It didn’t take long for Gao Rongrong’s fair complexion to be reduced to a charred mess.
Seven hours after prison guards handcuffed her to a radiator and began shocking her in the face with high-voltage electric batons, blood and hair were stuck to her burned skin, her face was severely swollen, and blisters erupted all over her face and neck.
That was just one small part of the vicious torture meted out to Gao after she was detained for practicing Falun Dafa, a traditional meditation practice whose adherents have been subjected to a relentless campaign of persecution in China since 1999.
Although the torture and abuse Gao underwent while incarcerated for her beliefs is a grim story, it does have an upside.
Photographs circulated of her scorched, brutalized face shocked the world and did much to demonstrate the abject cruelty of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) repression of Falun Dafa. The photos drew attention from the international community and Gao became a become a well-known example of the regime’s campaign against Falun Dafa adherents.
Desperate Escape Attempt
After the CCP began its persecution campaign in July 1999, Gao, who worked as an accountant the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang City, went to Beijing to petition for the right to practice Falun Dafa. For this she was arrested, detained, and sent to forced labor camps several times—as were many of her fellow Falun Dafa practitioners.
In June 2003 she was sent to the Longshan Forced Labor Camp for three years, where she subjected to forced labor, sleep deprivation, brutal beatings, and shocking by electric batons.
It was at Longshan on May 7, 2004, that the attack on her face occurred. Soon after, unable to take the torture any longer, she tried to escape by jumping from a window on the second floor (it was an office window, with no bars).
But there was no escape for Gao: She suffered two hip fractures, a broken left leg, and a fractured heel from the fall.
After that, she was moved to the Shenyang Public Security Hospital where she was kept under guard. When her two sisters, Gao Weiwei and Gao Lili, were finally allowed to visit her, they burst into tears upon seeing her face. Gao cried as well.
In a weak voice, Gao told her sisters how two guards had shocked her repeatedly on the face, hands, feet, and legs for more than seven hours. The only reason they stopped was because another inmate who was being shocked suffered a heart attack. But one of them threatened Gao that he’d be back to shock her again.
“When we saw Rongrong on May 14, she was in a lot of pain,” the sisters wrote in an article published on Minghui.org, a website that compiles information on the Falun Dafa persecution.
“She had a catheter inserted, and the wounds on her hands and feet were still severe. We could not even imagine the pain caused by the burns on her face—there were still many blisters and pustules around the burnt flesh even after a week. She also had fractures in her leg and pelvic bones.”
The prison guards claimed the burns on Gao’s face were caused by her jump from the window.
Gao Wants Her Brutalized Face Shown to the World
Gao told her sisters she wanted them to take pictures of her face and use them to let the world know about the persecution.
“Falun Gong practitioners are usually tortured in dark corners of the forced camps, concealed by the authorities,” she said. “When I decided to jump out the window, I had the thought that I must stay alive. I needed to escape and show the public my burns and injuries and expose their evil actions to the world.”
The next morning, Weiwei managed to bring in a camera and quickly take a few photos without the guards noticing.
Gao’s family and some fellow Falun Gong practitioners worried that publicizing photos of her disfigured face would put her in greater danger, but she didn’t hesitate.
“We should expose the persecution,” she said. “For years, so many practitioners have been suffering horrendous torture, but it’s difficult to expose the persecution. Many practitioners are now raising awareness in New York City. Please give the photos to them.”
On July 7, 2004, photos of Gao’s burnt face was published on the Minghui website. From there, practitioners living in the West displayed it at rallies and demonstrations to raise awareness about the persecution of their fellows in China.
In addition, her case became the first case study in the 2004 United Nations Human Rights Report on China’s Persecution of Falun Gong.
A video of Gao speaking about her ordeal was also recorded during that time. She described some of the torture and abuse she and other practitioners endured at the labor camp.
“They aren’t treating us like human beings. Falun Gong practitioners are all good people, people who practice truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, but the persecutors treat us so horribly that it is as though they have no conscience. They cruelly injure and torture us without any remorse,” she said.
“I am here, and I hope we can gain freedom. I hope kind-hearted people in the world can pay attention to this persecution of Falun Gong.”
‘Rongrong was Brave’
Later, Gao was transferred to another hospital as a result repeated requests from her family, but she continued to be closely monitored. Despite that, on Oct. 5, 2004, a few of her fellow practitioners staged a rescue and somehow managed to get her out of the hospital under the noses of the police. She subsequently went into hiding.
Already furious that the photo of Gao’s disfigured face had surfaced in the international community, the authorities pulled out all the stops to track her down. Even Luo Gan, then-head of Party Politburo Standing Committee and the man responsible for overseeing the persecution campaign, became involved.
Not only Gao, but also the practitioners who helped her were being hunted. Her entire family was also monitored and harassed.
Six months later, Gao was recaptured and sent to the brainwashing center at Zhangshi Forced Labor Camp, and from there to the notorious Masanjia Forced Labor Camp, known among Falun Dafa practitioners as a “dark den of evil” due to the brutality of the guards.
Little is known about what happened to her there, but on June 6, 2005, she was sent to the emergency department of the China Medical University Hospital in Shenyang.
On June 12, Gao’s parents were notified that they could visit her. They rushed to the hospital, only to find that she was unconscious and breathing through a machine. “She arrived in severe condition,” a doctor told them, according to Minghui.
Three days later, at the age of 37, Gao left this world forever. But the photo of her destroyed face that she wanted the international community to see will continue to expose the savagery and senselessness of the persecution.
“Rongrong was brave. She used her own life to show the world the brutal, ugly truth behind the communist regime in China,” her sisters wrote.
“Perhaps these perpetrators will never understand why Rongrong was so persistent in her beliefs. But few things can move a person once they find their true faith.”