Yong Guo*, a Chinese asylum seeker and JFON Delaware Valley client, shares his story
It was a normal, everyday phone call between siblings. Yong Guo and his sister were discussing their children, family members, and shared concerns about their aging parents, just like they did every week.
Suddenly—with no warning—an operative from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was on the line with them, making threats against Yong Guo and his family, calling him a traitor, and demanding he stop giving interviews to anti-party newspapers.
Yong Guo was in Pennsylvania—thousands of miles away from his former persecutors—and yet he felt the talon-like clench of their power. There was the implicit threat of retaliation against his sister and family back in China, but also against him and his family in the United States.
“It’s like 1984,” says Rev. Mark Salvacion, executive director of Justice for Our Neighbors of the Delaware Valley, referencing Orwell’s classic dystopian novel. “The worst part is that he is here. He is here, and he feels that terror of the CCP operatives.”
Yong’s fears are not unfounded. For decades, the CCP secret police have stalked, harassed, intimidated, and even kidnapped Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists who have fled China for safe havens around the world.
Just this past March, the U.S. Department of Justice charged five men working within the United States on behalf of the Chinese secret police against Chinese-born U.S. residents and citizens deemed enemies of the Chinese government.
Yong is not a famous dissident, and he was barely 10 years old when the Tiananmen Square protests ended with the massacre of students and pro-democracy supporters. Yet he has personally experienced the immense power of the CCP and the unfettered brutality of the secret police who do their bidding.
He had once been a promising scholar, earning a Ph.D. in ancient Chinese history, and winning a valuable research position at his university. But then Yong—a devout Christian—posted some comments on the government’s persecution of Chinese Christians on WeChat. He lost his position when he refused to “confess” and recant his views.
In China, Christians who belong to state-sanctioned or “patriotic” churches are allowed to worship, albeit under oppressive regulations.
Many Chinese Christians choose to instead worship at unregistered or “house” churches, often putting themselves at great risk. Leaders and congregants of non-sanctioned churches are often subject to persecution, arrest, or worse.
“My dissatisfaction with the communist government is real,” he said stubbornly, “and my love for freedom of belief and speech is also real.”
Yong then found work in a smaller university, teaching students who were, he realized, the children of the generation who sat quietly in Tiananmen Square for democracy and freedom. Did he, as their teacher, not have an obligation to tell them what happened to this nation?
“Everyone can read what is in the book,” one student told him. “We want to know what is not in the book.”
So Yong began to teach them, not just about the China of ages past, but the China of living memory, the history that the government did not allow in their books.
Rumors of his “reactionary” activities reached the dean. “Do not make this mistake,” he warned ominously. “Otherwise, no one can save you.”
The very next day—at 11 p.m. on a chilly autumnal evening—Yong was awakened by a knock on the door. Two men rushed in, pushing him to the floor and ransacking his apartment. Yong was then bundled into a waiting van, and taken to a cabin, where he was interrogated, threatened, and beaten.
They shoved bright lights in his face and shouted questions at him: Why did you post that on WeChat? Did you give your students banned books? What are the names of the overseas organizations that are supporting you?
Yong was so scared that his mind went blank. Was this it? Was he going to be “disappeared?” His wife and child were visiting relatives—what would they do if he were never found? What would happen to them?
Finally, the shouting stopped. He was bundled into the van again and then dumped on the side of the road. The pavement was cold and jolted Yong back to reality. Dawn was breaking, giving him just enough light to get his bearings. Wrapping his arms around himself to keep from shaking, he began walking home.
Although the “disappearance” of several high-profile Chinese celebrities, businessmen, and activists recently made headlines, the sudden absence of less-famous individuals has been a reliable terror tactic used by authoritarian regimes for centuries.
Kidnapping or illegal detention—even beyond China’s borders—has become such a standard CCP disciplinary method that it even has a name: shuanggui.
Yong fled mainland China soon afterward, followed by his wife and child. He became a JFON Delaware Valley client in early 2020, seeking both religious and political asylum. Because of the pandemic backlog, his hearing isn’t set until 2023.
An asylum case like Yong Guo’s requires an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. It also requires an enormous amount of work; research, gathering evidence, interviews, and filings. It’s hard on the attorneys and staff, but so much worse for the clients who must describe and relive their trauma multiple times. They also must endure the uncertainty of waiting for their lives to be settled and secure.
There is at least one positive aspect to all these endless days of waiting: it has given Yong Guo and his family the opportunity to become close to the team at JFON Delaware Valley. Mark happily notes that their families have celebrated holidays together, and that Yong often checks in with him, even when there isn’t anything specific about his case to discuss.
“The family is doing great,” reports Mark, “they are active in their church, and their son is flourishing in school.”
It has been more difficult for Yong. He struggles with English, and, while he has been able to find work to support his family, he can’t pursue his calling for teaching or researching—the work he was educated to do.
But Yong has found another calling, one that he could not freely cultivate before; he has become involved with the Chinese pro-democracy movement here in the United States.
“My troubles are far from over,” he admits, “but my longing for freedom, my pursuit of truth and goodness and beauty, and my struggle against tyranny are far from over, too.”
Every awakened person is a seed under the great mountain of power.
*For reasons of security, the client’s name and other details have been changed.
**Cover photo from Newsweek.