Chinese Church Voices

Faith through 9778 Days of Imprisonment

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He was tortured by dogs and forced into confessing a crime he didn’t commit. He spent 9,778 days in prison. He wrote more than 600 appeal letters. After more than 26 years in prison, Zhang Yuhuan was released. What sustained him during that time?

In this article, Li Guangping shares how Zhang’s faith and family carried him through a horrific ordeal of false imprisonment. This case was widely reported on in Chinese official media, foreign media, as well as shared by Christians on social media.

The original article includes many meaningful and touching images; be sure to check them out.

What Sustained Him through 9778 Days and Nights?

Zhang Yuhuan, an ordinary peasant of the lowest class in China, after spending 9,778 days in prison, has become a news figure, known for being acquitted after being held in jail for the longest time in the country. Just as one stone stirs up a thousand waves, so have he and his family come under the spotlight of news reports. Since his home collapsed, his ex-wife fainted, and his son lashed out in anger, Zhang Yuhuan’s stunned face and grief over the past have recently become the most unforgettable topic. What concerns me the most is: what sustained him through the 9778 days of his darkest season, being insistent on justice? What sustained his brother and his ex-wife in their belief in his innocence and kept them running and appealing tirelessly on his behalf, and what sustained a grey-haired mother while she kept leaning on the door waiting for the return of her son? 

 The answer is: they are a family of faith; it is their faith in Christ that has saved this innocent “sinner,” and has sustained him during his 9778 days of imprisonment and given this family courage and wisdom as they appeal for justice. It is Christ who has saved the sufferers on earth.

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” is from the Bible in Hebrews 10:30 and is mentioned many times in the Old Testament, in the book of Deuteronomy and the Psalms. This verse reminds us that God is the ultimate judge who gives justice to all the poor and needy, the powerless, and the oppressed and that we need not give up on the hope, light, and love given by God when we cry for justice.

Zhang Yuhuan was beaten into submission and sentenced to unjust imprisonment, having been bitten by wolf-dogs and denied sleep for six days and nights. After he attempted suicide twice, he started making appeals. He had written more than 600 appeal letters and his brother Zhang Minqiang also sent more than 300 letters on his behalf. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” is a great promise which has kept hope alive for Zhang Yuhuan in prison. He is like Andy from The Shawshank Redemption, who never gave up on the desire and pursuit of hope and freedom. Although the Bible sent by his brothers and sisters was detained, he had been praying all the time. It is his faith and cries to God that have sustained his walk through the valley of death.

 The person who deeply moved me was Zhang Yuhuan’s mother, Zhang Binglian. Though she was only a frail, uneducated, poor woman, it was she who always encouraged her daughter-in-law, Song Xiaonu, to never give up on her love and support for her husband. The newspaper ThePaper reported, “When her mother-in-law, Zhang Binglian, saw that Song Xiaonu was sad, she led her to believe in Christianity, and she said to her daughter-in-law that if she did believe, her husband would come back.” It is this simple and real trust in God that kept Song Xiaonu from believing that Zhang Yuhuan is a murderer. For 26 years, she has been strong and responsible as a wife and mother: going south to make a living, raising two children, never ceasing on visiting Zhang Yuhuan in prison to give him hope for survival. Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, she continued seeking justice for Zhang Yuhuan; what a well of tears hidden in her heart! So, even though she did remarry, when Zhang Yuhuan was acquitted and returned to the broken home, the most touching thing to see through the camera lens is Song Xiaonu’s smile and a picture of him asking for a hug with tears of joy. Countless people cried and sighed for such a real love and the cruelty of the vicissitudes of life.

Come, let us now read the following words aloud together:

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10:30-36)

 It is a story of revenge and outcry for justice, and also a story of love and perseverance, so real and naked that it makes us feel deeply that life—even stranger than fiction—can happen around us. We cannot imagine how this dust of the age was crushed? What brokenness would six days and six nights of interrogation have caused in one’s ability to endure? What damage would a bleeding bite by a wolf-dog leave on one’s psyche? And how would a man ever overcome the long nights of despair over the 9778 days of appealing? Zhang Yuhuan is not the banker Andy from The Shawshank Redemption, so it is hard to imagine the trajectory of his psychological activities, nor will we possibly find his writing and read later, yet I still admire his endurance and perseverance immensely.

 This passage from the Bible has been one of my strongest spiritual anchors:

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Apart from his biblical faith in “vengeance is mine; I will repay,” Zhang Yuhuan’s endurance and hope also have come from his unfailing perseverance and his family’s full commitment, support, and encouragement for him.

 Zhang Yuhuan’s elder brother Zhang Minqiang always believed in his younger brother’s innocence, so he would bring at least 100 envelopes and stamps to Zhang Yuhuan every time he visited him in prison, encouraging him to persist in writing appeal letters whether he received a reply or not. It was not until 2008 that the Charging Prosecution Department from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate responded with a reply letter, saying his appeal would be forwarded to the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court for further process. In 2017, things slowly took a turn for the better when a journalist found lawyer Wang Fei. Therefore, Zhang Yuhuan’s perseverance was greatly motivated by his mother, ex-wife, elder brother, along with a kind journalist and a righteous lawyer.

We should not forget the tremendous and professional role that Wang Fei played in Zhang Yuhuan’s case. Zhang Yuhuan’s family was destitute and couldn’t afford any expenses, yet after meeting Zhang Yuhuan for the first time, lawyer Wang Fei said, “The first meeting with the aggrieved person was like going through purgatory for me.” For three years, Wang Fei’s difficult journey of seeking justice for Zhang Yuhuan is like Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill: courageous, reckless, and unrelenting, not giving up any hope or any evidence. He said, “Often, it feels like I am Sisyphus pushing the boulder at the top of the mountain, aching for the aggrieved and rejoicing for their regained freedom.” Note that he has already participated in rehabilitating two unjust and false charges. He is indeed an excellent and professional lawyer, and also an angel of hope who saves countless “drowning” people.

 Zhang Yuhuan’s course of blood and tears is an echo of what the scripture says, 

[S]uffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[Romans 5:3]

This is the testimony of living faith and the salvation of countless broken souls, and this is the outpouring of hope and love from the Holy Spirit.

This is a family that was once shattered and destitute, almost at the end of their road. This is also a family that is now full of God’s grace and mercy, allowing love to flow slowly into everyone’s heart. The big Chinese character “love” and the couplet on the wall all show God’s justice and faithfulness. A loving family is the most beautiful blessing on earth, it is the greatest warmth and light in this world; it is the greatest salvation for those who fall into the water in the situation of “lawlessness” and the most real and clear commentary for those who are “loving and righteous.”

And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Zhang Yuhuan’s family’s unwavering trust and love for him was the biggest source of support and confidence for him to continue to appeal for his freedom. The love and call of his mother, the perseverance and appeal of his ex-wife, and the visits and letters sent by his elder brother are all the warmest manifestations of light and love from a Christian family. It is such warmth and family love in watching and helping for one another, such an echo and confirmation in this blood relationship of love and righteous, such a sincere and kind act and devotion of light and salt. As we weep and sigh for this, it also awakens us and our families to understand deeply the meaning of love in the family.

 I have always thought that the words of this passage from the Bible are the most beautiful lyrics in the world, worthy of being chanted over and over again, and etched into the eternal memory of life:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

Dear brothers and sisters, the story of Zhang Yuhuan is the Chinese version of “The Shawshank Redemption.” It is indeed an astonishing case, from which different people will see different facets such as, the comment of a jurist, professor Luo Xiang, that I read a few days ago; and other interpretations of many professional lawyers that are inspiring.

All in all, while we read this true story, let us also see things from different perspectives and angles, such as be a loving person, shine the light, be a grain of true salt, and contribute more love and righteousness, justice and kindness to our families and community. Let us together “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Original Article: 是什么支撑他度过9778天的日日夜夜 by 李广平 (WeChat ID: zhhgbmusic).

Image credit: Vinson Tan ( 楊 祖 武 ) from Pixabay.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

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