Much of today’s news coverage of China is optimistic, focusing on what analysts perceive as steps the country is taking toward a more developed legal and financial system amid continued economic growth.
At a human rights seminar at California State University–San Marcos, on Oct. 1, a diverse five-member panel gave a very different testimony about what they call the “real China.”
The forum was organized by the Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) in response to recent disturbing events in China, including what’s been dubbed “Black Friday,” a day that coincidentally has nothing to do with shopping and everything to do with the mass arrest of at least 200 human rights lawyers on July 10. CGS states their sources say the number is closer to 2,000.
The forum also corresponded with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the United States, which was entrenched in talks of economic development and climate change initiatives.
“This is precisely what the Chinese government wants Western countries to focus on: how China is making new laws and to believe China is making progress towards rule of law. I used to believe that too,” said Chinese human rights attorney and panel member Yong Feng Peng.
“My personal experience, however, gave me a completely different reality.”
‘Ruled by Lies’
Peng, as a former attorney with the Hebei Hope law firm in Hebei Province, is a first-hand witness of the treatment of human rights and democracy advocates, those who protest being forcibly evicted from their homes and persecuted religious and spiritual groups in China, especially the meditation practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa.
For the past 16 years, Falun Gong practitioners have been often arrested for doing simple exercise movements, reading certain books, or having so-called incorrect thoughts. They are placed in forced labor camps, tortured, and pressured to renounce their faith.
Peng said after years of unsuccessfully doing his best to defend these people in China who had clearly been wronged, he felt he had been doing anything but actually practicing law.
He said China is not ruled by law, but “ruled by lies.”
The most shocking example of the mistreatment of these prisoners of conscience is a regime-sanctioned program where prisoners are tissue matched to patients in need of organ transplants and killed on demand in a lucrative process called organ harvesting. The organs are sold to wealthy Chinese and medical tourists.
According to Amnesty International, China executes more people than the rest of the world combined.
“China lied for years and said they weren’t using any of these organs for transplants,” said panelist professor Greg Autry from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, co-author and co-producer of the book and film “Death by China.”
“But everybody could see from the data that being an organ donor was not a popular thing in China for a number of historical reasons, and they didn’t really have an organ donor list.”
A Modern-Day Holocaust
“It’s almost hard to believe this,” said Autry of the practice of organ harvesting in China. “But Americans couldn’t believe the stories that were coming out of Nazi Germany before and even during the World War II. It wasn’t until after, when the camps were liberated, that we saw [everything].”
Also on the panel was former Canadian parliament member and Nobel Prize nominee David Kilgour, who has researched allegations of forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China for a decade.
“When you talk about the Holocaust, it’s astonishingly similar,” Kilgour said.
Kilgour, along with Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, estimated that 40,000 to 60,000 people in China were killed for their organs by the year 2005. Another researcher, Ethan Gutmann, estimated the death toll to be 65,000 from the year 2000 to 2007 in his book “The Slaughter.” The actual numbers are believed to be much higher.
Kilgour shared the direct account of one organ recipient from an undisclosed country who traveled to China. The recipient said doctors checked a list of names, left for a few hours, and came back eight times with eight different sets of kidneys before finding one that matched the man’s blood and tissue type. It was clear that eight people had been killed so this man could have a kidney transplant.
A resolution, H.Res. number 343, was introduced this summer in the U.S. Congress by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, condemning China’s organ harvesting crimes. According to congress.gov, the bill has 120 co-sponsors.
“I think it’s important to do the right thing and condemn the organ harvesting both at a personal level and to have our government have the courage to stand up and do this,” said Autry. “I applaud the members who are willing to take a stand on this issue.”
However, Autry said Americans should put pressure on companies who have outsourced to China, since they help provide funding to the Chinese regime for such crimes.
Oppression Beyond China
Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada 2015, who flew in from Toronto, was also on Thursday’s panel. She was crowned in May and plans to attend the Miss World contest on Dec. 19 in Sanya, China, even though her outspoken human rights advocacy has raised questions about whether she will be allowed into the country.
Nine years ago, Lin was told by a former Miss World Canada that pageantry was a good way to advocate for a noble cause. Lin took that to heart and now speaks out for those persecuted in China, such as Uyghurs, Tibetans, Christians, and Falun Gong.
After Lin was crowned, she said her father in China was happy. But just a few days later, he contacted her and asked her to stop talking about human rights. He said Chinese security forces had come to see him.
“My father begged me in a text message, ‘Would you please leave us a way to survive in China?’ And that really broke my heart,” she said.
She said she spent a week crying, not knowing what to do. But finally, she decided she could not give in, or else the oppression would never stop. She realized the best way to help her father was to bring international attention to the issue.
Lin shared her story with Canadian media and then wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post. Other major media groups also covered the story.
Lin said the convictions of Falun Gong practitioners who have been tortured in China have touched her deeply.
“What inspired me was not how much hardship these people went through,” she said. “It’s that they still have a very positive outlook, and they face the world still with compassion.”
Hope for China and the World
Lin said she is not only speaking out on behalf of those who are persecuted, she is also hoping to awaken the conscience of people like her father, who have been through such terrors as the Cultural Revolution and are immobilized by fear.
“Their minds and beliefs have been so confined to a point that they don’t even remember that they have a choice,” she said.
Dr. Chen shared a similar goal of also touching the hearts of those outside China. He believes many Western politicians and media groups self-censor and turn away from China’s human rights issues because of business and economic interests. However, he said they would eventually have to choose how to respond to the wealth of evidence of the horrifying crimes perpetrated by the Chinese regime.
Dr. Chen also said Falun Gong practitioners in China and around the world have been persistent in exposing the abuses they have faced, somewhat changing the situation in China. On May 1 of this year, China’s Supreme People’s Court began to accept written complaints without exception, instead of automatically dismissing them as they did in the past.
Since then, nearly 180,000 people have brought complaints against former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin for beginning the persecution of Falun Gong in July 1999.
“I believe the future of China’s human rights is now, because the tide has turned,” said Dr. Chen. “It is those who are against history who are at risk, including many of our political leaders in this country.”
Panelist Greg Autry urged more people to pay attention to human rights in China and understand that the issues do affect their lives.
“When you don’t pay attention to the sufferings of others, you compromise your own integrity,” said Autry. “At the same time, you also put your own rights at risk.”
The human rights panel on Thursday was attended by local community members, university students, and high school students, many of whom had never heard of the issues discussed.
Alex Raydan, a senior at Rancho Buena Vista High School, attended the event with his friends to get community participation credits for class. He said he learned a lot and the event was deep and touching.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of [Falun Gong], and I’m really shocked that I haven’t before, because this seems like a very important global issue,” he said. “I’ve really gotten motivated to say something or start acting in a way that will help the situation in China.”