WASHINGTON—Practitioners of the Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Gong converged here, holding a rally on the South Lawn of Capitol Hill, marching with a brass band down Pennsylvania Avenue, ending the day of events with a mass candlelight vigil of around 12,000 flames around the Washington Monument.
The day marks the 16th year that Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, has been persecuted in China, where it was first taught in 1992. The practice includes five meditative exercises and teaches students to conduct their lives according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
This year’s events were held in the context of rapidly changing circumstances on the ground in China, where some of the key ringleaders of the persecution have been jailed in the current anti-corruption purge in the Chinese Communist Party.
Sufficiently emboldened by these changes, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China have lodged criminal complaints against former Party leader Jiang Zemin, who was personally responsible for launching the campaign to eliminate Falun Gong on July 20, 1999.
“Suing Jiang is a personal choice of conscience, especially when your family has been persecuted,” said a Dr. Yan who originally comes from the city of Liaoning in Shenyang Province, northeast China.
As in years past, the centerpiece of the annual D.C. events was a solemn march through the capital, heavy on colorful banners and led by a large marching band. The marchers carried signs conveying several main themes: “Falun Dafa is Good;” decrying the harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners for organs; support for the campaign to bring Jiang to justice; a section calling for an end to the persecution; and a group of women dressed in white, holding wreathed photographs of those killed in the campaign.
Chen Ruidun, a 59-year-old Taiwanese homemaker, told a typical story of the benefits she said Falun Gong practice conferred: an end to her long-standing neck problems and body pains. Soon after she took up Falun Gong, her son did too and it soon showed in his attitude. He stopped trying to get that one last refill at McDonalds, since Falun Gong teaches not being wasteful or opportunistic. “Falun Gong has uplifted us all,” Chen said.
She also ceased smacking her children. After reading a passage in the main book of Falun Gong, which admonishes the Chinese tendency, “I cried,” Chen said.
Several Falun Gong practitioners who participated in the events themselves cried when Epoch Times reporters asked what brought them to D.C.
“My whole family was split up by the persecution,” said Bi Yun, who started practicing Falun Gong in China in 1995. “I think it is best that everybody know what’s happening in China and the methods being used to persecute practitioners.”
Li Yutao, who arrived in the United States in late June, started crying when interviewed. “I’m feeling very emotional,” she said. “I’ve never seen such a parade in China.”
Pang Lin, 52, said that before she moved to New York she was a government official in the Guangzhou municipal government in southern China. During the persecution she was taken into custody by Chinese security forces and subjected to extensive torture. She described having garlic rubbed into her eyes, and from a standing position, being forced to bend her head into a bucket of dirty water on the ground to the point of nearly drowning.
Apart from persecuted Chinese who came to the United States as refugees, many Americans said they had found a new home in the moral teachings and exercise discipline of Falun Gong.
Sixteen-year-old Cameron Foley-Molovinsky from Arizona, took up Falun Gong about a year ago. He said it was the first rally of its kind he’d been to. “So much changed for me with Falun Gong,” he said. “I used to be nervous about what was going to happen in the future. Small things are easier to deal with [now],” he said.
His mother also practices Falun Gong. She brought her four children by plane to join in the events.
Daniel Smith, an employee of the National Gallery of Art, which the march moved past on Pennsylvania Avenue, said it was the first time he had seen the parade, and expressed frustration at American media for not having reported in depth about the persecution of Falun Gong.
“The U.S. is basically blind to a lot of things. … People have the right to choose to meditate and do what they want,” said Smith.
Andrea, who is in her 40s, also watched the parade with interest from Pennsylvania Avenue. “Wow, I did not know that,” she said upon hearing about how researchers believe practitioners of Falun Gong in China have been executed by the tens of thousands so that their organs could be sold and transplanted.
When she spotted a banner that said “You lied about SARS, you lied about Falun Gong,” referring to the Chinese communist regime, Andrea whipped out her smartphone and exclaimed: “Oh, I need to take a picture of that. That’s very on point.”