In 2000, a woman in Hebei Province, China, had her life turned upside down. One typical day in March, it suddenly became big news that an administrator at her company was being investigated for a white-collar crime. Having been working in his department, this woman was also implicated.
Then came the news: She would be detained for this crime as well.
The first people she met while imprisoned were “gentle and kindhearted, and they gave me a sense of security in the midst of chaos,” she later wrote.
But then she learned what they were imprisoned for.
“I knew they practiced Falun Gong, but why were they here, too?” she wrote. “I was shocked.
Falun Gong, sometimes called Falun Dafa, is a self-improvement and meditation practice wildly popular in China. It was founded in the early ’90s and caught on like wildfire—people took to the meditation as they would a new exercise fad, and soon enough parks across the country were filled with people doing these exercises before work every morning.
But unlike other fads—this one did not die out.
People everywhere were reporting vast improvements in health and their quality of life, and soon the number of people practicing Falun Gong exceeded 100 million. You either had tried it at some point, or knew someone who did, and the entire country saw it as a positive thing.
But when this woman was imprisoned, in 2000, Falun Gong had been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a year. In 1999, then-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin ordered the jailing and torture of anyone found to be reading Falun Gong books or doing the exercises.
Overnight, a significant portion of the populace had been declared enemies of the communist regime.
The order came because Jiang feared that had these peaceful meditators wanted to organize, they could easily create a political party to overthrow the ruling CCP. Later, leaked memos would show the extent of his paranoia—but the huge mechanism he had already set in place to ensure that these people were detained, beaten, and effectively persecuted, was already underway.
The woman found it strange to be imprisoned along with these people, as “I had a very good impression of them,” and she ended up hanging around near the caring people when she could.
As they did the exercises and read their books, she would try to join in.
They taught her that along with the exercises, Falun Gong follows the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance—that these practitioners tried to live their everyday lives adhering to these values.
Little by little, the woman wanted to learn to do this too.
Then one day, an inmate suddenly attacked and cursed her, threw all of her things into the yard, and cut up her clothes. She thought back to the values of Falun Gong—and “I didn’t even get upset,” she wrote. “I just took my bedding back.”
Over the months, spending so much time with these kind people, she felt in her heart that the fact that they were imprisoned for their beliefs was wrong.
“When the Falun Gong practitioners began a hunger strike against the persecution, I joined in,” she wrote. But soon, armed policemen were sent in to stop their silent protest.
“It was terrifying,” she recalled.
“The warden ordered that all the strikers be force-fed. I was the first one called out. He wanted to teach the others a lesson, as well as punish me if I did not comply with his order to eat. I refused without fear, and the encounter was not as terrible as I thought it would be.”
The warden couldn’t understand why she had even joined in, and asked her why. She answered with the first thing that came to mind: “I get upset when I see them being persecuted, so I want to support them.”
After 21 months, she was finally released.
One of the first things she wanted to do was to read more about Falun Gong, and after a long search (because materials about Falun Gong are banned in China) she found a copy of “Zhuan Falun,” the main text for the practice.
Not everyone was supportive.
“My family was scared to death for my practicing Falun Gong. They were afraid that I would be persecuted,” she wrote. Despite that, she resolved to take up the practice.
She felt she now had a mission—“to inform the world’s people regarding the truth of the persecution.”
She started telling others the truth, then mailed letters explaining the whole truth to police, made phone calls, and sent texts to get the message out.
“I participated in many [projects],” she wrote. “Whenever there was a need, I would be there.”