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Father with son at windowWang Bingzhang with his son Han

Wang Bingzhang, founder of the Overseas Chinese Democracy Movement, has spent the last fourteen years in a Chinese prison for the crime of political activism. Although he once abandoned them to pursue his political beliefs, his ex-wife and children campaign tirelessly for his release. Inside These Walls captures the complex range of emotions of a family bound together in struggle and hope.

Chin, Wang Bingzhang’s ex-wife, first met him in Montreal in the late seventies where he was on a scholarship to study experimental medicine at McGill University. When he decided to move to New York City to found the Overseas Chinese Democracy Movement, they married and she went with him. For several years they lived together in a crowded house in Queens along with other members of the movement until Wang’s obsession with his work as well as his numerous infidelities made it impossible for Chin to create a stable home life for their three young children. She left, returning to Montreal to raise her family. After that, Wang was barely present in his children’s lives.

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In 2002, when Wang was in Vietnam meeting with other activists, he was kidnapped, beaten, blindfolded and brought into China where he was imprisoned. He was held for six months before he was charged with espionage and terrorism. In a closed trial with no witnesses and no evidence presented, Wang Bingzhang was sentenced to life in solitary confinement.

hand drawing of a bull and flowers

One of Wang Bingzhang’s prison drawings

From prison, Wang sends monthly letters to his family, often over fifty pages long. These letters range in tone from fiercely accusatory to humble and remorseful. His son reflects that his father has probably spoken more words to him through these letters than he has in person. And Chin observes, “In a weird way, he’s more of a father now than he ever was.”

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Wang’s ex-wife and children all bear the weight of the legacy they have inherited: the daunting task of taking on the implacable Chinese government. Since her father’s imprisonment, Ti-Anna, named in commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, has found her voice as a political activist. The youngest of the three siblings, she had the least amount of contact with her father growing up but has now become the main spokesperson for his case. As she states in a recent TedX talk, sharing her family’s experience enables her to educate others on the human rights violations going on in China.

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Despite their fraught relationship with Wang, the family is committed to helping him.  As we learn through their frank admissions, they suffer from constant feelings of guilt — torn between a desire to live their own lives and feeling that they aren’t doing enough. Witnessing their moral struggle as well as their steadfast compassion and devotion is both heartbreaking and inspiring. As Chin says, “If someone is drowning, you have to stick out your hand and pull him out. You might be pulled into the water, but what can you do?”

Inside These Walls explores the complex language of family bonds. Though he was virtually absent as a husband and parent, his ex-wife and children continue to campaign for Wang’s freedom. His release will be theirs.

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