NEW YORK—The sound of drums from the Celestial Marching Band echoed throughout Union Square as the morning rain ceased on Thursday afternoon.
Nearby, nine-year-old Nina Yan from Sydney, Australia, was passing out brochures with information on the spiritual practice of Falun Gong to passersby.
“It’s a good practice, it helps people,” Yan said.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditative practice of spirit, mind, and body originating from China.
As part of a week-long series of events in New York City celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the practice, practitioners from around the world performed music, songs, and dance at Union Square. Organizers said the events serve a dual purpose—it also raises awareness for the brutal persecution of Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that has persisted for the past 15 years.
Some of the performers were young children, eager to use the arts to express their beliefs. Many, like Yan, have grown up with the practice in the home as one or both of their parents practice Falun Gong, but come to their own realizations of its teachings.
“[Falun Gong] taught me to be a good person,” said ten-year-old Lien Smedsrud from Norway, who led a group of young practitioners in singing a song. Smedsrud said she is glad to be able to share the practice with people from around the world because it has so many benefits.
A common story practitioners share is the miraculous health benefits they’ve gained from learning the practice, which includes five sets of exercises.
“It’s good for you, it’s healthy for you and your mind, and it’s good for everything,” said 12-year-old Zhang Bo Yuan.
Six years ago, while living in Japan, his father, who was practicing Falun Gong, told him about it. Only six at the time, Yuan listened to the audio recordings of the nine lectures that the practice’s founder Li Hongzhi gave when Falun Gong was being taught in China.
He remembered being ill all the time at that age, Yuan said, but after listening to the lectures he was all better. Even his mother was surprised, which led her to take up the practice herself.
Fourteen-year-old Karina Li plays clarinet with the Celestial Marching Band, which filled the square with songs from original compositions written by Falun Gong practitioners.
“[Falun Gong practitioners] are really kind, and always smiling and comfortable to be with,” Li said.
Her mother Eliya Han had been a researcher in China in 1997 when she first heard of the practice. Han had insomnia and had frequent headaches that made reading anything a difficult task. She was also concerned about her health, but said she was seeing no benefits from the exercises and running she was doing.
“After I started practicing [Falun Gong], I don’t know when it happened, but the headaches completely disappeared. I felt rejuvenated, like I was floating everywhere,” Han said. She was pregnant with her daughter in 1999, the year the practice was banned by the CCP. Because Li started practicing at a young age and did not join any of the groups affiliated with the CCP, there was immense pressure at school, Han explained.
“It was not a good environment,” Han said. A few years ago they moved to New Jersey. “There’s freedom here, and she’s much happier now, and happy she can do what she can—using her skills in her band—to show the beauty of Dafa.”