Editor’s note: Andrew Fung and Ashley Wei are two residents of Dragon Springs whose voting rights were denied because of a faulty challenge. They are concerned that the charges made against them may have had the effect of deepening misunderstandings in Deerpark about Dragon Springs, and have submitted letters to the editor in the hopes of helping the community understand better the place where they live and study.
In August Deerpark Town Supervisor and Town Republican Chairman Gary Spears challenged the right to vote of 30 Chinese-American residents of Dragon Springs, raising questions in comments he made to the media and in his formal challenge with the Board of Election as to whether they were U.S. citizens and residents of Deerpark. Upon investigation, all were found to be citizens with the right to vote.
However, the accusations made against these 30 led the New York state attorney general to open an investigation as to whether they were victims of racial discrimination and voter intimidation. On Oct. 20, ten of those who had been challenged filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that Gary Spears, as supervisor of Deerpark, violated the Voting Rights Act and engaged in group defamation.
A Secure Home
Dear Residents of Deerpark:
If you’ve ever taken the train between Otisville and Port Jervis, you may remember glimpsing such an unexpected sight through the window between the flashing leaves—a quaint complex of Chinese Tang Dynasty style architecture—you may have fancied it was a mirage in the mountains. If you’ve ever driven past 140 Galley Hill Road, you probably couldn’t help but wonder: what are two stone carved Chinese lions doing in our neighborhood? More importantly, who lives behind those iron gates?
In 2001, volunteer builders laid the first stone at Dragon Springs. It was originally intended to be a refuge for victims of religious persecution, but because the Chinese Communist Party’s nationwide crackdown on followers of the Falun Gong spiritual belief only escalated in severity, very few actually managed to flee overseas. The brutal genocide still continues in China.
Since 1999, Falun Gong practitioners worldwide have been trying every non-violent means to oppose the persecution. Some wished to tell the truth about the situation in China and revive traditional culture through the arts. Therefore, Dragon Springs started a school, Fei Tian Academy of the Arts, which later was joined by Fei Tian College. The schools gathered and nurtured talented students from all over the world. Through professional training, they use dance and music to revive the lost traditional culture of China, while telling the world about the brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
I was born in Hong Kong in 1989. After a few years, my family moved to California. Before being admitted to Fei Tian Academy of the Arts to pursue study and training in the performing arts, I was studying at the University of California Davis. I have been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2006.
Most of the students and faculty members at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts and Fei Tian College are mostly Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) practitioners. Falun Dafa is an ancient spiritual belief based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. Falun Dafa was introduced to the public by Master Li Hongzhi in 1992. Since then, Falun Dafa has benefited over 100 million practitioners around the world, both physically and spiritually through its gentle meditation exercises and moral guidelines.
Furthermore, beyond our professional studies at Fei Tian, we are taught to discipline ourselves according to virtuous principles. In everyday life, we strive to be more selfless and put other people’s interests before our own. In every situation, whether or not I’m right or wrong, I always try to find my own shortcomings and do better next time. And that’s why it upsets me that our actions and manners may have triggered hostility from some residents.
Here I want to explain a little about the security measures taken at the school—why does a school need to go to such an extent for safety and secrecy?
The reason is the persecution.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in its atheism, sees all ideologies and beliefs other than its own as a threat to its dictatorship. By 1999, there were about 100 million people practicing Falun Gong in China, in contrast to 70 million Communist Party members. On July 20, 1999, Jiang Zemin, the then-leader of the CCP, out of jealousy and fear that his power would be usurped, ordered a brutal campaign to eradicate Falun Gong.
This was done following the extremely twisted logic typical of the CCP. Falun Dafa’s health benefits have been proven to save the state huge sums of medical fees, and benefited the country. Furthermore, Falun Dafa practice stays firmly non-political. What harm could people believing in Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance do to society?
Since then, the brutal genocide has dragged on for 16 years and claimed up to hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Even as we speak, Falun Dafa practitioners in China are arrested, tortured, and beaten to death in prisons and brainwashing concentration camps. What’s more, allegations of widespread forced organ harvesting from living Falun Dafa practitioners for profit have proven true in countless major Chinese hospitals.
One of my fellow dancers, Fadu Chen, lost her father to the persecution when she was three. Fadu and her mother fled to Australia, but her father Chengyong Chen was tortured to death in China. His decomposing body was later found in a hut outside Guangzhou. Chen’s sister, who also practiced Falun Dafa, was called in to identify the body, then abducted and sentenced without trial to two years of hard labor. With his son killed and his daughter imprisoned for their belief, Chen’s father soon passed away in grief. Their story, like countless others, can be found online, and are a reason Dragon Springs puts forth such an effort into what it does.
Our school’s Vice President and a U.S. citizen, Dr. Peter Li , was once terrorized on American soil. Before joining Fei Tian, Dr. Li was involved in helping to break China’s Internet censorship, enabling a free flow of information. On Feb. 8, 2006, some Asian thugs posing as water deliverymen broke into his Atlanta home, held him at gunpoint, and viciously beat him. His two laptops were stolen along with some important documents, though other valuables lay untouched.
The U.S. Congress recognized the problem and passed House Congressional Resolution 304, stating that China’s diplomatic corps has been “actively involved in harassing and persecuting Falun Gong practitioners in the United States.”
Another reason for security measures comes from the fact that Dragon Springs is also home to Shen Yun Performing Arts, whose mission is to revive 5,000 years of traditional Chinese culture through performing arts. Shen Yun’s dances also portray themes of faith, spirituality, exposing the persecution, and righteousness triumphing over evil—all of which the CCP suppresses..
That is why Dragon Springs must take such strong security measures: to protect the students and allow them to study dance and music safely.
I hope my explanations can ease some of the residents’ worries about our security and seclusion.
Dear Residents of Deerpark:
My name is Ashley Wei. I was born in Shanghai, China in 1994 and moved to the U.S. in 2001, where I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2011. I am currently a student enrolled in Fei Tian College, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts on the schools located in Dragon Springs.
Fei Tian Academy of the Arts and Fei Tian College are both private religious schools located on the property owned by Dragon Springs. Like other religious schools around the country, they place high regard on their students’ moral values and ethics. The students and faculty at Fei Tian follow the principles of Falun Dafa (Falun Gong), a spiritual meditation discipline with roots in Buddhist faith based on the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance—hence the name of the temple property: “Dragon Springs Buddhist, Inc.”
When I first arrived, I wasn’t sure how Fei Tian would compare to my old high school. But one thing that really struck me happened only a few weeks into classes—misplacing my wallet. The realization left me in a cold sweat. In my previous high school, my friend’s twenty-dollar bill had disappeared in the blink of an eye. I knew the students here were supposed to be honest, but would I really see my wallet (and its wad of cash) again? Days later, when I took another path to the cafeteria, I saw my wallet right where I left it—on a bench in the hallway. Nothing inside was missing.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, a premier performing arts company specializing in classical Chinese dance and culture, regularly scouts exceptional talent from amongst Fei Tian students. Its performances capture both the essence of ancient Chinese civilization while highlighting very real issues threatening contemporary China today, such as the persecution of Falun Dafa. Our training here in dance and music is grueling. As students, we give it our all, not just because we have a sincere passion for traditional Chinese culture, but also to expose the brutal persecution overseas in China, on stage.
We sincerely hope that you can understand the urgent nature of our purpose. I believe that cultural differences have led to misunderstandings and resentments with the local community. As boarding students in Deerpark, we wish to convey that no ill wishes come from Dragon Springs to our community’s residents. We hope to have our fellow residents’ understanding in this respect.
As Falun Dafa practitioners, we are taught to think of others, keep an open heart and mind, and live according to virtuous principles. Falun Dafa itself does not get involved in politics. However, we feel that if we are misunderstood, we have the right to speak up and explain our situation thoroughly. To be clear, any legal action we may take suing Mr. Spears will solely be because of Mr. Spears’ intentionally instigated hostile feelings that have led to amplified misunderstandings between the community and us.
Thank you for your time,