Auntie May arrived at Sydney International Airport in 2012, her life was packed neatly into a single suitcase. With clothes borrowed from a cousin and a poor grasp of English, she crossed the threshold and began a new life in Australia.
Deep down, May knew her journey “Down Under” was not for a quiet retirement. Instead, she was preparing for a new lease on life, and a chance to help Chinese people understand the true nature of the Communist Party she suffered under for 60 years.
Born Yuelan Tao in 1956, Mays life began just seven years after China fell under the tyrannical rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Her father was a small business owner and the family lived in Beijing.
In 1966, her family was swept up in the regimes Cultural Revolution—a destructive ten-year-long political movement aimed at purging China of its 5,000-year cultural roots.
May tells The Epoch Times: “The purpose of the cultural revolution was to establish communism as the only religion controlling not just the state, but the individuals mind.”
12 Years as a Slave
Despite owning no land, Mays father was branded a “landlord.” As a result, her family were disenfranchised and expelled to the countryside for 12 years. Her two sisters were spared this fate as they had married into other families.
Landlords, along with wealthy farmers, reactionaries, bad “elements,” and “rightists” (those with views not aligned with communism) were deemed the Five Black Classes.
Members of these classes were labelled enemies of the revolution and were disenfranchised, humiliated, and sometimes tortured and killed.
Mays family spent the next decade in a rural commune, earning points within the commune system to exchange for basic food and provisions.
“During those 12 years, I worked so hard that I never dared complain about being tired,” May recalls. “There was nothing in the family that I didnt take care of.”
“We had nothing. We had no home, money or land, it all belonged to the state,” she added.
Public communes were experiments by the regime to organise families into large collective societal units—working together on farms and growing crops for the nation.
According to historian Frank Dikotter: “Mao [Zedong] thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant peoples communes.”
In the communes, livestock, utensils, kitchenware, and ingredients were all shared. Meals were provided and shared amongst everyone.
However, it was barely enough to survive. In some communes, the rationing of food became a “weapon” to force people to follow the Partys direction.
For Mays family, earning points was initially difficult as they had arrived at the tail-end of the farming season when work was scarce.
“We had no points, so we were not given food for the next year. We had to ask the vegetable seller to lend us food. They recorded our familys details and would deduct points from us later.”
“There were some kind-hearted people who helped us. They were afraid of speaking to us directly (because her father was labelled a landlord) so they would throw vegetables through our window.”
In those years, hunger was a constant companion. May says: “At the time I developed a habit of drinking a lot of water. Because there was not enough food and I had to drink, so I was not as hungry.”
“I would often go to harvested farmlands to find leftover corn and wheatears. After bringing it home, my mum would crush and boil it with vegetables. We lived an entire year eating like this,” she says.
Dikotter wrote that as food became scarce, the Red Guards would resort to “coercion and violence” to force workers to keep labouring on agricultural projects.
“The communist leaders and the Red Guard were thugs. My familys life was destroyed this way,” May says.
Despite the atrocities she endured, something about May strikes me. She seems calm and measured, recalling her experience without breaking down. I ask her why. Many Chinese people took their own lives during the revolution.
She says the sadness has long passed. The years have been kind to her, allowing her to heal.
Finding Solace in Chinas Renaissance
Public communes failed spectacularly, resulting in millions of deaths from starvation caused by a lack of food due to inefficient farming practices.
As the Cultural Revolution wound down, Mays family were finally allowed to return to the city in 1978.
May eventually married and worked in a textile factory. However, years of malnutrition had taken its toll. Her body was in poor condition; she had gallbladder issues, chronic fatigue, and suffered regular back pain.
“I was uncomfortable every day and night,” she recalls.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the communist regime started to promote in society a health and wellness practice known as qigong (chi-gong) in an attempt to cope with the rising health care needs of the burgeoning population.
Akin to Tai Chi, qigong practices had once flourished around China with regions and families often handing down their traditions for centuries.
During this period of her life, one practice caught Mays attention: Falun Gong.
Falun Gong was a qigong practice steeped in the Buddhist tradition and growing in popularity around the country. During the early 1990s, Falun Gong garnered millions of followers.
For May, it was like “a renaissance for the Chinese people,” she says.
Within a month of doing Falun Gongs meditation exercises, strength returned to Mays body and her health improved.
“I could ride the bicycle for 50 minutes to my workplace, send my children to school, and do all the housework. I could even go to my parents home to help them with their housework without feeling pain in my body anymore.”
Eight Years in Prison Because I Wanted To Meditate
In July 1999, the peace May had found in life was demolished as the CCP started to arrest millions of Falun Gong practitioners. Many were detained without trial in secretive black jails, prisons, and laogai (re-education through labour camps).
“Everyone knows that when Falun Gong [practitioners] enter a prison, they get treated the worst,” May says solemnly.
Prison authorities would reward the other inmates for monitoring, torturing, and brainwashing Falun Gong practitioners.
“In the first year and a half I was only allowed to sleep about three hours a day. They would not allow me to sleep until 2 a.m. and wake me up at 5 a.m,” says May.
Every three or five days, a prison officer would check the “progress” of Mays re-education, trying “to intimidate and reason with you [at the same time],” she explains.
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