Anni’s desk is not in the classroom, but in front of her school lawn
Ten-year-old Anni looks mature for her age. She is used to the uniformed police, who often come to search her home. Sometimes they took her father away, but he usually returned home after a short time. However, a recent incident on February 27 did frighten her. When school ended in the afternoon, the fourth grader was going home, and suddenly four sturdy men blocked her way. They dragged her and stuffed her into a car, then brought her to the Hubo police station in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui. Anni was detained alone in one room for the rest of the day, and did not know that her father, Zhang Lin, was also detained on the third floor of the same building. Late in the evening, Anni was finally picked up by her father.
Little Anni lives with her father and elderly sister. Their mother could not bear the constant harassment and disturbance from the police. Because of how much she suffered under the government’s persecution complex, she deserted her children and dissident-husband.
He resigned his job at the government office and wandered in different provinces to promote democratic ideas. Zhang Lin was deeply involved in the 89 Democratic Protest Movement, and consequently, he was thrown into prison for two years, After his release, he dedicated himself to the “protection of the rights of the workers Union” and was sentenced to three years of “re-education through labor.”
Zhang Lin went to the United States in 1997 for a year, but when he came back to China, he was sentenced once again to three years “re-education through labor.” However, all the years in prison did not defeat him: He has tried to live like a common citizen; Lin got married and had children. Meanwhile, he has continued to fight for a better China. In 2005 he was again sentenced to an additional five years in prison because of his participation in the commemoration to the disempowered Premier Zhao Ziyang.
Zhang Lin has recorded his unusual youth and adulthood as well as his rich prison experiences in the 2005 autobiography Beicang de linghun (Sorrowful Soul). The book attracted a lot of attention from critics and earned him the Independent Chinese PEN Center award in 2007.
In his book, he was honest and ruthless to himself. It exposed the power of cruelty, and how it can change a human being into an animal. “China’s prison is worse than hell, especially for political prisoners. It is hard to survive. Beside physical torture and the hardship of diseases, one suffers mentally and spiritually. The soul is in deep sorrow. Under such circumstances, a person cannot keep up his normal human nature. Unknowingly, he or she is poisoned, numbed and mentally disabled. ” This is what Zhang Lin called “sequelae of the re-education through labor”.
This kind of reflection in Chinese literature on prisons doesn’t have precedent. Not even in Wei Jingsheng or Liao Yiwu’s books about prison experience have such insight of transformation of a human being.
Now that Zhang Lin has accepted his fate, he tries to be a good father to raise his children from two marriages. However, his daughter’s experience exasperated him enormously. He launched a call for solidarity to support his daughter, and hundreds of netizens, including lawyers and teachers, came to Hefei to stand at his side. On April 7, in accompany with father lawyers and supporters, little Anni went back to school. To their surprise, the school rejected Anni’s return because the administration could not sustain the pressure of the security police. The school told Anni, that she is originally registered in the hometown Bangbu, 130 km away from Hefei, so she should go there. People were enraged, and promptly encamped in front of the school. With lawyer Liu Weiguo at lead, they started a hunger strike relay.
People continue to come from all over the country, from Guangzhou, Beijing, and other places to support Anni. Some have even set up a blackboard and table in an effort to start giving Little Anni her own private lessons.
Zhang Lin named his daughter Anni after Anne Frank. While he certainly does not want the same tragedy happen to his daughter, he hopes that Anni will have a similar keen and strong character and not bend easily to difficulty and pressure.
As the confrontation continues, there are several dozen people gathered in front of the Hupo elementary school, day by day, and the hunger strike relay proceeds into the fifth day. Zhang Lin accepted interviews from all over the world. Anni even gets got private lessons from some of the onlookers. How long will the authority endure this form of citizen movement? Will they finally put Zhang Lin into jail again? Will Anni be adopted by another? There are obviously lots of unanswered questions. Through this incident, it is clear to see the clash between the powerful and the powerless and the confrontation between official forces and the citizen. Any government that ignores the civil awakening is determined to lose power.
On April 16, the police encircled Anni, Zhang Lin, and their dozens of supporters–several of whom were arrested. Then Anni and her father were brought back to their hometown of Bangpu where Anni’s old Bangshan Elementary School displayed this text on a huge color screen mounted on the wall: “Anni Zhang, welcome back to school!” Several photographers ran around, filming the event. Now that Anni has been re-recruited at her old school, her father has to stay in Bangpu. And thus it seems that the propaganda department has won the play. There’s only a little blemish: There are still unknown numbers of Anni’s supporters in custody in Hefei.
Updated on October 3, 2020
Anni Zhang and her sister escaped from China on September 7, 2013 and arrived at the United States. They were adopted by Robert and Reggie Littlejohn, Reggie is the president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers. Zhang Lin was sentenced again for three and half years in September 2014. After 16 years of imprisonment in China, Zhang Lin finally fled to Nepal, Indien and then arrived at the US in January 26, 2018. There was a moving scene of father-daughter-reunion.
Today, Zhang Lin lives in Washington DC and becomes an activist in the oversea Chinese Democracy Movement.
First published at Sampsoniaway.org on April 24, 2013.