Conscience conquers all: wife of detained rights lawyer Li Heping says her respect has only grown deeper despite pain of separation
WANG QIAOLING is the wife of rights lawyer Li Heping, who was arrested a year ago in the so-called ‘709 crackdown’ on hundreds of human rights advocates. For the first six months she had no official word of his fate. Wang tells MIMI LAU how her faith comforted her family and how it has given her a deeper appreciation of Li’s quest for justice.
How did you make it through the past year?
Like anyone facing a traumatic event, I have walked from the initial confusion to facing the challenge upfront. After learning what really happened, I chose to face it head on rather than complain. My faith has lifted me through this year. Whether you face every day with tears or a smile, life must go on. I have been able to see God’s plan in the midst of it all and we shall not be defeated by circumstances.
I lived through the past year by seeking and relying on God alone, especially when I was given notice of the arrest six months after he went missing. My heart began to calm down and I told myself that not only must I stay positive, I would have to mobilise other lawyers’ wives to stay positive, too.
What are conditions like for you and your children?
My son is now 16 and has just completed Year 10. He was unable to join an international exchange programme because he was banned from leaving the country, like me. The same goes for my daughter who is only 61/2 – she was banned from applying for a passport and is prohibited from attending school. But I trust that God will prepare a way out for us amid our difficulties, and that we will overcome the challenge.
How do you plan to seek your husband’s release?
As a tiny human who has come up against the state, I can tell you that I have no means to get my husband out. Absolutely none. I studied law at university, and I know I can defend the basic rights of my husband and my family according to the law.
What is the source of your strength?
Most people, when they see their circumstances controlled by a regime or person, would give up the fight in sheer desperation. But I don’t see it that way. I believe the world is in the hands of the Lord, who is in charge of justice. He created the world with his power. I am very positive because God is just and fair. Of course I would be delighted if it is God’s will for my husband to be released now. But if the Lord permits my husband to remain behind bars and wrongfully accused, I trust that God will give us strength to make it through.
Did you ever try to talk Li out of being a rights lawyer?
Before 709, I always tried to talk him out of serving as a rights lawyer because it is too dangerous. But over the past year, after being in contact with people he has helped, I gained a new understanding of his work and realised how shallow I had been. I used to think my husband was just being defiant against the regime. But after 709, I realised he was one of the very few men remaining in modern China who had preserved his conscience. As the Bible says of Christ’s compassion towards the downtrodden: “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not quench, until he leads justice to victory.” My husband cannot help but reach out to the weak and withered ones who can no longer walk on their own. That’s what human rights lawyers are really doing. They help those who are limited by submitting to the calling of their conscience. When I finally learned what he did before he was locked up, my heart was drenched in guilt and remorse.
What is your greatest fear now?
What I fear most is not being given a chance to tell him how I misunderstood him.
How would describe your husband?
My husband was never a hero, nor a superman or Iron Man. He is just an ordinary man who can’t help but pause and submit to the calling of his conscience. Li Heping has always maintained a low profile and a soft approach, and it comforts and moves me to see him doing the right thing in the face of tremendous pressure. He has my utter respect.
Have there been any blessings in disguise?
Over the past year, I’ve seen God’s plan in our family. The emotional foundation for a Christian couple is not material objects like a house or car but a deeper understanding of each other. Were it not for 709, I would not have been able to stand in his shoes. This is a blessing. Another thing is that many friends have told me to forget about chasing after my husband’s case, as it was going nowhere, and focus on raising our children. Well that’s just some of the most ridiculous advice I have ever heard. In 20 years, it will be my children’s turn to enter marriage. If I do nothing now to save my husband, I will fail in my role as a parent to show them what love really is. For children, the greatest love of all is to see their parents in love. My children may be living in distress now but they will remember how their mother and father supported each other even in 20 years’ time. This is the greatest gift a parent can pass on to their children, the living testament to their parent’s unfailing love. Our circumstances also allow my children to think about God and sin at an early stage which they wouldn’t have done if they grew up in a greenhouse without the taste of challenge. I really thought it was a gift from God when my son told me that his views about his dad have never changed one bit, even though he was thrown in jail. This is a gift from God, and not everyone gets to share what we have.
What do your children think of their father?
When everyone is chasing money and power, my husband set an example for them by putting morals and conscience first. This is a legacy that will be passed down in our family. So we always pray for their father that he can seek God when he is totally cut off from the outside world. In the beginning we were so worried for him that we lost sleep at night. But now we always pray to God to send his messengers to their father, that we have never abandoned him or given up seeking his release. I trust that he knows this inside his heart.
How do you mobilise other lawyers’ wives in such situations?
Many of the other lawyers’ wives were not Christians but some managed to find faith in Christ. I try to limit my religious side when we meet. Sometimes when I do share God’s words with them, it is always incomplete because I cannot remember everything, but even then they can seek some comfort. I then realised it was not my words that were providing comfort, but God releasing the power of hope within them.