Beijing Exports Religious Suppression by Printing Propaganda in US Textbooks: Report

Beijing Exports Religious Suppression by Printing Propaganda in US Textbooks: Report
Trees bloom on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on April 16, 2008. (Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)
Eva Fu
Danella Pérez Schmieloz
The Chinese regime has exported its ultra-leftist suppression of religions to U.S. soil through defamatory materials in college textbooks, a new report has found.
Titled “Surveillance, Slander, and Censorship,” the report released on May 25 by the New York-based Falun Dafa Information Center surveyed dozens of university campuses across the United States with a presence of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline heavily persecuted in communist China, to examine how the Chinese regime's persecution is affecting adherents of the faith in the United States. 
It found that at least 10 universities, including Yale University, Brown University, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Wellesley College, use curriculum materials for a Chinese language course that contained defamatory propaganda about the spiritual practice. 
The textbook, titled “Discussing Everything Chinese,” contains a section on Falun Gong that “attempts to legitimize the CCP’s religious persecution against Falun Gong by misrepresenting the practice and framing its adherents as possessing psychological problems,” the report stated, using the acronym for the Chinese Communist Party.
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 tolerance. 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 that 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 in China have been detained in prisons, labor camps, and other facilities, with hundreds of thousands tortured while incarcerated, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
A critical component of the Chinese regime's persecution is its disinformation 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, inciting hatred against the spiritual discipline and vilifying its practitioners.
The CCP’s propaganda campaign expanded to the West, where it focuses on “malign and inaccurate[ly]” labeling Falun Gong as a “cult,”  in an attempt to demonize the practice, according to the May 25 report.
“The physical dimensions of the CCP’s campaign to wipe out Falun Gong have been accompanied by a massive, systematic propaganda effort to defame and slander Falun Gong, to spread falsehoods, and to incite unfounded fears that the group is dangerous or violent,” stated the report.
 A Falun Gong banner is seen in front of the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in 2018. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)
A Falun Gong banner is seen in front of the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University in 2018. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)
“Discussing Everything Chinese” echoes CCP propaganda, the report continues, by introducing broad statements like, “Falun Gong can lead people to madness,” and accusing practitioners of promoting “extreme ideas such as starvation, forced sleep deprivation, and rejection of any medical treatment”—claims that the Falun Dafa Information Center contests. Assignments even ask students to associate the spiritual practice with heretics.
The textbook also includes exercises that endorsed China’s One-Child Policy “as a legitimate means of controlling population growth” and promote “a strong anti-American sentiment,” according to the report.

Harassment and Censorship

The report found that in at least nine universities, survey respondents faced or heard of interference with Falun Gong events; six of those cases involved the consulate-linked Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA). 
Supposedly created to help international students and promote cultural exchange, CSSAs form part of Beijing’s sprawling overseas influence activities run under the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front Work Department (UFWD). The party unit coordinates thousands of groups to carry out foreign political influence operations, suppress dissident movements, gather intelligence, and facilitate the transfer of U.S. technology to China, according to analysts.
One case occurred at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), where the Falun Dafa club co-hosted a screening of the documentary “In the Name of Confucius,” which spotlights ties between Confucius Institutes—a Chinese language program attached to over 1,600 foreign universities and schools around the world—and the Chinese regime.
 (Supplied by the official website of "In the name of Confucius")
(Supplied by the official website of "In the name of Confucius")
The event was co-hosted with the Athenai Institute and Students for a Free Tibet, and was advertised by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA). 
After the event, at least 79 students and former graduates linked to the CSSA sent complaints to GAPSA, framing the event hosts as “anti-China” organizations, stated the report. They also blamed GAPSA for promoting the event, labeling it as an “act of marginalization against the Chinese Community at UPenn.”
According to Falun Dafa Information Center's report, some Chinese students linked to CSSA tried to delegitimize the event by saying it promoted “anti-Asian hate,” despite the fact that both the director of the film and the Falun Gong club president are of Chinese ethnicity. 
“The attempt fits a pattern reported at other university campuses of Chinese students lodging complaints about events critical of the CCP, claiming they promote anti-Asian hatred,” the report stated.
The CSSA-affiliated students also held a campaign of online harassment and pressured the university to penalize the Falun Gong club.
As a result, the then Falun Gong Club president suffered ongoing trauma and anxiety from the harassment, according to the report. 

"This has been a bit of a trend," said Sarah Cook, senior China analyst at the Freedom House about the incident.

"Part of the issue was that they would then give those students a chance to speak, but not a chance for the Falun Dafa Association representative to speak, which is really problematic, right? So you end up with this very one-sided thing," she told The Epoch Times, adding that similar incidents have "happened enough times on enough different issues that universities should really be preemptively thinking how they're going to deal with this, and not waiting for an incident to happen."

 Falun Dafa Club in Arizona at a student orientation fair in the fall of 2018. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)
Falun Dafa Club in Arizona at a student orientation fair in the fall of 2018. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)

"There are legitimate reasons why Chinese students may be experiencing racism and hatred, but the fact that someone's criticizing the Chinese Communist Party—especially if that person is Chinese— that doesn't really count."

She noted that these students are "very good at" taking advantage of universities' "increasing sensibilities towards creating an environment of tolerance."

"But there also needs to be an environment of tolerance for those who are critical, and often personally victimized by the CCP."

Stigma and Trauma

Footprints of Beijing-linked surveillance and persecution targeting Falun Gong are evident at many universities, the report said. 

Seven have reported at least one incident of suspected physical or digital surveillance. One graduate student from Illinois said that the Chinese diplomats in Chicago instructed the CSSA president to remove him from the group due to his involvement in Falun Gong activities.

 A Falun Gong banner is seen at an event at Columbia University, in August 2019. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)
A Falun Gong banner is seen at an event at Columbia University, in August 2019. (Courtesy of Falun Dafa Information Center)

Another student from North Carolina said that his father in China was harassed and often called his mother urging her to stop practicing Falun Gong and attending public events, according to the report. Respondents from Arizona, California, and New York said ethnic Chinese individuals would film or take photos of them at Falun Gong events.

The aggressive harassment campaigns and misleading depictions of the practice in textbooks and by CSSA-linked Chinese students have led to trauma for students who practice Falun Gong, the report said.
Falun Dafa Information Center's survey found that many Falun Gong adherents at universities feel “afraid of stigma” and “negative reactions” from Chinese students or faculty members. Some even recounted experiencing backlash from second-generation Chinese or non-Chinese students who had read the CCP's propaganda.
A fifth of the survey respondents said they felt somewhat or very uncomfortable self-identifying as a Falun Gong adherent or speaking about it in class. A Minnesota university Falun Gong club decided to keep the identity of ethnic Chinese members anonymous for fear that publicity of such information could endanger their relatives in China.
Respondents also mentioned online harassment and social media posts aimed at dissuading people from joining Falun Gong events or interacting with practitioners.
For Chinese and non-Chinese alike at U.S. university campuses, “discrimination and stigma are experienced ... in ways that would be widely viewed as unacceptable in the case of other faiths,” concluded the report.
Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. politics, U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at [email protected]