02/09/2022 Washington, D.C. — Gao Zhisheng is a Christian human rights attorney in China who had dedicated his career to those being persecuted by the Chinese government during a time not unlike today. While not always a Christian, Gao was a former member of the People’s Liberation Army and later the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, Gao tossed that identity aside and took up the fight for victims of persecution in China as China looked to rebrand its cruel identity. This made him a clear target for the CCP throughout his career, leading to many cycles of being abducted, tortured, and released. Today, Gao’s whereabouts are unknown to anyone but his most recent captors, who made Gao disappear in 2017.
Gao became a lawyer in 1995, and his legal career quickly gained steam, winning significant cases against Chinese government agencies and successfully representing a case before the Chinese Supreme Court. As Gao’s legal career developed, it took a new turn as he began representing the cases of Christians, coal miners, and Falun Gong practitioners, all of whom regularly found their way in the crosshairs of the CCP.
Gao’s career led him to be a champion for those who could not defend themselves from China’s violent reign of persecution. He soon earned the title “the Conscience of China.”
Gao wrote open letters to the Chinese government advocating for reform, equal protection under the law, and fair treatment of those currently facing persecution by the government. He made the plight of Falun Gong known to the world through a series of open letters to the Chinese government. Gao called on the government to end their harassment, arrest, and torture, which still occurs today. Following his discoveries, Gao openly separated himself from the “cruel, untrustworthy, inhumane, and evil party [the CCP].”
As a result of his fight for religious minorities and victims of persecution, Gao became a target of the CCP’s suppression. In 2006, Gao was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.’ Shortly after, Gao called on the U.S. government to take a stand against the 2008 Olympics coming to Beijing, and he would later disappear, facing torture by the police. Gao’s family was soon forced to flee to the U.S. to escape the constant CCP surveillance and the looming danger that awaited them.
“Today, as we approach the Beijing Olympic Games, I ask you to pay attention to the ongoing human rights disaster in China and wish you to forward my appeal to the whole world. I ask you to seriously consider the outlook of morality, justice, and humanity for today’s mankind, as well as to what extent such values are undermined in China.”
Gao Zhisheng’s “Open Letter to the United States Congress,” Sep. 12, 2007
A cycle of abduction, imprisonment, and torture by Chinese authorities followed Gao, as the CCP tried to end Gao’s fight for the rights of the persecuted. Gao suffered severe beatings, sleep deprivation, and electric shock. He has spent many years incarcerated and endured solitary confinement. In a later memoir, Gao reflected on his Christian faith and the support from those close to him for his ability to endure the hardship he faced through his many arrests.
“…God has protected me and by which God has sustained me in my time of trouble and nurtured the faith that has allowed me to carry on.”
From Unwavering Convictions by Gao Zhisheng, pg. 1
In 2014, he was released on house arrest from his most recent stint imprisoned, where he remained under constant watch for years. During this time, Gao reflected on his abuse at the hands of the Chinese state, though he never let go of his hope for a fairer and merciful China that he believed would come once this regime fell.
“I would like to add here that when this evil regime falls, there will be a squaring of accounts. Investigating and punishing evil is one of humanity’s most common methods for protecting justice, but we likewise know that without forgiveness there is no hope for tomorrow.”
From Unwavering Convictions by Gao Zhisheng, pg. 161
His memoir drew a lot of attention from the Chinese authorities, and with a renewed eye on Gao, he tried to escape his house arrest. Even with the help of his friends, Gao was recaptured weeks later. Gao’s wife and children, who fled to the U.S. years ago, have now gone almost four-and-half years without any sign of Gao’s whereabouts.
As Beijing cheers for the athletes fighting for glory, let us pray for those fighting for Beijing’s victims, like Gao Zhisheng, who has forcibly disappeared for his courage to challenge the regime.
“How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:2-4
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This story is part of ICC’s series Shackled to the Podium, a series where we remember those who have suffered or are currently suffering persecution by the Chinese Communist Party on account of their faith. This series will populate daily for the duration of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Click here to read more about the project.
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Since 1995, ICC has served the global persecuted church through a three-pronged approach of advocacy, awareness, and assistance. ICC exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world.