of human rights violations.

If our society can’t demand the truth on an incident like this — our government had to have five conflicting reports trying to cover up the facts. … It’s terrifying to me.

On May 10, they started the last round of investigations on me. They interrogated me, took my cellphone away to another room. I had passwords, but they managed to unlock them, copied all the documents on my phone. I was petrified.

I decided that I had to leave this country. I started to research how to leave China.

I had to play hide-and-seek with the government. I’m not sure if I was on the blacklist at Border Control, so I asked my friends with connections to go check for me. And they said it was OK for me to get out. I seized the opportunity and flew out to Malaysia and stayed there for a month. I arrived in the U.S. on July 21 [2022].

When a person’s life is threatened, and he doesn’t even have a voice to ask for help … for moments like this, freedom of speech is also the right to life.