China's 'Conscience' Missing in Action
Gao then joined the Communist Party and served in the army for three years. In 1991, he saw a newspaper advertisement that China wanted to train more lawyers. Against all odds, Gao studied by himself and passed the bar exam on his first attempt in 1995. Six years later, he won a legal debate competition, and government officials named him one of the nation's top attorneys.
Gao began taking human-rights cases in 2003, mostly on a pro bono basis. After winning the largest sum for a medical malpractice suit in Chinese history, Gao gained attention not only for his legal ability but also for his compassion. He began taking on more and more human-rights cases, including those of persecuted Christians and Falun Gong believers.
Geng He told CT that her husband began regularly attending a Beijing house church in 2005. She believed his "turning point" came when a minister prayed with him after a sermon. "Gao would get up at 6 a.m. and read the Bible for an hour," Geng He said. "He would attend Bible study and enjoyed singing some of the hymns. He read the Bible to the children and sometimes discussed the Bible with me too." In A China More Just, Gao says he was baptized in 2005 and became a member of a house church.
Around this time, Gao made his voice heard beyond courtrooms through speeches, organized protests, and letters to the government calling for reform. In his book, Gao describes how the government's lack of response to human-rights violations disgusted him.
Another turning point came in 2005, when the couple quit the Communist Party, publicly calling it "inhuman, unjust, and evil." In response, the government shut down Gao's law firm, and the family lost its livelihood.
Siege on the Family
In August 2006, government authorities placed Gao's family, including his now 16-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, under constant and intense police surveillance. Family members had been watched since 2005, and they initially found this humorous, if annoying. Gao kept an online journal, "A Siege on My Family," and on occasion filmed the police who stayed outside their home or followed them when they went out.
One time when a plainclothes officer in an unmarked car was openly filming Gao, Geng He, and their friends, Gao promptly began filming him. The officer screamed threats and obscenities at Gao.
Gao responded, "Please, calm down! I'm a Christian, and I won't swear at you. Besides, we're both over 40, and we shouldn't wildly swear at a person."
But the surveillance intensified dramatically. Six to eight officers stayed inside their home at all times. Geng He told CT, "They would sit across the sofa and always be watching us. They even sat by our bedside when we slept."
Police barred all visitors from the house. When family members went outside, police followed them. On separate occasions, Geng He and her daughter were physically assaulted as they were out running errands or returning from school.
Despite the surveillance, Gao continued to speak out about human rights. He updated his journal daily. When the authorities took out the family's phone line and shut off Internet access, Gao read his journal over a cell phone to others who would post it online.
In September 2007, Gao wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress. He listed the ways China had refused to honor its own human-rights laws and implored the U.S. to take action, such as boycotting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He concluded his letter by stating,