WASHINGTON—Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners from around the world proudly marched through the nation’s capital on Friday, reminding the world of not only 13 years of persecution in China, but the depth of their conviction in facing such oppression.
Pennsylvania Avenue came alive as row after row of participants, led by the blue-uniformed Celestial Marching Band, marched through downtown D.C. carrying banners, flags, and placards. One section of the parade was made up of women in white dresses, each carrying a flower-wreathed picture of one of the more than 3,400 Falun Gong practitioners killed by China’s communist regime.
Holding one of the banners, Birgit Braun said she had traveled from Germany to DC knowing that at home she could practice her beliefs freely, but in China people could not.
“The Communist Party of China does not allow any belief or religions,” she said. “They are persecuting Falun Gong in a very bad way and they don’t have the right to do this.”
Braun touted the benefits of the practice. She described herself as once being an asthmatic and nervous person, but after practicing Falun Gong—also known as Falun Dafa—her health improved, and she developed a sense of well-being. Braun said knowing that people in China were persecuted for a practice she knew from experience to be good made it important to take a stand.
Chinese-born Australian Xiao Lee, who made the journey to Washington for a weekend of events, was ready to march with a placard telling people of the persecution.
“It is very important to be here. It is 20 years since the spread of Dafa and 13 years of the persecution in China,” he said.
Falun Gong is an ancient exercise and meditation practice traditionally passed down from master to student. The practice was introduced to the public in China in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi.
Practitioners are encouraged to be good people in society while practicing the exercises, and abiding by the core principals of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance—virtues highly regarded in traditional Chinese culture.
Committed to these principles, practitioners of Falun Gong have been severely persecuted in China by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since July 20, 1999.
Xiao Lee has intimate knowledge of the persecution, as his wife was arrested and held in a labor camp for two years for practicing Falun Gong. With the intervention and assistance provided by the Australian government, she was eventually allowed to return to Australia.
But the ordeals continue for his family, as last month Lee heard that his brother-in-law had been arrested soon after obtaining a visa to visit his parents in Australia.
The brother-in-law has been interned in labor camps for practicing Falun Gong twice before. “It is very bad news,” Lee said.
Since he started the practice ten years ago, Hans He, from Canada, has been coming to D.C. every year to participate in Falun Gong events and rallies, including the annual parades. This year, he said things feel different.
“There is a big change coming, you can feel it. They [the Chinese people] know the truth about Falun Gong now and they know what the CCP has been doing,” he said. “Once they see the truth they will change.”
Dillon Spitler, an American working in South Korea, attended the parade as part of a contingent of 30 South Korean Falun Gong practitioners.
With North Korea right next door, Spitler and his group have to regularly deal with communist infiltrators who make trouble at exercise sites, and interfere with events. “So it is very real, the persecution being that close,” he said.
Spitler said attending the parade and other events in Washington was particularly important for the South Koreans, as it reinforces the connection with America, knowing they are not alone.
Johnny Romero, 60, came from Venezuela, and was overjoyed to be with so many practitioners. He described Falun Gong as the most “amazing thing that has happened in my entire life,” noting that it has benefited not only his own well-being, but that of his family.
Quitting the CCP
The persecution is too brutal and has gone on for too long, Romero said, and “it has to stop.” He was in the Quit the CCP section of the parade, related to a mass movement of Chinese people renouncing association with the CCP and its affiliated organizations. Also known as Tuidang, the movement has to date registered over 120 million renunciations.
The Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party is at the front line of the Tuidang movement, with its staff facilitating the renunciation statements from Chinese around the world.
Global Center president Rong Yi said the pace of renunciations of the Party had picked up, with 60,000 now occurring daily. The movement “will decide the CCP’s future,” she said. “This is the people’s choice. They choose no CCP.”
Bystanders were supportive as they lined Pennsylvania Ave to watch the parade.
Law student Daniel Freer said he was happy to support a people who countered corruption in government, saying that freedom of speech is “a right, as our founding fathers said.”
Nancy Broyhill, from Virginia, watched the parade with family members, including three grandchildren. She described it as “democracy in action.”
“It is good for them to see,” she said, promising an in-depth discussion on Falun Gong and China with the family that night.
John Chang had come in from Virginia specifically to watch the parade. He was born in China, but grew up in Taiwan, and spent his school years in a Buddhist temple. Although not a practitioner of Falun Gong, he was very supportive of the group.
“They are doing great, they are the best people around the world, sharing truthfulness, compassion, [and] patience,” he said.
Chang added he had no interest in visiting a China under the present communist regime, but that would change when it became a democracy like the United States. Then he added, “I am more than happy to go back and help those Chinese people.”
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