Sophia Li, 15, joined a team of 25 youths to bike from Los Angeles to Washington to New York. She wants to help bring freedom to the people of China who do not have many basic rights that Americans sometimes take for granted.
In the Ride2Freedom bike tour, Sophia represents China. She lives here with her mother and grandmother, and she was born in China. In 2013 her family escaped to America.
To Sophia, being a refugee means they fled religious persecution in their mother country to seek political asylum. They did not simply decide to move to America. They were forced out.
Because of their belief in Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong), a peaceful meditation practice that follows the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, Sophia’s family faced persecution in China.
“My grandma was actually put into a detention center, and that would be in 2000, so I was only 1 year old,” said Sophia. Later, her grandmother was forced to leave home to avoid being captured and detained again, after police raided her home and seized her Falun Gong books. “And all of this happened just because of this persecution, because of her belief…”
They left China for freedom of belief. The persecution is still severe. “Harvesting (of human organs) is still happening, and a lot of Falun Gong practitioners around me—they were jailed, persecuted, tortured, and beaten to death,” said Sophia.
According to the book “The Slaughter” by Ethan Gutmann, there is evidence that the Chinese Communist Party murders imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners, house Christians, Uyghurs, and Tibetans in order to sell organs to transplant patients.
Sophia learned about Ride2Freedom about one month before it started on June 1. She read an article about it. “And then I decided to join because I grew up in China. I lived there for 13 years. I knew what was actually happening there—happening to the orphans, to the practitioners (of Falun Dafa) who believe in truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.”
She described the persecution in China as ruthless. For nothing other than their beliefs, people risk being jailed or killed. The persecution of Falun Gong started on July 20, 1999. It’s hard to say how many people have been sent to labor camps, because of the secrecy surrounding the labor camp and brainwashing center system.
“I want to do something for the orphans and the Falun Gong practitioners in China. I want to let people know about the long-lasting persecution,” said Sophia. She hopes to “with our own power—our young generation’s power, we want to stop this persecution—this horrible genocide,” Sophia said.
The Ride2Freedom team has “been through a lot of cities and we have had a lot of government officials who were all really supportive,” she said.
A special moment was “when we were in Illinois, we were recognized by the House of Representatives” during a session.
She said her biggest challenge was leaving Los Angeles, climbing mountains, and crossing the desert. “The first day for me was the hardest one because I didn’t even know how to ride that kind of bike. Now I feel really confident with the bike,” she said.
“Because of the belief in Falun Gong … I can have the willpower to ride my bike and to tell people what’s happening in China right now, tell people about the persecution,” said Sophia.
She said Ride2Freedom is rewarding. Most of the riders didn’t know each other before the trip, and now they are close.
“I feel so lucky I can be here today,” said Sophia.