A grassroots civil disobedience movement led by a persecuted faith group aims to dismantle Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda, according to a new short documentary released by Falun Dafa Information Center.
The peaceful movement, led by adherents of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong, emulates the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and ranks among the largest in recorded history, the documentary says. Its purpose is to debunk disinformation spread by the Chinese regime about the practice in Beijing’s over two-decade-long persecution of Falun Gong.
Because of pervasive censorship on China’s tightly controlled internet, adherents have turned to traditional print media to counter Beijing’s propaganda—by distributing pamphlets and other materials door-to-door.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline involving meditative exercises and moral teachings based on three core principles: truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. The practice gained popularity in China during the 1990s, with estimates putting the number of adherents at 70 million to 100 million.
The communist regime, fearing the number of practitioners posed a threat to its authoritarian control, initiated a sweeping campaign starting in July 1999 and continues today to suppress the practice and its adherents.
Since then, millions have been detained in prisons, labor camps, and other facilities, with hundreds of thousands tortured while incarcerated, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. Detained adherents also have been victims of forced organ harvesting, a grisly practice that has resulted in an untold number of practitioners being killed for their organs to fuel the lucrative transplant industry in China.
A critical component of the CCP’s persecution is its information campaign against the practice, aimed at turning Chinese citizens against Falun Gong and its adherents. To this end, the regime has relied heavily on propaganda, spreading hatred against the practice by misrepresenting the spiritual practice and vilifying its adherents.
This propaganda campaign had achieved success in molding public opinion against Falun Gong in China, according to Levi Browde, executive director at the Falun Dafa Information Center.
“There is a widespread misconception that overt propaganda, especially when produced by a totalitarian regime, mostly works on the naive or uneducated, but that’s simply not the case,” Browde said in a statement.
“It can have a devastating impact on anyone, especially when there’s little or no access to objective reporting,” he added.
Against the backdrop of the smear campaign, the regime then demanded neighbors, family members, and coworkers to report on and deliver Falun Gong practitioners to the authorities, and discriminate against them, according to the documentary. Families, friendships, and communities were destroyed in the process.
“The CCP’s propaganda breeds hate. That hate breeds violence, and the effects are not only devastating on the victims of this violence but destroy the hearts and minds of those deceived into being complicit, or at the very least, fearfully silent,” said Browde.
In response, Falun Gong practitioners “adopted a method of civil disobedience,” by speaking directly to the people through the distribution of pamphlets and other materials that debunk state propaganda, the documentary said.
Adherents started setting up print shops at home to produce materials and began going out at night to leave them at front doors in residential neighborhoods, risking their lives in the process. They also hung banners in public places with messages that clear disinformation.
They later started distributing the “Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party,” a book first published by The Epoch Times in 2004, which explores the history of deception and murder perpetrated under the CCP’s totalitarian rule.
The movement expanded quickly, according to the documentary, and by 2009, there were 200,000 underground print sites throughout China, as reported by Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that tracks the persecution of Falun Gong in China and provides most of the information materials used for printing.
Minghui also estimated that 20 million to 40 million people have taken part in producing and distributing such materials.
“CCP propaganda destroys the human spirit, and so this underground media is trying to stop that by giving people access to the truth, even as the regime surrounds them with lies,” said Browde.
In order to counter this movement, local policemen routinely ransack practitioners’ homes in search of print sites, and patrol neighborhoods to look for those distributing materials, according to the documentary.
If caught, Falun Gong adherents can face detention, torture, forced labor, organ harvesting, and even death at the hands of the CCP.
“It’s a terribly dangerous undertaking, but for tens of millions across China, it’s worth the risk,” said Browde.