A congressional lawmaker flew two American flags over the U.S. Capitol on May 13 in celebration of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong.
The day marks 28 years since the practice’s introduction in northeastern China in 1992. Falun Gong has since spread to more than 90 countries, with an estimated following of 70 million to 100 million. The practice, also called Falun Dafa, is known for its meditative exercises and moral teachings centered on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Falun Gong practitioners and supporters recognize May 13—which is also the birthday of the practice’s founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi—as World Falun Dafa Day.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) requested two flags to be hoisted for the occasion, recognizing both the anniversary and Li, a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, for introducing the practice.
The certification for flag-raising in honor of Li read, “Your legacy will continue to touch and instill confidence in our future generation of leaders around the world.”
The flags have since been mailed from Washington back to Bucks County, Philadelphia. Jennie Sheeks, a local Falun Gong practitioner who picked up the flags on May 15, said the event carried a special message for the practitioners, given the ongoing persecution in China targeting their faith.
Since 1999, adherents have faced continued harassment, forced labor, or imprisonment in an escalating campaign aimed at eradicating the spiritual group. Hate propaganda filled airwaves and state newspapers for months on end, and people risk jail or torture for talking positively about the practice or carrying informational flyers.
“With the fact that in China you can’t really access free media, and there’s so much terrible propaganda against Falun Dafa, it can be a really lonely place to be a Falun Dafa practitioner,” Sheeks said in an interview, adding that the symbolic gesture would encourage the practitioners in China as they “continue to forbear under the suffering that they’re going through.”
For many regular Chinese people who have misconceptions about the practice because of the Chinese Communist Party’s indoctrination, the flag-raising event—and the U.S. support for the practice that it symbolizes—may “make them realize that the persecution of Falun Dafa is wrong and that it’s time to end this 20-year-long persecution,” she said.
Minghui.org, a U.S.-based clearinghouse for firsthand accounts of the persecution, has documented around 4,500 deaths as a result of the state-sanctioned campaign and more than 113,000 cases of torture over the years. Due to heavy censorship, the true human cost of the CCP’s campaign to eradicate Falun Gong remains impossible to ascertain.
One of Sheeks’s friends who fled China because of the persecution recounted having to perform long hours of slave labor peeling garlic, making her fingers swell and burn. She was also deprived of sleep for 20 days. Another, a former doctoral candidate at the prestigious Tsinghua University, was detained for five years and tortured with 10 high-voltage electric batons for refusing to renounce his faith in Falun Gong, Sheeks said.
The recognition will also serve as inspiration for her three children, aged 10 to 13—who are now stuck at home because of the virus—to continue living by the practice’s principles.
“If the young people today can know these principles for how to improve your heart and mind … that will make a better world for everybody,” she said.