The Shadow of the Motherland
For many people who have emigrated from China, getting out means leaving the suppression behind. But for some, the shadow of the motherland follows them wherever they are.
Yinxian Xue was born in 1938 into a “red” family — staunch supporters of the Chinese Communist Party. Her dreams as a young girl were to fight the Kuomintang Party like her parents, brothers and sisters. The Kuomintang Party, also known as the National People’s Party, ruled mainland China from 1927 to 1949.
As the first generation of trained physicians specializing in sports medicine, Xue started working at the General Administration of Sport of China in 1963.
But by the1980s, she was a whistleblower, publicly opposing systemic doping among Chinese athletes. After that, tragedy struck her family.
“The police were circling around my house. They followed me everywhere, even to the hospital,” she told VOA Mandarin. “It seems like they had nothing better to do.”
In the months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, several officials went to her apartment to warn her against “inappropriate speech” on doping. During an argument with the officials, one of them struck her husband, causing him to fall. He was still recovering from major surgery before he was hit and subsequently passed away from the injury caused by the fall.
Yinxian Xue (left) with athletes of Chinese National Sports Team, circa 1980s. (Courtesy Photo)
“I got into anti-doping advocacy because my father was basically pushed to death,” said Weidong Yang, an independent filmmaker and Xue’s oldest son.
“If I didn’t experience all of this, then I would probably still be in China making money. I probably wouldn’t have seen all these dark sides of China,” he told VOA at his home in Germany.
The 56-year-old grew up in Beijing. He taught interior design and architecture at China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, had a lucrative private studio and managed two trendy cafes.
Since 2008, Yang has documented the lives of Chinese people through an epic series of video interviews. He sent out 7,500 requests and interviewed more than 500 people on camera, including artists, intellectuals, dissidents and the second-generation sons and daughters of Chinese political elites.
Because of his work, he was summoned by the Chinese police more than 100 times. Thirty-two videos were confiscated.
“If it weren’t because of my father being pushed to death, I wouldn’t have seen all these dark sides of China,” said exiled artist Weidong Yang. (VOA)
In 2015, Yang sat nude at the entrance of the General Administration of Sport of China to protest his mother’s unfair treatment, including her benefits being stripped. He was arrested on disorderly conduct charges and was sent to prison for 114 days.
“Our family was ruined,” Xue said, and “they started to target my son. They forbade him from going abroad. Forbade him from working. He opened a coffee shop and every day, there were secret police coming in. Who dares to come to his shop?”
Under unbearable pressure, the family fled China in 2017 and obtained political asylum in Ravensburg, Germany.
From ‘little pink’ to dissident
In 2020, a young man who couldn’t bear the political pressure also chose to emigrate.
Yuzhen Chen is known as Mr. Chen to fans of his popular YouTube channel, “Here Comes Mr. Chen.” He was born in 1996 in a poor village in China’s central Anhui province. Growing up with his grandparents, he had to walk several kilometers each day to attend school.
“Life was pretty poor,” he told VOA.
“The Chinese government often say that democracy is not suitable for the Chinese people, yet Taiwan is an example right in their face. They can’t perfect their lies if Taiwan continues to exist.”
Chen said when he was in middle school, he was a fervent “little pink” — a young internet user who believes he has a duty to defend the Chinese government.
“I thought arguing with others was fun, defending my own country was patriotic. Well, I was young and had never seen the outside world then,” he said.
Chen went to Taiwan as an exchange student in 2016. After living there for four months, the then-20-year-old formed a different world view. He thought Taiwan was filled with warmth, justice and democracy.
“The Chinese government often say that democracy is not suitable for the Chinese people, yet Taiwan is an example right in their face. They can’t perfect their lies if Taiwan continues to exist, so they want Taiwan to be unified,” Chen said.
In June 2006, Yuzhen Chen was arrested by Hainan police for using VPN and teaching others how to circumvent China’s Great Firewall. (Courtesy Photo)
In June 2020, he was taken away from his home in China for teaching others how to use VPN to access banned websites. He was then released on bail, waiting for a verdict on his case.
“My case was delayed until the end of that year. Those six months were really difficult, because I had no idea what would happen to me,” Chen said. “They also told me that everyone in my family would be impacted because of my inappropriate actions … including my future sons and daughters.”
Out of desperation, he decided to apply for school in South Korea.
‘We know where you are’
From 1963 to 1988, Xue filled 68 notebooks documenting how Chinese athletes used banned substances with official approval.
To this day, the diaries are wanted by the Chinese government. Before the family emigrated, Yang sent the notebooks to the German Embassy in China with the assistance of German diplomats.
“The German diplomats that were helping us were under the surveillance of the CCP police. [One] sought help from a diplomat from another country [who] met with us in various garages around Beijing. We sent the diaries in batches, roughly three or four batches,” Yang told VOA.
After the family landed in Germany and applied for asylum, the German diplomat revealed the diaries.
Over the past few years, Xue and Yang have been editing the diaries for publication. The title in mind: “Chinese Doping.”
The diaries are sensitive issues in Beijing.
In Germany, the mother-son duo spent three hours on average per day editing the diaries and planning to publish them. The title in mind: “Chinese Doping.” (VOA)
Xue said that before every major sports event, whether it’s the Olympics, the Asian Games or any championships in China, her family is harassed. She said several of her relatives were harassed before the Winter Olympics in 2022.
“The police went to my brother in Jinan. He’d just gone through surgery and was still in the hospital. They definitely had talked to him, because I then got a call from him saying, ‘Come back. Live a quiet life, and you don’t have to run. The police can go and help you come back. They know your address in Germany,’” he told me.
Yet Xue is determined to speak her mind. She said that in the 1980s and 1990s, China’s use of stimulants had impacted more than 10,000 athletes.
“With systemic doping, you are stealing gold medals from other athletes,” she said.
The China Anti-Doping Agency did not reply to VOA’s request for comment.
‘There are more of me there’
In South Korea, Chen publicly talked about his arrest in China on his YouTube channel and was interviewed by multiple media outlets.
“Initially, I didn’t want to talk about it. But then I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I talk about the truth? I am going to talk truthfully about how I was treated [by the police].’ That’s only fair, right?” he said.
The police then found his relatives in China.
“A group of officials came to our village. Everyone now knows what you have done. You have to delete all your videos and come back to talk to them,” his aunt told him.
His father texted, “What have you done? The police are asking you to come back.”
“You have to watch what you say, kiddo. Don’t say things you shouldn’t be saying,” Chen’s beloved grandmother told him on the phone.
“The police said that you are anti-party. I told them it’s impossible. Our kid is a good kid, our family is all good,” Chen’s mother told him.
In September 2021, Yuzhen Chen escaped to the U.S. He is applying for political asylum and working to become a more influential YouTuber. (Courtesy Photo)
“China has so many people, so the government has to suppress all the different voices. Because once they allow me, then there will be a second, a third, a fourth … and that’s their biggest fear.”
Chen’s bank accounts were frozen. He couldn’t afford to pay tuition and was unable to extend his visa in South Korea. He needed to find another place to live.
“I took out the world map, unfolded it, and I just felt like the whole world was dark. Almost all the countries had suspended entry [because of COVID-19]. Only one was still open — that’s America,” he said.
In September 2021, Chen arrived in the United States with a tourist visa and subsequently applied for asylum.
Asked by a reporter why a large country like China would put such pressure on a young man like him, Chen said the reason is fear.
“Because there are more of me there. China has so many people, so the government has to suppress all the different voices. Because once they allow me, then there will be a second, a third, a fourth … and that’s their biggest fear,” he said.