WASHINGTON—A double birthday celebration was held on May 5 on the National Mall in Washington. Local practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, gathered to celebrate World Falun Dafa Day.
Standing on the grass-covered mall in neat rows and wearing distinctive yellow clothes, the practitioners performed Falun Dafa’s slow-moving, meditative exercises. On the edges of the group, tourists who wandered by would sometimes spontaneously join in, and a practitioner would step forward to instruct them.
Several performances were staged, including Chinese classical dance, singing, poetry readings, a dragon dance, and a performance by a waist drum troupe. On the sidewalk crossing the mall, an exhibit of art by practitioners was set up, as well as posters explaining how the Chinese regime persecutes this peaceful group.
In China, Falun Dafa is called a cultivation practice. In Dafa, the individual cultivates his or her mind, body, and spirit by doing five sets of exercises and living according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Handed down lineage-style over millennia in China, Falun Dafa was first introduced to the public by Mr. Li Hongzhi in his hometown of Changchun in northeastern China on May 13, 1992. May 13 is also Mr. Li’s birthday.
The Epoch Times asked several practitioners what World Falun Dafa Day means to them.
Telling People About the Practice
For Falun Dafa practitioners, the day is not only a time of celebration, but also a time of remembrance and taking action: They commemorate those killed in the persecution, and they work to spread awareness of it, seeking to end it by bringing to bear the world’s condemnation.
Mr. Liu Dexi has fresh memories of being persecuted in China, having arrived in the United States on Dec. 7, 2017. Initially a little nervous about being interviewed, Liu soon began smiling and laughing easily as he recalled terrifying events he and his family had experienced.
A small-business owner who sold men’s and women’s belts, Liu noticed immediate changes in himself after he began practicing Falun Dafa in September 1998.
His formerly hot temper cooled, and he began dealing more honestly in his business. Sometimes, wholesalers would unknowingly overpay him by as much as $500 (a considerable amount, given that the average urban salary in China in 2016 was $8,685), but he would then return the money to them. This is something he said he would never have done before.
His competitors would sell fake leather belts as genuine leather belts, pocketing the substantial difference in price. Liu sold the genuine leather belts as genuine leather and the fake belts as fake, letting his customers know what they were getting and charging them accordingly.
He also allowed customers to return items they were dissatisfied with, something that is hardly done in China. There, the rule is let the buyer beware, no returns accepted.
“After I began practicing Dafa, I followed its principles in everything I did,” Liu said.
Three months after he began practicing, his wife, seeing the changes in him, also began to practice, and their daughter grew up around the practice from the age of 5.
On July 20, 1999, the full weight of the Chinese regime came crashing down on practitioners like Liu. The then-paramount leader Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to eradicate the meditation practice. The media bombarded the nation with around-the-clock propaganda slandering the practice, and hundreds of thousands of practitioners were detained in sports stadiums around China.
In a letter Jiang sent to the Politburo on the night of April 25, 1999, he presented Falun Dafa as an ideological threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and feared that the Chinese people would prefer the teachings of Dafa to the CCP’s doctrines.
He wrote: “We must stick to the education of officials and the people with a correct outlook on the world, life, and values. Can the Marxism, materialism, and atheism that our Communist Party members uphold not win the battle with what Falun Gong promotes? This is absolutely ridiculous!”
When the media onslaught began, Liu and his wife felt there must have been some mistake. They and their young daughter went to Tiananmen Square in November to appeal to the state, to try to let it know there was no reason to outlaw Falun Dafa.
They were arrested and sent back to their hometown of Taizhou City in Zhejiang Province, on China’s coast. Liu served 21 days in jail and was fined 30,000 yuan ($4,712); his wife served seven days.
In January 2002, Liu tried appealing in Tiananmen Square again. He and another fellow hid a banner under their clothes. They got to the square, whipped out their banner, and held it up.
The police descended on them, punching them, kicking them, and grinding their heads into the pavement with their boots. Liu was sent back to Taizhou for more time in jail.
When Liu got out, he wrote letters to all of the Public Security departments in China (the state’s administration is divided among 34 province-level units, including provincial-level cities like Beijing, autonomous regions like Tibet, and special administrative regions like Hong Kong), telling them Falun Dafa should not be persecuted.
This time, Liu did not get off easily. Arrested and sent back to Zhenjiang Province, he was sentenced to 10 years in a forced labor camp. There, he was tortured.
One time, he was not allowed to sleep for seven days and eight nights. He showed scars on his wrists caused by his being hung up by handcuffs. There was more scarring above one eye, a remnant of one or another beating.
Throughout his time in the labor camp, Liu studied and memorized copies of Falun Dafa teachings that were smuggled into the camp. After seven years and eight months, he was released.
But soon, he was arrested again, and this time sentenced to two years. With the elevation of Xi Jinping to the head of the CCP, labor camps were officially abolished (although some simply changed their names), and in some parts of China the persecution became less harsh. Liu’s camp closed, and he was released after one year and three months.
Then he filed a court case against Jiang Zemin, charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity. Liu was detained for 15 days.
Meanwhile, his daughter was attending graduate school in the United States, at the University of Maryland. To the surprise of Liu and his wife, with a letter in hand inviting them to attend their daughter’s graduation ceremony, they were able to get passports and escape to the United States.
When asked what celebrating World Falun Dafa Day in the United States means to him, Liu momentarily lost his sunny smile, and his voice grew a little thick with emotion.
“I feel so honored to celebrate Dafa Day outside of China,” Liu said. “I don’t know how to express my feelings. Yeah, it is really good. It is great.”
Now, Liu spends his days at a table outside the Air and Space Museum on the mall in Washington, where he speaks to Chinese tourists, telling them about his experiences with Falun Dafa and how many of his friends in China are being persecuted right now.
“Wherever I am, I want to tell people the truth about Dafa,” Liu said.
After Mr. Li introduced Falun Dafa on May 13, 1992, he gave 56 series of lectures, each usually taking nine days to complete, in cities throughout China. The last such lecture series was given on Dec. 31, 1994.
With lecture halls often only holding a few thousand people, these lectures would have directly reached a few hundred thousand, at most. However, in 1999, Western news outlets quoted state officials as saying that between 70 million and 100 million people in China had taken up Falun Dafa.
The power of example and communication by word of mouth spread the practice.
Zhang Huidong had advanced to become vice general manager in Beijing in one of China’s largest real estate companies, before he was finally forced to flee to the United States. His family’s story demonstrates why Falun Dafa spread so widely.
After his mother began practicing Falun Dafa, Zhang saw the changes in her health, and he began practicing. So, too, did his two sisters, his wife, and her sisters.
Later, when the persecution befell China, families like these were shattered.
One week after serving three years in prison, Zhang’s mother died. His two sisters each served two years in prison. His wife’s older sister died after one month in prison. His wife served three years in prison.
Zhang himself was arrested three times. And he was tortured. He showed a scar on his brow, and he had pictures of extensive injuries inflicted on his arms.
He speaks about these disasters in an even voice, without anger.
“If I didn’t practice Falun Dafa,” Zhang said, “after having suffered so much, I would have hatred toward the communist regime.
“Instead, I feel sympathy for those people who persecuted me, because they are also manipulated by the evil communist regime.”
The website Minghui.org, which serves as a clearinghouse for information about the persecution and a platform for practitioners to share their experiences of Falun Dafa cultivation, can confirm 4,213 deaths in China due to torture and abuse. Because of the difficulty of getting this information out of China, the true number of such deaths is believed to be much higher.
In addition, there are a large number of deaths from forced organ harvesting. Researchers have reported that Falun Dafa practitioners have been, since 2000, the primary source for organs for a transplantation system that includes 865 hospitals in China.
According to researchers, when prisoners of conscience have their organs harvested, the surgeons take everything that is usable, including the heart, liver, kidneys, skin, and corneas, killing the victims.
After the victim is killed, he or she is cremated, leaving no evidence of the crime. The families of the practitioners killed in this way are left never knowing what has become of their loved ones, and hoping against hope as the years go by that they were not murdered by the surgeon’s knife.
Health and Gratitude
Linh Pham migrated to the United States from Vietnam 10 years ago and works in Washington at an insurance company. She began practicing Falun Dafa after she saw the changes her mother and aunt experienced after they began practicing.
Pham said her mother had 20 illnesses. She went to doctors everywhere in Vietnam, and even traveled to see doctors in the United States. When no reason was found for her sickness, she was desperate and distressed, Pham said.
Her sister in the United States began practicing Falun Dafa, saw her own health improve, and then traveled to Vietnam to teach Pham’s mother the exercises. Her mother started practicing, and her 20 illnesses disappeared. Her mother stopped taking medicine, no longer needing it.
Pham herself suffered from chronic insomnia. She took pills to sleep and developed numerous allergies. Seven days after she began practicing Falun Dafa, she said, her allergies were gone. Her insomnia also ended.
Practitioners very commonly report improvements in health. With the possibility of the regime banning Falun Dafa looming over China, practitioners took several surveys to try to demonstrate the goodness of the practice.
In Dalian, more than 6,000 practitioners were surveyed about their health. Ninety-two percent reported total disappearance of their symptoms, 7.74 percent observed moderate improvement, and 0.14 percent saw no obvious improvement. The longer a respondent had practiced Falun Dafa, the more positive the results.
Pham feels very grateful for the improvement in her health and for Falun Dafa helping her to become a better person. She wants to pass on to others what she has gained: the chance to live a better life.
“Some people need help in life, and by changing yourself to be better, you also change other people, too,” Pham said. “My friends see that I changed to become a better person, and now they want to study Dafa, too.”
A Safe Harbor
Twenty years ago in Frankfurt, Germany, Bjoern Neumann was walking through a park on a bitterly cold day when he saw a group of four or five people doing slow-moving exercises. He felt a warm energy emanating from them, so on his way back through the park, he stopped to talk to them.
Soon after, he joined a Falun Dafa practice group in Frankfurt. Initially skeptical, Neumann gradually came to understand the practice.
When the persecution started in 1999, he felt that Falun Dafa was being attacked because it was so good. In a few years, he moved to the United States and started his own landscape company, which specializes in ponds and fountains.
Neumann reflected on what World Falun Dafa Day means to him.
“In this world where non-belief and atheism, this cheating and not telling the truth and this age of ‘fake news,’ to have in this world people who try to be truthful, kind to others, and to have forbearance, I think this is outstanding,” Neumann said.
“Right now, our politics is a mess. Wherever you are in this political mess, Falun Dafa is like an oasis. No matter how the world changes, if you establish yourself in this righteous mindset, this gives you strength to find your way, no matter what happens.
“This is the signal light tower, and you say ‘wow,’ because I know there is a safe harbor.”