For a decade in China hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, undaunted by the possibility of arrest and torture, have turned their homes into bases for what Chinese authorities regard as “reactionary propaganda,” and what everyone else regards as simple truths about the right to faith and freedom from persecution.
These bases, termed “materials sites” by their operators, produce fliers, booklets, and informational CD-ROMs. The wares are then slipped surreptitiously under doorsteps or nestled in mailboxes by practitioners of Falun Gong (also know as Falun Dafa), who travel at night alone or in pairs, in cities, towns, and villages across China.
Despite the breadth, penetration, and longevity of the campaign, many in the West have never heard of it.
Chen Pokong is a prominent writer and commentator in the overseas Chinese dissident community. “Through putting fliers in people’s mailboxes and directly giving them to people, Falun Gong practitioners are communicating with the ‘laobaixing’ directly,” he said, using the Chinese phrase for the common people. “It leaves the Communist Party at a total loss. They can’t block it.”
The Epoch Times was able to sketch a picture of the materials sites from interviews with former operators and users from different regions in China; experts who have studied Falun Gong’s resistance to persecution; and the wealth of material on the subject available from Falun Gong websites online.
From Appeal to Protest
Levi Browde, executive director of the Falun Dafa Information Center, an organization that monitors and analyzes the persecution of Falun Gong and practitioners’ resistance inside China, observes that in the immediate wake of the persecution in 1999, adherents were too bewildered to form a coordinated response.
They had previously only gotten together to practice Falun Gong’s five meditative exercises and study its spiritual and moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance; they were not ready to counter the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda and domestic security apparatus, mobilized to “eradicate” their faith.
The initial approach practitioners took was that of the typical law-abiding Chinese citizen, believing that if only the central government understood the situation, the persecution would not continue. “They saw themselves as appealing to the government to help it uphold its own laws—defending and protecting the institutions that are there in theory,” Browde explained.
The situation began to evolve in 2001, Browde says, when anti-Falun Gong propaganda in the media became much more intense and pervasive—television shows attacking Falun Gong would air for hours each day. “Practitioners felt the need to ‘clarify the truth’ had become more pressing,” he said, using a phrase common in the Falun Gong community for referring to their grass-roots campaign.
They began circulating materials to debunk the propaganda and educate the Chinese people. The materials explained what Falun Gong is, that it was being persecuted (the people had little direct knowledge of the human rights abuses against practitioners), and that the persecution violated Chinese law and human rights.
By 2004, Browde explained, materials sites proliferated and had become more sophisticated and regularized. Censorship circumvention software developed by practitioners outside China had advanced by that time, too.
The practitioners’ goals also changed. In November 2004 The Epoch Times published an editorial series called Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, a history of the Party that describes its violent political campaigns over 60 years, including that against Falun Gong. Referring to the CCP, the “Nine Commentaries” calls for Chinese people to “see its nature clearly” and “abandon for good all illusions” about it.
The volume became a staple of materials sites from that time on. Practitioners, using the “Nine Commentaries,” began encouraging people to withdraw from the Communist Party and its associated groups.
As of 2009 the main Falun Gong website, Minghui Net, said there were 200,000 materials sites in China, at least one in every county. This figure is presumed to be based from the number of times certain materials were downloaded from the website by unique IP addresses.
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