Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners from Northern California held a rally and parade in San Francisco on July 17 to celebrate the Chinese meditation and self-improvement discipline and to raise awareness that it has been persecuted in mainland China since 1999.
The event marked the 22nd anniversary of the day the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began persecuting Falun Gong practitioners: July 20, 1999.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, was first introduced to the public in China in 1992. It quickly became known for its health benefits and its three main principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It spread by word of mouth until tens of millions of people in China were practicing it.
The CCP, fearing the enormous popularity of any group outside of its control, launched a brutal nationwide persecution campaign against Falun Gong. Practitioners were harassed by the communist regime, illegally arrested, and sent to labor camps to be tortured, sometimes to death.
During the rally in San Francisco, some practitioners shared their experiences of practicing Falun Gong or the persecution they endured.
Jenny Zhang, a practitioner, recounted the persecution that she and her family suffered under the Chinese regime.
“My mom was a professor at the time in a university. She was kidnapped three times. She was tortured, she was forced to retire early, and she never got her pension. My father used to be a researcher, like a scientist in an institution. He was kidnapped as well, and his bank account was frozen. And my elder sister was fired from the company that she worked for,” Zhang told NTD News, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
When Zhang went to appeal to the central government in Beijing, she was kidnapped and detained as well.
“After I got out of the detention center, I was kicked out of school, and I never got a chance to go back to college again,” she said. “After that, we were kind of displaced for over 11 years. We couldn’t really live in our hometown, in our own house, because the police just kept harassing us, and they threatened to kidnap us. They wanted to put us in a brainwashing camp, and they tried everything to push us to give up the practice.”
In 2012, Zhang escaped to the United States. She now works to spread awareness of the ongoing persecution. She has also learned to play the French horn in the Tian Guo Marching Band, which was formed by Falun Gong practitioners.
Following the rally, practitioners held a parade consisting of the Tian Guo Marching Band, a meditation demonstration, a section commemorating practitioners who were tortured to death in CCP labor camps, and banners calling for an end to the persecution.
CCP’s Dark History
Bill Stanton, a former U.S. diplomat to China, recounted the CCP’s dark history. He said that during his service as a diplomat from 1987 to 1990 and again from 1995 to 1998, he witnessed firsthand how the CCP operates.
“I saw what happened at Tiananmen. I was there. After it was over the next day, we went to local hospitals, and we counted bodies. So our estimate was that at least 800 people had been killed, but it may have been more. I just don’t know. Then they stopped us. You could no longer visit hospitals; they shut it all down,” Stanton told NTD News.
He said that even to this day, the CCP continues to punish people and groups that oppose it. He hopes world leaders will do more to stand against the regime. But many countries, such as France and Germany, are more concerned with economic relations.
“So many people are not only under the influence of China for business reasons and economic reasons, but China can be so brutal in the way it treats anybody who dissents, so it’s a very difficult situation. Anyone who has religious beliefs will face [punishment] in China,” Stanton said.
Stanton said that prisoners who are executed in China are often used for organ harvesting. He said his understanding is that many of the organs are given to top Party officials.
The CCP continues to spread its influence in regions surrounding China.
“We’ve seen what now has happened in Hong Kong; we’ve seen what’s happened in Xinjiang; we see that they’re trying to eliminate the Mongolian language in Menggu-guo [Mongolia],” Stanton said.
He remains hopeful, however.
“I’d love to, in my lifetime … I hope to see progress on this. It’s just so wrong. I think a lot of people, they go about their lives and they’re not aware of this, and they feel, ‘Well, what can I do, there’s not much.’ So it’s important that groups like yours get out there and try to raise public awareness,” Stanton said.
Practitioners are calling for the CCP to be held accountable not just for the persecution, but for harming the rest of the world as well.
Laurie Gorham, the rally coordinator, said: “If anyone knows anything about the Chinese Communist Party, they know that it basically lies a lot, and so when the pandemic started, the Chinese government was not forthcoming in the information about the virus. They didn’t allow people in to investigate, either, nor did they contribute to the world or share information with the world. And that’s very indicative of a government that is based on communism.”
Many tourists and pedestrians stopped to watch as the parade made its way along the piers.
Bob Spurlock, a retired police officer from Sacramento, told NTD News: “Please keep it up, make noise. This is terrible, what China, the CCP is doing. And I wish people hopefully know that it’s the CCP, and the Chinese people are different. Two separate people. That’s government, [the] CCP, that’s doing all the damage.”
For others, this was their first time learning about Falun Gong and the persecution of its practitioners.
“I don’t know a lot about what’s going on inside China,” Richard Anders, a Davis resident, told NTD News. “It doesn’t make sense to me why they’d be persecuted for just meditating and just having their own beliefs.”
Rachel Alanis, a Modesto resident, told NTD News, “I think it needs to be heard, because I watch the news and I’ve never heard about this on the news before, so I think it should be spread around to everybody.”
Falun Gong practitioners hold public events like this every year, along with a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate to call for an end to the persecution and commemorate its victims.