Imprisoned for more than 1,000 days by the People’s Republic of China on allegations of espionage, journalist Ching Cheong tells City News about the ordeal that led to his newfound faith.
By Joelle Pang
In April 2005, Ching Cheong, a China-born senior journalist with The Straits Times, was arrested by the People’s Republic of China on charges of spying for Taiwan. His new book, My 1,000 Days’ Ordeal, launched last month, details his horrifying descent into darkness and triumphant return to a life of renewed hope and purpose. City News speaks to Ching about his extraordinary story of redemption.
It must have been very hard reliving the memories while writing your book. What motivated you to write it?
When I first started working on it, I dropped my pen several times because it was too painful to do so. However, with God’s help I succeeded in putting aside my fear and pain. The book was motivated by the desire to get the positive out of a negative experience, and this by itself is a grace of God. When I prayed for strength in the prison, God bestowed strength upon me, and this strength was manifested in the desire to not let my days in jail be in vain. The worthiest thing I can do is to use my case as a textbook example of how miscarriage of justice occurs in China.
What were your first few moments behind bars like?
To paraphrase from my book, I was ordered to remove my glasses, dentures and ring. Removing the first two items was no problem, but to remove the ring was akin to having my heart pierced by a knife. For this was the ring that [my wife] Mun-yee had personally put on my finger on our wedding day. I had not parted with the ring for a single day since I wore it in 1983. I asked if I could keep it … but the detention center wardens refused. They forcibly rubbed soap on my finger so that they could remove the ring. The only thing I could do was to ask them to take good care of it for me and not to lose it.
I was handcuffed and escorted by two guanjiao (prison wardens) to my cell and pushed unceremoniously into it. I heard the heavy steel door shut with a “bang,” a moment in which my heart broke. I was stunned! I felt on the brink of collapse. Shame and humiliation, failure and low self-esteem, these were emotions that ran through me as I felt the brand fall on my body, imprinting on it the word “criminal.” It made me feel shame and self-loathing. I lost my sense of self.
How did reading the Bible make God real to you?
As I wrote in my book, after reading the Bible, I was finally able to untie the knot in my heart and completely shed that feeling of sorrow and anxiety that had plagued me all this time. I could not help but begin to have the desire to talk to God. This was something that did not happen when I was reading other religious classics. One evening, after reading the Bible, I walked to a corner of the cell and, facing the high wall, began to pray. My first prayer went thus: “God, please help me, let me be able to walk firmly on my path of patriotism, and strive for China’s reform and opening up, democracy and freedom, and peaceful unification …”
In my life I had made these four choices: in 1974, when I joined the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po, it was to walk my path of patriotism; in 1980, when I decided to go to China to work, it was for the country’s reform and opening up; in 1989, I left Wen Wei Po for my belief in democracy; and when I went to work in Taiwan in 1998, it was for China’s unification.
These four choices not only determined the footprints of my life but also led me to my current predicament. My being thrown into jail made me ask if I had made the wrong choices. Now that God had been shown to have eyes and affirmed what I had done, then I should courageously continue on my path, no matter how many difficulties lay ahead.
Which Bible verse is significant to you and why?
When I read Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me,” I felt a jolt in my heart. “Walk through the valley of the shadow of death”—wasn’t that me? Had my emotions not spiraled toward the brink of suicide? How could a person in such a situation be not afraid? But the Bible continued to say, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” At this point, tears welled up in my eyes and fell as from a spring. Later when I related this experience to my elder brother, who was a Christian long before me, he told me that at that moment the Holy Spirit had come to me, which was why I was moved.
What has been the reaction to your conversion to Christianity?
I received an overwhelming welcome by the Christian community in Hong Kong when news of my conversion broke. I was asked to share my experience with believers and non-believers alike. A very good friend of mine and his wife decided to accept God upon knowing my encounter with God. My wife, a non-believer, showed understanding and support. The Christian Alliance Press, the oldest publisher of Christian books in China, published the book in traditional characters in Hong Kong as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations. In a month, all 5,000 copies of the first edition were sold out and the second edition was put out much earlier than expected.
How has your outlook on life and your craft as a journalist changed now that you have accepted Christ?
I have become more committed to my lifelong aim to bring positive changes to China. Before the ordeal, I was already thinking of retirement. I’ll continue to use my experience as a journalist to analyze the situation in China and call for changes where possible.
After having been salvaged by God myself, I find myself duty-bound to spread the gospel to as many people as possible. With the empowerment of God, I feel much more energized and tolerant now.
Excerpts of this interview were taken from Ching Cheong’s book, My 1,000 Days’ Ordeal, which is available in English and simplified Chinese at all major bookstores.