'Nowhere to turn but faith', says wife of detained Chinese rights lawyer in subversion trial

Religion helps Wang Yanfang cope with her difficult life as spouse of a persecuted activist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 12:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 12:21pm

Wang Yanfang, the wife of rights lawyer Tang Jingling who went on trial for subversion in Guangzhou yesterday, draws comfort from her faith and bond with the wives of other dissidents.

Wang lost her job as an accounting clerk because of her husband's efforts to promote political reform. She was once a firm believer that "everything can be resolved through hard work", but the couple are now up against a monolithic force - the mainland justice system.

Tang faces several years in jail over what supporters say are trumped-up charges aimed at silencing progressive voices.

Throughout the year her husband has been in custody, Wang has pushed for visiting rights, to deliver him books and for the authorities to move the case to a larger courtroom, but all the requests were rejected.

"There is nowhere I can turn except to my faith," she said.

She is reading The Pastor's Wife by Sabina Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand documents her struggle in post-war Eastern Europe to win the release of her husband, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, after Communist authorities arrested him for spreading Christianity.

Wang also identifies with Liu Xia, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who is serving an 11-year jail term on subversion charges.

"I now understand what kind of life Liu Xia is leading," she said.

In court yesterday, Wang was allowed a brief moment to speak to Tang. "I'm happy to finally be able to see him … He looks paler and thinner," she said.

Wang knows the emotional toll that forced separations bring.

Her husband was placed under residential surveillance in a Guangzhou police cadet academy from February to August 2011 for taking part in discussions about the "jasmine revolution".

Wang was forced into home detention a few weeks later for about six months. Nearly all contact with the outside world was cut off. During the period, she suffered from depression.

"I never realised solitary confinement would have such an impact on me," she said.

Wang and Tang met in the 1990s in Shantou , Guangdong, when Tang was a chemical engineer. They married in 1998. "Before our marriage, he warned me our future might be bumpy, but I didn't think much about the severity of his words. Because he is a man of law, I trusted he would handle things well."

She described Tang as gentle, caring and strong-willed.

"He never plays up his struggles or sufferings for fear they will discourage young people from joining his cause," she said.

During Tang's detention, Wang was warned she would be arrested if she launched more campaigns to support him. But she has never tried to talk him out of what he does - his conviction is too strong. "I'm just like any other woman who wishes for a peaceful life … [But] I'm going to support my husband on the path he has chosen."