SACRAMENTO, Calif.—An exclusive screening of the award-winning documentary “Free China: The Courage to Believe” in California’s capital on Jan. 23 left audience members with a demonstration of how faith can be more powerful than government repression.
“Free China” tells the story of two practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong and how they succeeded in withstanding the persecution of their belief in China.
Jennifer Zeng, a former Communist Party member, became to her surprise a target by the Chinese regime after it began persecuting Falun Gong in 1999. The traditional Chinese practice had become widely popular in the 1990s, and the then-head of the regime, Jiang Zemin, feared its popularity, as more people were practicing Falun Gong than were members of the Communist Party.
Zeng was in put in one of China’s notorious reform-through-labor prison camps. There she suffered physical and psychological torture intended to make her give up her belief.
Dr. Charles Lee, a Chinese-American businessman, is the other protagonist of the film. Lee traveled to China in 2003 intending to help end the persecution by tapping into the cable TV network and using it to broadcast videos that debunked the regime’s propaganda about Falun Gong.
Lee did not get the chance to carry out his plan. He was arrested and imprisoned in a labor camp, where he went on a hunger strike. After three years, he was able to return to the United States due to an international campaign calling for his release and the support of U.S. Congress.
The film demonstrates how Zeng and Lee’s beliefs gave them the strength to overcome extreme adversity and survive against all odds.
‘Free China’ shows how Western companies are benefiting from the Chinese persecution of Falun Gong and other groups.
Paul Adams, director of underwriting at Capital Public Radio, said in reaction: “I was shocked … that they are trying to oppress an entire group of people. I was devastated.”
“It’s an amazing movie.”
Audience member Roger Canfield, a scholar on communism, said the film “could be just that powerful force that gets some changes.”
“Free China” also shows how Western companies are benefiting from the exploitation of Falun Gong and other groups imprisoned in prison camps. Lee and Zeng were forced to work for no salary long hours making cheap products for export. Lee produced Homer Simpson slippers for a New Jersey-based slipper company.
Michael Perlman, creator of the award-winning “Tibet: Beyond Fear” documentary, is the director of “Free China.” The film is a co-production between NTD Television and World2Be Productions
Producer of the film is Kean Wong from NTD, an independent station that successfully broadcasts uncensored Chinese-language news and programs into China.
Wong met Jennifer Zeng in Australia after she had escaped from China. Ten years later he told Perlman about her story and decided to make her and Charles Lee’s experiences into a film.
A Q&A session following the screening gave the audience an opportunity to talk directly to the filmmakers.
Wong stressed the film is directed not against China, but it is about the “corrupted government we are trying to expose.”
Perlman said that beyond human rights issues and universal values, it is in America’s own self-interest to help the Chinese become free. “As China becomes more aggressive militarily … what is in our national security interest is an open, stable, prosperous China,” he said.
“I was blown away,” said Sandra McDonald, one of the attendees, about her reaction to the film.
McDonald, who teaches social science at Sierra College, said she was especially moved when she learned about organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China.
The film shows how hundreds of thousands of prisoners of conscience, predominantly Falun Gong practitioners, but also Christians and Tibetans, serve as a live organ bank in a state-controlled organ harvesting operation.
Zeng, who was tortured regularly, was confused when she received X-rays and other medical examinations in the prison. Later, she learned it was to find matching organs for donors.
“That was really the part that shocked me and made me convinced that I need to show it to as many people as I can,” McDonald said. She said she plans to organize a screening on her campus for students and faculty.
“We have to understand the synergy between the two countries, because China could not do effectively what it is doing to its people without having willing partners around the world. And the United States is one of these partners. We have a job to do here and we have to advocate for humankind in China,” McDonald said.
The film will be released in June 2013. The filmmakers plan to make it available for free to high schools and universities to widen its impact.
“Free China” has won five international film awards, including winning the 2012 American Insight Free Speech Film Festival and the top award at the WorldFest-Houston International Independent Film Festival.
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