People who have watched the video of San Franciscan Derek Wang getting punched in the face, not once but twice, have wondered at the tall student’s quiet forbearance.
Around midday on Sunday, June 10, Derek was standing on the corner of Grant and Washington Streets in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He and a small group of Falun Gong practitioners were there to tell people about what Falun Gong is and why it is persecuted in China.
A few pro communist Chinese gathered to heckle the group of practitioners. Then, an old man wearing a hat stepped up to Derek, cocked his right fist behind his shoulder, and struck Derek’s jaw with all he had. And then the old man reached back and hit Derek again.
The much taller and stronger young man did nothing to the old man who struck him. When the police arrived, they arrested the old man.
The path that brought Derek to that confrontation in Chinatown began in 1997, when he was 10 years old.
He and his mother were introduced to Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, by his aunt in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun. At that time, Falun Gong was the most popular qigong practice in China and Changchun was the hometown of Falun Gong’s teacher, Mr. Li Hongzhi. Perhaps because of that, Falun Gong in Changchun was a unique scene.
“Every park had at least one practice site. Some had two or three. Our site was considered small, but at least 200 people would go there every morning to do the exercises of Falun Dafa together,” recalled Wang.
Falun Dafa is a spiritual practice that involves the improvement of both mind and body. The practice features five gentle exercises, as well as requirements to be a good person and live according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
“Since I was little I always had a feeling that the meaning of our life was not only to live this one life. I wondered if life was eternal,” said Wang. Falun Gong gave him answers to his questions.
Life was simple back then. Wang and his mother would wake up early to be at the practice site at six. Once in a while, practitioners from the whole city would gather to practice together on Cultural Square, the city’s largest open space and the second largest plaza in all of China after Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
“So many people that the square was not big enough to hold them all,” recalled Wang.
In 1999, the then-head of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, launched a nationwide campaign to “eradicate” the practice of Falun Gong. He feared the practice’s popularity and the attractiveness of its traditional moral teachings to the Chinese people.
Wang’s mother was taken to a labor camp, where she and many others were subjected to intense interrogation and brainwashing, torture, and forced labor.
“As a method of torture, force-feeding was so common that I think every Falun Gong practitioner detained there had to go through it, and so did my mom,” said Wang. Force feeding has often resulted in the deaths of practitioners, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
In the labor camp, Wang’s mother and the other detainees had to do heavy labor from sunrise to sunset. Wang recalled his mother telling him about making the fake paper money used for Chinese funerals, as well as wooden chopsticks and other small items for export. In 2001, his mother was released.
In 2009, she was arrested again for passing on materials about Falun Gong to a stranger. She was beaten at a local detention center until two of her ribs were broken. This time, Wang’s mother was determined not to sacrifice several years of freedom. She went on a hunger strike. Seeing that she was near death, the detention center released her after a dozen days.
In September, 2011, Derek Wang came to California intending to pursue a master’s degree in performing arts. He did not expect to encounter the hate in San Francisco that he and his mother had endured in China. Nonetheless, he was prepared.
“Tolerance is a key principle in Falun Gong,” Derek said. “That’s why I did not attack back after he punched me in the face.”
“But his intention was not just to attack me personally, but to attack my belief and my right to practice my belief, so I will stand out to speak about this so that he will not be allowed to use the same method to attack others.” Wang said that he is determined to bring his attacker to justice.
From residents in Chinatown to officials in the police station, many San Franciscans have supported Wang. “I am very thankful for that,” he said.
“There’s a small group of people in Chinatown who were poisoned by the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda,” Wang said. “Back in the days Chinese immigrants were looked down upon, so they think the Communist Party made China strong and their lives as Chinese immigrants abroad better.”
“I would like to ask them to stop by us and give us three minutes to tell them about what Falun Gong is, and what Falun Gong practitioners are asking.”
“We just want to clarify the lies that the Chinese Communist Party made about Falun Gong in the news, and tell them that the Chinese Communist Party has done too many bad things to its people throughout the history,” said Wang.
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