In 2004, a year after Anastasia Lin and her mother left their home in Changsha, China, to start new lives in Vancouver, Canada, the mother gave her daughter a small book. Lin, the reigning Miss World Canada, looks back to that moment to explain why she now chooses to stand up to the Chinese authorities who are trying to silence her.
The booklet contained information the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) keeps hidden through state-run media, Internet censorship, and an oppressive system that monitors individual’s thoughts and actions.
The small, light green booklet detailed the CCP persecution of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. The peaceful practice of gentle exercises and meditation is rooted in the Buddhist and Taoist principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Just a few years prior in 1999, the former leader of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, declared that the values of Falun Gong were antithetical to the atheistic rule of his Communist Party. He set out to eliminate Falun Gong, which was then being practised by an estimated 100 million Chinese people. And in order to do this, he used the Chinese propaganda system to fabricate lies about the peaceful practice.
“If you haven’t lived under an authoritarian regime, it’s very hard to understand what it’s like,” - Anastasia Lin.
Lin was familiar with the propaganda. Back in China, she even helped spread it by helping to arrange a viewing of a propaganda video at her high school. Yet, the information her mother handed to her that day showed the real situation – of a peaceful practice slandered by the CCP, and of the Chinese regime’s system of torture, imprisonment, and murder-for-profit that has made Falun Gong the most persecuted group in China today.
Two things dawned on her after reading the truth about Falun Gong. On the one hand, Lin saw in the practice “the part of traditional Chinese culture I was longing for.”
On the other hand, Lin said, she saw the true face of the CCP – one that it tries to conceal from its own people, and from the rest of the world – of a brutal regime that persecutes people for believing in a higher power, that suppresses people who call for democracy, and that uses an elaborate system of state-run media and censorship to blind its citizens.
“It was like this missing part of the story, and all these parts suddenly came together,” she said. “It was like why I was different from all my classmates in a Canadian school.”
Lin said she took time to learn the uncensored history of the Chinese regime, and the process wasn’t easy.
She said, “When I watched the video of the Tiananmen Square massacre, I cried so much.”
Taking a stand
Lin was crowned Miss World Canada in the May 16th beauty pageant with a promise to “be a voice for the voiceless”.
She has kept this promise, at the expense of her own comfort. Her support for human rights, particularly in China, got the attention of Chinese authorities.
After she won the beauty pageant, her father in Changsha, China, called her on May 20th, saying he had been visited by Chinese security forces. Her father told her to stop speaking about human rights, fearing repercussions from the Chinese regime.
Lin refused to back down, and instead she did the opposite. She publicly exposed the CCP’s pressure against her father, and even testified before the US Congressional Executive Commission on China on July 23rd, during a hearing on human rights abuses in China.
This has come at a cost, however. She is supposed to travel to Hainan Island, China, to compete in the Grand Finale of the Miss World 2015 beauty pageant.
Unlike the other contestants in the beauty pageant, Lin was denied a visa by the Chinese regime and that made it impossible for her to attend the beauty pageant.
“I miss my native country, the land, the culture, what the language sounds like, what the food smells like on the street,” she said.
But she also refuses to censor herself, and for Lin, her stance is a matter of principle. She understands that giving into the Chinese regime’s pressure would be allowing it to continue.
“If it works on me it will work on other people,” she said. “The more times that this kind of tactic works on people, the more they will apply it.”
By not allowing the tactic to work, and by instead exposing it, she said, in the future “Before they apply this tactic on people, they’ll have to think twice whether this is the type of person who will speak up against it.”
In the modern world, where the CCP’s pressure has openly censored Western films, news coverage, and political discussions – she believes that publicly taking a stand is being responsible not only to herself and her beliefs, but also to the Chinese people who have been lied to by the CCP, just as she had once been.
Traditional Chinese values
Lin has a generous heart, and a deep love for the traditions of China. Her favourite story is the Chinese classic novel, Dream of the Red Chamber, which is a romance based on the idea that nothing lasts forever.
The story is a tragedy, but also one of a search for life’s higher purpose. Lin said it had a big impact on her when she was a teenager – particularly the idea that a person should focus on what’s really important in life, rather than chase fleeting pleasures.
“You have to focus on your true happiness, not on what you think you are and what you need to possess,” she said.
“This is what I feel right now,” she said. “I’ve been facing these things by myself. But what drives me forward is this sense of mission.”
She believes in the idea that what’s really valuable in life are the elements that endure – the idea that what remains at the end of our lives is the legacy of our actions, whether good or ill, and the impact they have on others.
Lin’s mother was an economics professor at Hunan University, but rooted Lin’s early education in Confucian teachings of propriety and traditional Chinese values. They lived near the 1,000-year-old Yuelu Academy, where Lin’s mother would bring her to practise calligraphy.
Confucianism’s teachings of how to live a proper life that benefits society once played a deep role in Chinese education, providing the core for its strong focus on the family and filial piety.
The Chinese regime has manipulated some of these fundamental principles of Chinese culture, turning them into tools for suppression. In particular, the regime uses love for family as a weapon to silence people.
“The CCP turns the best part of a human being, the love and compassion we feel for each other, and uses it against others as a weapon,” she said. “That’s what they did to me. They used my love for family as a weapon.” - Anastasia Lin
Lin is experiencing this directly, as the CCP is pressuring her father as a way to persecute her.
Moved by compassion
As an actress, Lin has at times portrayed people who were persecuted in China.
She said, “I think for actors, when they have experiences like this, they have to sympathise with the characters.”
To learn her roles, she often sits down with the people she portrays and has them recount their experiences – and with people who are often survivors of torture, this can be a painful process for both of them.
“I do exercises with them to relive the experience,” she said. “I say, ‘how do you feel when you’re in the middle of a labour camp?’ There are these walls and wires, there are police with dogs around you – and what they’re saying is if you don’t give up your beliefs today, we’ll put you in that car, and we’ll send you to the cremation room.”
In the upcoming Canadian film, The Bleeding Edge, Lin portrays a Falun Dafa practitioner who faces persecution in China. The movie has many difficult scenes depicting torture methods used by Chinese police – such as rape, shoving bamboo shafts under fingernails, and brutal beatings.
She said one scene has her leaving the prison, and she walks down a hall with jail cells on either side, all filled with prisoners of conscience, who reach out to her, and tell her she’s free. By the time she reaches the exit, she said, “I have to be at the end just completely in tears.”
“Even doing it once is very emotionally draining,” she said, noting that to portray such a role, “you have to have extremely high concentration and sense”.
She noted, however, that while the work isn’t easy, it has meaning. She said, “At the end of the day when I go home, it’s the most satisfying experience ever.”
Whether it’s her work as an actress, or her standing up for human rights in a beauty pageant. Lin said, “There are so many people who don’t have a voice, and I would like to bring light to those who are still in the dark.”