NEW YORK—Striking traditional costumes, colorful banners bearing messages of hope, and resonant melodies performed by a 500-strong marching band—these were the highlights of a parade held in Manhattan on May 16 to commemorate World Falun Dafa Day.
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a spiritual practice introduced to the public in 1992, consisting of meditative exercises and a set of moral teachings centered around the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Nearly 10,000 Falun Dafa practitioners from dozens of countries marched across Manhattan, from the United Nations Plaza at 47th Street and Second Avenue, through Times Square, and finally ending near the Chinese consulate on 12th Avenue.
The parade was both a celebration of the peaceful practice and a remembrance of those suffering under the persecution in China.
“We want to show the positive energy of Falun Dafa practitioners,” said Sofia Drevemo, a 3-D graphic designer from Sweden.
Even though the parade aims to raise awareness about the brutal persecution, Drevemo said practitioners wished to do this from a positive starting point.
“That’s why we are all so colorful and in good spirits, because to be able to [help others] understand the most difficult thing, we need to do it in a positive manner,” she said.
The mood among the thousands of practitioners seemed to match their vibrantly colored clothing, which glowed under the soft spring sunlight. The sound of beating drums played by a Chinese waist-drum troupe, and tunes performed by the Tian Guo Marching Band, composed of practitioners from more than a half dozen countries, further charged the atmosphere.
Drevemo, wearing a yellow shirt emblazoned with the words “Falun Dafa Is Good,” said practicing Falun Gong helped her develop something she had always yearned for.
“Ever since I was very young, I … always wished that I would have a self-confidence that would make me unbreakable in any situation,” she said.
“I gradually understood that this [practice] is what will … get [me] there.”
Francisco La Russa, a video editor from Buenos Aires, said his health improved after starting the practice in 2012. He used to experience back pain, but all that disappeared within a month after learning the exercises.
After reading the main text of Falun Dafa, “Zhuan Falun,” La Russa realized the practice was more than just physical exercises, he said.
“This [practice] has very pure, very profound principles that I want to follow,” he said.
La Russa said he tries to apply the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance in his daily life to improve his character. For instance, before La Russa started practicing, he was very arrogant and argumentative, but the teachings of Falun Dafa, he said, gave him a new perspective.
“It [provided] a way for me to really be a better person,” he said.
Peder Giertsen, a retired management consultant from Norway who took up the practice in 1999, said Falun Dafa taught him to be kind and think of others, even when it seems difficult to do so.
“I don’t have any enemies anymore,” he said. “And I used to have quite a bit because I was rough, and I was tough, and I was direct.”
Olivier Grenier-Leboeuf, a university student majoring in mathematics and computer science at McGill University in Canada, said that after he started learning Falun Dafa two years ago, he stopped wasting his time on video games and surfing the internet.
“I’ve changed my life when it comes to my outlook,” he said. “I used to waste a lot of my time and have all sorts of bad thoughts. I’ve noticed a strong purification of my mind after practicing.”
Grenier-Leboeuf also plays trombone in the Tian Guo Marching Band. He hopes that the band’s performances can spread the message that Falun Dafa is good.
“I think music can really touch people’s souls. It’s a different way of communication,” he said.
Ending the Persecution
Prior to the parade, a rally was held at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near U.N. headquarters, where speakers highlighted that the Chinese regime’s suppression continues until this day.
“Organ harvesting atrocities are still going on in China, which is very severe,” Teresa Chu, an attorney from Taiwan and spokesperson for the Taiwan Falun Gong Attorney Group, told The Epoch Times. The legal advocacy nonprofit brings lawsuits against Chinese officials responsible for the persecution when they travel abroad to countries in Asia, and advocates for parliaments to pass legislation on Falun Gong issues, including organ harvesting.
In 2006, reports emerged that the Chinese regime was extracting organs from living prisoners of conscience, mainly Falun Dafa practitioners, for use in the country’s organ transplant system.
An in-depth report by transplant ethics group International Coalition to End Transplant Abuse in China, released in 2016, found a huge discrepancy between China’s official transplantation figures and the number of transplants performed at hospitals.
By analyzing the public records of 712 Chinese hospitals that carry out liver and kidney transplants, the report showed that roughly 60,000 to 100,000 transplants are conducted each year, far outstripping the official number of 10,000 to 20,000 per year. The shortfall, the report concluded, was largely made up of organs extracted from Falun Dafa practitioners held inside China’s detention facilities.
In December 2018, an international independent people’s tribunal held hearings in the United Kingdom and issued an interim judgment that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience has taken place in China “on a substantial scale.” The final judgment is expected in June this year.
Wang Zhiyuan, spokesperson for U.S.-based nonprofit World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), also drew attention to the ongoing atrocities in China.
“[The persecution] has continued for 20 years. … Organ harvesting, an unprecedented crime in the world, is still happening,” Wang told The Epoch Times.
“We, WOIPFG, will continue investigating any crimes of persecution against Falun Gong and the related institutions or individuals. No matter where it is or how long it takes, we will go after them, until the end.”
For Li Mingxi, who was dressed as a lotus flower fairy in the parade, the persecution has exacted a heavy personal toll.
Li’s grandfather was sent to prison in the northeastern province of Hebei for practicing Falun Dafa in 2010. After three days, he was released, but he could no longer speak or move his body. He was confined to his bed, only able to open and close his eyes. He died a few days later.
Li was taking part in a high school summer program when she heard the news. She rushed to her grandfather’s home to see him during his final moments.
“I was terrified. Such a person who strives to be good would be arrested by the police—I felt that the whole world had become a place of darkness, and it was scary,” Li said.
Li started practicing Falun Dafa in 2016 after she resettled in New York. Within half a year, her health problems that had developed after childbirth, such as high blood pressure, leg pains, and blurry eyesight, were all gone. She also no longer had to take medicine or use herbal remedies.
“I’m really happy to be in the land of the free and to show everyone the amazing benefits that the belief has brought me,” she said.