NEW YORK—Imagine if your parents were arrested and interrogated because you were exercising in a park. Imagine if your relatives were fired from their jobs because you believed in being a good person. Imagine if you, yourself, were abducted, imprisoned, and tortured because of your beliefs.
For practitioners of Falun Gong in China, many of them have experienced at least one of the above scenarios. Many practitioners of the traditional spiritual practice fled their country, with stories of escape fit for Hollywood. And many of them come here to the United States looking for a way to make their stories heard.
On Saturday, close to 1,000 practitioners of Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, held a parade in New York to tell the world what is happening in China. They marched down the main street of Flushing, a Chinese community at the end of the 7-subway line in Queens, then held a rally.
A full marching band dressed in blue and white uniforms led the parade. They were followed by colorful flags, beautiful girls dressed in ancient Chinese attire, and traditional Chinese lion and dragon dancers. There were kids, parents, and grandparents.
April 25 in Beijing
But there was also a deeper purpose. April 25, the day before the parade, marked the 15th anniversary of an event that will be remembered in history. It was when close to 10,000 practitioners of Falun Gong went to the government appeals office in Zhongnanhai, Beijing. It happened only weeks before the all-out persecution against Falun Dafa began on July 20, 1999.
“Fifteen years ago, about 10,000 people who practice simple meditation exercises and follow peaceful teachings that help elevate ones moral character, saw that the government was mounting a campaign of persecution,” Liam O’Neill, spokesman of the Falun Dafa Information Center, said at the rally.
O’Neill explained why the Falun Gong practitioners went to appeal, saying, “Believing in the goodness of people, believing in the goodness of the government, they went to the State Office of Appeals to tell the government what they were about.”
The appeal was orderly and peaceful, and supported by Chinese law. Yet, the appeal was used as an excuse by the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, to launch his persecution against Falun Gong.
The persecution was so broad that nearly every person in China had a friend or relative affected by it. For the estimated 100 million Falun Gong practitioners in China at the time, however, the effect was much more direct.
Jane Dai, who came to the United States with her daughter in 2007, was among the Falun Gong practitioners in the parade. Her husband was abducted by Chinese authorities in 2001 for practicing Falun Gong. He was tortured to death in prison that same year.
“Millions of practitioners have been persecuted for 15 years,” Dai said. “My family is just one of them.”
“My daughter is 14 now,” she said. “The last time she saw her father was when she was nine months old.”
Another Falun Gong practitioner at the parade was Crystal Chen. She is 42, but could easily pass for 30. In her home in Guangzhou, China, she was abducted by police for practicing Falun Gong and spent three years in a re-education through labor camp.
While in the labor camp, Chen was regularly tortured. One day the guards nearly tortured her to death. They sent her to a hospital outside the camp, and from there she was able to escape. She fled to Thailand where she became a refugee under the United Nations. She was resettled in the United States in 2009.
Chen speak without resentment, however. For her, the event commemorating 15 years since April 25, 1999, is a sign of resilience.
The story of Falun Gong is about 100 million people in China who believed in being truthful, compassionate, and tolerant. It’s the story of a belief the former Chinese Communist Party Leader, Jiang Zemin, said in 1999 he would destroy in three months.
Yet, for Chen and many others, the story of Falun Gong is not a sad one. It’s about 100 million people who stood strong, even when every state-run media in China spread lies about them, even when every security bureau in China was assigned to destroy them, and even when the communist regime’s lies spread abroad and throughout the entire world seemed against them.
And it’s a story of how Falun Gong did not fight back, and instead told the world the truth, and how the crimes committed by leaders of China’s communist party and security bureaus are now being uprooted and shown to the world.
The parade on Saturday told this story—one of unshaken will amid suffering, of people who, in the face of a hatred that sought to blanket the world with lies, were able to remain kind and calmly tell the world the truth.
Erping Zhang, spokesperson for the New York Falun Dafa Association, said during a rally after the parade, the events commemorate the 15 years that Falun Gong practitioners have weathered.
Zhang extended his thanks to those who have supported Falun Gong, including the U.S. Congress, which has passed several resolutions condemning the persecution in China, noting, “We have seen great support from around the world.”
Queens district leader Martha Flores Vazquez also spoke at the rally. She reaffirmed her support for Falun Gong practitioners in Flushing, Queens, in light of a pro-communist group in the community that has on several occasions attacked practitioners. She said, “We will not tolerate injustice in Flushing.”
The persecution in China is also still taking place. Last year, the persecution grew worse, according to Wang Zhiyuan, spokesperson of the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong.
Wang said incomplete statistics show 4,942 Falun Gong practitioners were kidnapped, 732 were sent to brainwashing centers, 796 were sentenced without conviction, and 108 were tortured to death.
There are many Falun Gong practitioners, however, including Wang, who believe that very soon the oppressed will outlast the oppressor.
They believe that when the persecution against Falun Gong in China ends and the truth can no longer be hidden, the story of the 100 million Falun Gong practitioners will be remembered in history and the crimes of China’s leaders will be taken to the world stage.
Liam O’Neill said, “The CCP has the world’s largest army and the world’s largest public security apparatus. It has a total monopoly on the media and near total control of the Chinese Internet.”
“Why haven’t they defeated Falun Gong? Because good people trying to be better people is, in fact, the most powerful and enduring force,” O’Neil said. “It is rooted in Chinese history. It is rooted in Chinese culture. It is rooted in the very fabric of the universe: Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance.”