The young girl’s fingers fly over the piano keyboard in ways that impress even the judges of international competitions, so much so that she’s scheduled in a few weeks to appear at Carnegie Hall.
But the talent that Anni Zhang puts on display, if China had had its way, never would have been.
She was the No. 2 daughter of her family in China during a time when the one-child policy, now two-child but still forcing abortions, limited family sizes.
According to Reggie Littlejohn, president of the Womens Rights Without Frontiers organization, which has been fighting China’s deadly mandatory abortion policy for years, Anni’s family had to endure persecution to keep their daughter.
“Family planning police came daily to pressure Anni’s mother to abort her,” a statement from Littlejohn explained. “Anni’s father was able to get permission for Anni’s birth only after a long and difficult struggle.”
Listen to a recent practice of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 5:
Anni has emerged as a survivor in more ways than one, Littlejohn said.
She arrived in the United States only a few years ago, with her older sister, after having been detained as “China’s youngest prisoner of conscience.”
It was because her father, Zhang Lin, was sentenced to prison for standing up for Anni’s right to go to school.
Eventually, the two sisters obtained political asylum in the U.S., where Littlejohn and her husband, Robert, are raising them as their own.
“We are so proud of Anni. She is flourishing, both as a pianist and as a top student. Her father, Zhang Lin, was trained as a nuclear physicist, and Anni has inherited his strength in math and science. Her story is an example for all those who struggle against the odds. Through our help and her own hard work, Anni is a witness to the hope of a new beginning and to the beauty, brilliance and infinite value of Chinese girls,” Littlejohn said.
Anni, in a statement Littlejohn released, said she is grateful to her American parents and piano teacher, Matt Wang, for her opportunity to play at the prestigious concert hall.
Littlejohn said that although Anni’s parents “never thought of aborting her, countless others in her generation have succumbed to forced abortion in China under such circumstances.”
“Anni could easily have been one of the 400 million lives ‘prevented’ by China’s One (now Two) Child Policy of coercive population control. Or she could have been selectively aborted because she is a girl, as happens to so many second daughters in China.”
She ended up behind bars when, “in retaliation for her father’s work protesting the Communist Party, she was kidnapped out of school and detained overnight, enduring hours without food, water or a toilet. She was ten years old at the time,” Littlejohn’s report said.
It 2013, Zhang Lin asked Littlejohn to help him get Anni out of China.
The Littlejohns felt a calling to open their home, and Anni and her sister, Ruli, arrived a short time later after intervention from, among others, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Jing Zhang, president of Women’s Rights in China.
“God did a total miracle, because I never could have made it without His help,” Anni said. “Winning the competition to play in Carnegie Hall was 1 percent me and 99 percent God.”
But Littlejohn pointed out Anni’s father still is kept out of the loop. Although he was released from prison in September, he’s had several requests to the Chinese government for a passport refused.
“The fact that the Chinese government refuses to give Zhang Lin a passport under these circumstances underscores their inhumanity,” Littlejohn said. “It is pointless and cruel that they are depriving Zhang Lin and Anni of the joy of his attendance at her Carnegie Hall performance.”
In 2014, the sisters were granted permission to remain in the United States.
The two sisters previously sent a letter to President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping asking for help for their father.
With no results, they later expanded their plea. In an open letter released through WRWF, they asked world leaders to intervene.
Littlejohn earlier described Zhang as a “courageous activist” who “has done nothing wrong by standing up for the right of his young daughter Anni to go to school.”