Liu Baochun was a famous sculptor in China and the winner of many international art awards. He was also the executive director of Hubei Province Sculptor Institute.

But after the start of a brutal persecution by the communist regime, he and many other practitioners of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, were imprisoned and “treated like animals,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how successful you are,” the guards said, “As long as you practice Dafa, you are a target.”

Falun Dafa is a meditative practice designed to improve both the body and the mind, while cultivating truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

“Before I started practicing Falun Gong I had heart problems and arthritis,” said Mr. Liu through a translator. “That’s all cured.”

An image of a Buddha that Mr. Liu sculpted a few years ago. He said his practice of Falun Dafa has had a profound positive influence on his sculpting. (Seth Holehouse/The Epoch Times)

Chinese Communist Party security forces had been watching Liu since 1999—the year the persecution of Falun Gong was launched.

In mid-1999 he was called to the office at work.

“The communist party official in charge of my workplace told me to quit Falun Gong and take down all my related calligraphy at my home,” said Liu.

The communist officials pressured a client who hired Mr. Liu for a commissioned sculpture to sign a document from the Public Security agency, promising to watch him.

The 67-year-old was arrested in 2002 and locked in a brainwashing center—a hotel that had been converted for the purpose. For two months he was locked in a small twin share room with a guard who stayed all day, every day. Mr. Liu was handcuffed to a bed at night, and sometimes during the day, the handcuffs cutting into his skin.

“The officials took turns to interrogate me, day and night, in the room, so that I didn’t have a chance to sleep. They wanted to break my will this way,” he said.

Mr. Liu’s sculpture of a young female Falun Dafa practitioner, who was caught practicing the exercises in a labor camp. She was locked in this position for hours on end in excruciating pain. (Seth Holehouse/The Epoch Times)

“The mental torture was the hardest.”

The worst was yet to come. He was moved to a detention center, Mr. Liu said, and for six days he was forced to sit facing a wall from morning until 10 p.m.

The police warned Liu that if he didn’t stop practicing Falun Gong, his art career would be over—and no one would commission him to sculpt again.

“They changed the guards in the room all the time so that I didn’t have a chance to sleep.”

Yet Liu faced the guards with a strong will and a vow: he would never say anything bad about Falun Dafa, nor betray other practitioners.

Finally, his release came, but it was bittersweet—he was let out as bait—for his wife had escaped from a hospital and she was the bigger prize. The Communist Party officials put up a bounty of 50,000 Yuan for her capture, but she remained elusive until she fled to Thailand in 2007.

Mr. Liu’s wife had been captured with him in Shenzhen in 2002 and it was the last time they would see each other for more than five years. “I had no idea where she was or how to find out where she was,” he said.

A close-up shows the suffering this young woman endures as she is tortured for her beliefs. (Seth Holehouse/The Epoch Times)

“For those who have not experienced persecution, it is very distant. But to me it’s very real,” he said. “I could not go home, my grandson grew up sick with fear, my family is broken.”

Days after his release, Mr. Liu evaded the security forces and escaped from the city by changing taxis three times. Making it to southern China, he phoned a friend in Hong Kong, who arranged travel to Thailand for him. Now, a United Nations refugee in the U.S.A., and reunited with his wife, Mr. Liu can practice his craft, and spiritual discipline, freely.

His practice of Falun Dafa has also had a profound influence on the direction of his sculpting.

“I want to leave beautiful sculptures for future mankind,” he said, “I want to make them very compassionate.”