ARCADIA, Calif.—Elisheva Diaz, a rabbi and public speaker, left a small gathering at her doctor’s home on Wednesday evening, Feb. 24, with a newfound understanding of a shocking persecution of faith on the other side of the world.
“I thank God I was able to come,” she said.
“I cried,” said Rachel Dares, a digital consultant, writer, and host. “It was very touching.”
Diaz, Dares, and a handful of others from as far away as Bakersfield and San Diego came to Naturopathic Doctor Dana Churchill’s residence in Arcadia for good conversation, delicious handmade Asian cuisine, and a private screening of the award-winning documentary “Free China.”
The film tells the true story of two people, one a former Communist Party member in China, Jennifer Zeng, and one a Chinese-American businessman, Dr. Charles Lee.
Zeng and Lee were swept up in a brutal 16-year persecution against a spiritual meditation practice called Falun Gong, which revives ancient Chinese spiritual traditions such as Buddhism and Daoism. Practitioners follow the principals of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Both Zeng and Lee were imprisoned and tortured in China for their beliefs. Zeng was caught after an intercepted email; Lee traveled to China twice to try to help stop the persecution by broadcasting uncensored information on state-controlled television.
In the film, they describe enduring unimaginable horrors, such as multiple electric baton shocks, force-feeding, and long hours of slave labor making cheap export products.
At the Wednesday night film screening, Diaz met Zeng, who was also able to attend.
“I was shaking inside just to think about it,” said Diaz. “And then to meet the people that were actually a part of it and went through the suffering, it just kind of brings it to life. It brings it to a reality versus something that somebody is just telling you about.”
Since first being taught to the public in China in 1992, Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, spread to more than 70 million Chinese people before the Chinese regime outlawed it in 1999. Practitioners lost their jobs, were arrested and tortured, sentenced to labor camps, and even killed. The state’s Gestapo-like 610 Office was established by former Communist Party Leader Jiang Zemin for the sole purpose of eradicating Falun Gong and was given authority over all levels of state bureaucracy, police, and the courts.
“Free China” documents this persecution, including evidence that emerged in 2006 of a massive state system to harvest the organs of healthy Falun Gong practitioners to sell to wealthy Chinese and international patients.
“Unknowing of all of this, I was totally shocked,” said attendee Robert Martinez, a Bakersfield College professor of music. “The inhumanity, unbelievable.”
A Grassroots Phenomenon
According to the “Free China” website, the film has been screened more than 1,500 times in 41 countries around the world from small, private viewings to large-scale screenings.
In 2012, it was screened before the U.S. Congress, and in 2013 at Google Headquarters and the European Parliament. It was released theatrically in 2013 and has won a total of 11 international awards, most recently for best documentary at the 2014 Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City and the 2014 NOIDA International Film Festival in India, and best song for an Indie Film/Documentary/Short at the 2013 Hollywood Music in Media Awards. It was also a 2014 Oscar contender for Best Documentary, Original Score, and Original Song.
The “Free China” soundtrack was composed by Tony Chen, who graciously sang the award-winning theme song, “The Courage to Believe,” following the film screening on Wednesday night.
After the screening, Martinez discussed plans with Chen to schedule an orchestral performance of the film’s music to help raise awareness of what’s happening in China.
“It was very difficult to watch that film,” said Martinez. “But the film was about truth, and truth will always give freedom, and it has to be said.”
“We need to actually expose evil for what it is,” said Dares, who was inspired to post a link to the film on Facebook late Wednesday night, Feb. 24. She thanked Zeng for sharing her story.
“We have the responsibility to rise up, speak the truth, and give hope for others to continue to believe,” she wrote. “Thank you for making a compelling difference in the world.”
Rabbi Diaz said she was leaving the event with a strong desire to mobilize more people to educate themselves about the issue.
“I really recommend more people get involved and more people show the film so that other people can see it,” said Diaz. “Because if not, it’s just a fairy tale.”
For more information, visit FreeChinaMovie.com.