From Miss World to World Renowned Activist with Anastasia Lin

Anastasia Lin, actress, classical pianist, human rights activist and Miss World Canada 2015, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On arriving in a democracy:

“Now after I moved to Canada only then did I realize the extent of my indoctrination and how wrong it was.”

On being threatened by China:

“After a few days I received a text message from my father saying that if I continue this human rights advocacy, and speaking up for these victims who I don’t even know, my family would be turned upside down like in the cultural revolution. Cultural revolution is almost like a greatest threat that could be made to my father’s generation.”

“They want to use me as an example to show the world, to show the journalists, the academics, the beauty queens, the actors, the athletes who want to talk about the sensitive issue who wants to talk about these issues that no one wants to talk about, who dare to risk their career to speak up for the truth, they want to show these people that if you’re going to do that, this is what you’re going to get. You’re going to lose access to China entirely. Like Anastasia Lin.”

On speaking out:

“Silence would feed terror. And if I don’t speak up about this issue, no one would.”

“We can conquer the fear that’s inside of of us. Courage does not mean the absence of being afraid. I am still afraid today.”

“I never look at myself like a human rights defender. It’s because I never really see that human rights, defending human rights, as only a few people’s job. I look at myself and I think what I have been doing is just constantly making the choice that is true to my conscience.”

Condemning engagement with China:

“A lot of people believe that by engaging with China, doing more trade, will gradually make the Chinese communist regime embrace our western values. That political liberalization will follow economic prosperity. That has not happened. It has not happened in China for the past few decades. And as we wait for this hypothetical transformation to happen, countless innocent Chinese citizens, courageous Chinese citizens continue to perish in Chinese labor camps, prisons, for exercising their most fundamental right. And it’s perhaps it is our values, not Beijing’s, that have changed as a process as a result of our engagement.”

Full Remarks

I would say that is a great idea to not give any formal introduction because we all don’t like any title to be put on ourselves.

Today we have a lot of human rights defenders, real heroes, that are speaking here in this podium. For me I never really identify myself as a human rights activist or as a human rights defender. My job is an actress. I work as an actress. I studied theatre, acting at school, and my job is to tell other people’s story.

When I work as an actress, usually the roles that I pick shed light on situations that I care about. Now when I was 19 years old I was a theatre student in Toronto, this producer approached me and he said that United States has a problem finding Chinese actresses who would be willing to act in a film that depicts the problem of the Sichuan earthquake in China. Now a lot of you, if you don’t know about Sichuan earthquake, a lot of the elementary school and high school students died in that incident because of the poorly built buildings that they couldn’t stand the shake in the earthquake. As soon as the earthquake happened the building collapsed and a lot of students didn’t have the chance to escape.

So I jumped on the opportunity because I was a theatre student without any credentials. After that a lot of independent film producers approached me because it seems like they all have a problem finding actresses to act on this sensitive issue because as Chinese when we do things like this we risk not getting a visa back to China. So at one point I thought I had a monopoly on these sensitive issue roles, human rights victim roles.

Now to prepare for my role oftentimes I had to spend hours, days, weeks, sometimes months, with the victims who have lived through these experiences. Who came to the west and because of the cultural and language barrier they couldn’t communicate what they have been through in China. so I listened to them. And as part of the job as an actress not only do I have to listen to what they experience on a rational level, I have to also imitate the suffering that they have been through. That includes when they have been beaten by electronic baton: so electricity shock, you have to imitate the muscle movements. Or what they felt when they were being raped, sexually assaulted, when their fingers have been punctured by bamboo stick. or when they’re on the verge or potential of being killed for their organs.

So because of these conversations with these men and women who suffer these grief experiences I learned another side to the glorious China story.

Now I was born in China. I lived there for 13 years. When I was in China I never really thought twice about what the government were telling us in the textbooks. I even worked as a student council leader and one of the jobs that I had to do was to enforce ideological conformity among my classmates. That includes making them sit in a classroom, watch the central television that is the official propaganda television in China, films that targets the government’s enemies. I did that and felt quite proud of it. Because I was the elite. I was the top, cream of the crop of the students.

Now after I moved to Canada only then did I realize the extent of my indoctrination and how wrong it was my mother she tried to open my eyes to the stories in the west, the values in the west. So she gave me a little booklet that tells about this vilified group in China on the Chinese media called Falun Gong. I read about it. I was completely shocked. Because this group in China had been depicted as a cult that kills themselves. That would burn themselves in Tiananmen Square and kill babies. But what I found out is that this is a yoga practice that was reminiscent of Buddhist and Taoist teaching, that teaches truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.

So instead of falling into silence I continued to do my research and continued to go out to the street to talk to these victims who have lived through this kind of persecution in China. That includes Tibetans Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners.

What really moved me is that although they have been through these kind of atrocities, torture and constantly would face the threat of arbitrary detention, and have their family members been put out of a job, kids taken out of school, they decided to stay true to their conscience. They still view the world with the most positive light that I can imagine.

My experience comparing to them is of no comparison. I decided that I wanted to be the voice for them. So I thought to myself what would be a better platform than to enter a beauty contest like Miss World, which is having their motto as “Beauty with Purpose”. That is their motto.

In 2013 when I first joined Miss World competition they had the swimsuit competition, so I withdrew from it completely so I only got second runner up. And when 2015 come and they dropped their swimsuit competition entirely, I got the crown. At first my father in China is really proud of me. It’s almost like a validation that his support for his daughter has paid off.

After a few days I received a text message from my father saying that if I continue this human rights advocacy, and speaking up for these victims who I don’t even know, my family would be turned upside down like in the cultural revolution. Cultural revolution is almost like a greatest threat that could be made to my father’s generation. His generation grew up in the middle of this atrocity. Families turned against each other. Friends, just members of society, being picked out and publicly humiliated and persecuted because they dared to speak their own mind. For my father I was dooming my family. It was something that he couldn’t understand at all, and I don’t blame him. Because if I were in China and never was exposed to Canadian values, to what was happening in the west, I would do the same thing. I would blame whoever is inviting this kind of persecution on top of my family for absolutely no reason.

I reflected for a week and spent a week in my room crying on my bed. I didn’t really dare to speak to anybody about it. But after contemplation I realized that fear helps no one. Silence would feed terror. And if I don’t speak up about this issue, no one would. No one will protect my father for me.

So I went to the Washington Post and wrote about my story and also later on the American Congress invited me to testify about the persecution of minorities. As Miss World Canada of course I have the privilege to enter the Miss World contest, and last year’s Miss World was held in China. When all the other contestants got their invitation letter, my invitation letter never came.

So I decided okay I should just go to China to take my rightful place in the competition because as a Canadian citizen among 21 other nations I have the right to get a landing visa upon rival in China. So I went there and as soon as I was landed in Hong Kong I discovered that I was being declared persona non-grata by the Chinese government.

Of course, being Geneva, a lot of you probably heard the word persona non-grata. For me it was a completely new term. I think it’s Latin. I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it says the highest level of diplomatic punishment. And I also find out that Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, almost half of Hollywood’s most handsome men was also on the list of persona non grata in China. So I am among good company. I it wear like a badge of honor now.

Why the Chinese government do this? I also questioned myself: why do you think that they would go to such an extent of blocking a beauty queen and risk of this entire PR disaster to silence me, from entering China?

Now only later I discovered that they want to use me as an example to show the world, to show the journalists, the academics, the beauty queens, the actors, the athletes who want to talk about the sensitive issue who wants to talk about these issues that no one wants to talk about, who dare to risk their career to speak up for the truth, they want to show these people that if you’re going to do that, this is what you’re going to get. You’re going to lose access to China entirely. Like Anastasia Lin.

Also they are not afraid of me. They are afraid of the Chinese people themselves. People like my father who have been stifled of their freedom and voice, who have their dignity stripped away again and again until today that they don’t realize that they have the freedom to think for themselves. They want to show the Chinese people, and they are afraid of a Chinese girl, who come from China, embraces the western values, and goes back to China to encourage the Chinese people that hope is way more powerful than fear.

We can conquer the fear that’s inside of of us. Courage does not mean the absence of being afraid. I am still afraid today. My father is still living in China. Most of my family members are in China. We have a saying these days in China. It is called being “invited to tea” and that is when the security agency invites you to have a talk with them, and they will show you who has the baton and they won’t hesitate for a second to use it if you don’t fall in line. A lot of people submit to it. A lot of people stopped speaking up.

I never look at myself like a human rights defender. It’s because I never really see that human rights, defending human rights is only a few people’s job. I look at myself and I think what I have been doing is just constantly making the choice that is true to my conscience, and speak up for what I think is right.

Unfortunately, in most of the cases I’m not talking about myself in this case, its the few principled people that dare to speak their mind that suffer the most. It is the human rights defenders, the human rights lawyers, who are under tremendous threat in China to their family, to their friends, still decide to defy the system from within.

It’s the people that belong to religious and other minorities. No matter what kind of intimidation they face they still decide each day to stay true to their own conscience and defy the system. I am not speaking up for the minorities and the people who are imprisoned in China. I am speaking up for the entire Chinese population, who have their conscience been stifled, who are indifferent to their countrymen suffering, who don’t know that they have a voice and they can speak up.

It’s a great honour to be here in Geneva where the United Nations is located. I think that as a western democracy sometimes we have to ask ourselves seriously whether we have been complicit. It’s not like the Chinese people. They themselves didn’t ever try to make their plight being aware of in the world. Even when faced with the most severe level of atrocity they still decide to stay true to their conscience no matter the price. And sometimes – how could we conclude that the silencing, the killing and the torturing of them is a fair price to pay because we have interest in China?

What is China doing on the Human Rights Council in UN? I mean it doesn’t take a beauty queen to figure out that question.

A lot of people believe that by engaging with China, doing more trade, will gradually make the Chinese communist regime embrace our western values. That political liberalization will follow economic prosperity. That has not happened. It has not happened in China for the past few decades. And as we wait for this hypothetical transformation to happen, countless innocent Chinese citizens, courageous Chinese citizens continue to perish in Chinese labor camps, prisons, for exercising their most fundamental right. And it’s perhaps it is our values, not Beijing’s, that have changed as a process as a result of our engagement.

I look forward to your questions later and thank you very much for listening to my story. I hope that taking from this experience you’ll always do your part in the future to contribute to lessen these people’s suffering.

Thank you.

8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, February 22, 2016

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