The flicker of candlelight was seen on the main Quad last Friday as 30 Falun Gong practitioners held a candlelight vigil to ‘rescue’ practitioners who are persecuted in China.
Members from AU’s Falun Dafa Club and the AU community showed up to give their support and bring awareness to the campus about practitioners such as Dr. Charles Lee, who has been detained in China for over 10 months.
“We’re urgently trying to raise awareness of the persecutions in China and seeking more support from the public and the American community,” said Larry Liu, a first-year professor of statistics at AU and member of the club.
Liu was convinced he would practice Falun Gong seven years ago, after a letter from his mother in which she wrote that she had benefited from the practice, which improved her health, physically and mentally. His mother, 63, a retired engineer in China, had been detained several times since practicing the religion in 1996, according to Liu.
Sophomore Jinwei Wang, 22, president and founder of the club, said there are more than 30 individuals involved in the club, which has held several different activities including panels, photo exhibits and a painting exhibit that featured a practitioner detained in China over the last two years.
Wang began learning about the practice when she was in middle school in China. Her mother had been asking for ways to improve her health. Wang asked classmates and her teacher about different Qigong practices to help her mother. Her teacher began teaching herself, her classmates and her mother about the practice.
Falun Gong is based on the ancient tradition of Qigong, pronounced Chi-gong, which uses meditation similar to tai chi and principles of truthfulness-compassion-tolerance to refine the body and mind.
It has been passed down from generations of teachers to students. However, in 1992 Li Hongzhi brought it to the public and since then has been noted as its founder, according to Levi Browde, a spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York.
The center is a volunteer group of individuals that acts as a watchdog for illegal activities of the Chinese government in its persecution of practitioners.
There are two components to the practice, according to Browde. One is a set of five exercises that use four tai-chi techniques and a meditation session. The second component is comprised of the principles of truthfulness-compassion-tolerance.
Browde said that because the group focused on Chinese tradition, this upset the communist government.
He also said the government makes war on a different group every five to 10 years and the Falun Gong group is the latest. The most recent case was the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The government banned the practice in 1999 after 10,000 practitioners gathered outside the Chinese leadership after hearing reports of beatings in other cities.
Browde claims the government has been using propaganda on its people and that former communist president Jiang Zemin feared being overthrown despite his council’s pro-Falun Gong attitude.
“There’s a saying in Chinese that instead of shooting at a target, you shoot at a
blank target and draw the target in ... that is what Jiang did,” Browde said. “Their whole rhetoric against the Falun Gong [that claims it’s] all propaganda is wrong because ... we are peaceful and not a
The center reported that 100 million people who practiced in 1998 lost the right to practice, while more than 500 have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years. More than 1,000 were forced into mental hospitals, over 100,000 have been illegally sent to labor camps and at least 821 deaths by police torture have been confirmed.
However, according to Weide Sun, press counselor for the Chinese Embassy, there are no great number of practitioners left in China. Yet there are some in the United States and in other parts of the world that have become violent.
Charles Lee, one of the individuals AU’s Falun Gong held the vigil for, was sentenced for three years for sabotaging the state-owned broadcasting system by playing a Falun Gong message.
“[Charles Lee], he, himself, admitted to it,” Sun said. “He said he went to China to sabotage [the media]. It’s a crime that is punishable in all countries as well as in China.”
However, Lee’s fianc?e Yeong-Ching Foo said the situation in China is urgent and people must be aware of the torture by the government.
“The government is now brainwashing Lee after torturing him,” Foo said.
Foo has not spoken to Lee but receives information through the U.S. Council in China about his status. She was attending a psychological conference in New York over the weekend to learn more about brainwashing on the individual.
“I am very proud he risked his own life to help others,” Foo said. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up and I hope he will be able to return soon. This is the time families stay together.”
Sun said the Falun Gong practitioners have increased their politicized agenda and become more violent and especially more desperate, which has led them to commit criminal activities.
“They have made large unwarranted charges against the leader and Chinese government,” Sun said.
Sun also blamed the group for its own deaths, claiming that members burned themselves to death, refused to take medicine and made suicide pacts.
“Falun Gong has ruined life, destroyed families and harmed the society,” Sun said.
There are always some individuals in every religion who tend to be extreme and commit suicide, but these are rare cases, said George Washington University history professor Edward A. McCord.
Specializing in the history of military-civil relations in 19th and 20th century China, McCord said the communist government looks at the Falun Gong practitioners as a threat not because of their ideology, but rather as an organized movement that uses peaceful public demonstrations to voice its opinions.
“It’s not a campaign to exterminate people, but rather [one] to confine them and have them confess,” McCord said. “The communist party really thinks they are doing evil things.”
According to McCord, all religions have to be registered with the government. “Falun Gong tried to get recognition through demonstrations which have frightened the government,” McCord said.
When McCord was in China, he asked individuals about the Falun Gong. He said many people believed the practitioners were doing evil things and that their leader ordered them to commit suicide or harm themselves.
“It’s not so much an issue of genocide, but it is a human rights issue,” McCord said.
He also mentioned that throughout Chinese history, governments, not only communist, have had issues with organized religious movements like the Boxer and Taiping Rebellions.
There can be no legitimate status for the group unless they make some significant change or remain in the underground, McCord said. In fact, McCord said there are some religious groups, like Catholic or Protestant groups, who are underground because they do not want to be regulated by the government.
“They are going to keep suppressing the group because the problem is they can no longer admit what they say about Falun Gong is wrong,” McCord said.
“There is no clear indication that the new leader or the government now is going to change its mind and recognize the group,” he said.
Many hope to return to China one day, like Wang, who decided to pursue a career in communications so that when she goes back, she could help free the media.
However, she is afraid she will be arrested and beaten if she returns to the country. She believes she has been blacklisted by the government. The government has taken pictures and gotten names of practitioners in D.C. during their weekly peaceful meditations in front of the Embassy of China, Wang said.
“International pressure is important, and the Chinese government realizes the power of the pressure,” Wang said. “They make human rights dialogue under the table instead of to the public, which cannot resolve the problem.”