WASHINGTON—Falun Gong practitioners gathered just outside the Chinese Embassy on July 17 to mourn those who have died in the persecution of their spiritual discipline and to celebrate staying true to their beliefs in the face of brutal attempts to silence them.
The event marked the anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of Falun Gong in China on July 20, 1999.
In a parking lot just outside the embassy’s entrance, the practitioners listened to talks given by individuals who had suffered persecution in China. Then, as the summer light faded, they held a candlelight vigil. Sitting in long rows, each held two candles and had a picture of a deceased adherent propped against their body, as a sound system played solemn music composed and performed by practitioners.
One of those who spoke was Wang Chunying. She recalled how, with the temperature outside in far northern China’s Shenyang City just above zero degrees Fahrenheit, and with her barely heated prison cell not much warmer than that, she was soaked in sweat.
There were two iron bunk beds in her cell. One of her hands was handcuffed to the upper rail of one bed, and her other hand handcuffed to the lower rail of the other bed. After she was cuffed, the guards would kick the beds to move them as far apart as possible.
She was stretched to the limit, so that she felt “her body was torn apart.” She could neither stand nor kneel to relieve the strain. The cuffs cut into her wrists, and her hands swelled. Every once in a while, a guard would shake her handcuffs to make her pain even more intense.
After 16 hours, the guards released her. Once, she was handcuffed for five days and five nights.
The guards wanted to “transform” her—to force her to sign a letter promising not to practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa.
Each month, they would demand she sign the letter; each month, they would torture her; and each month, she would refuse.
This abuse took place at Masanjia Correctional Institution, whose name is a byword among Falun Gong practitioners for cruelty. She was detained there for a total of five years and three months.
Chunying is 1 of 3 sisters who practice Falun Gong and have suffered under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Each is accomplished. Chunying was a supervisory nurse at Dalian Central Hospital. Wang Chunrong was the chair of Dalian Xincheng certified public accountants and a senior accountant with 40 years of experience. Wang Chunyan ran a thriving export-import business in Dalian. Together, the three sisters served more than 16 years in prison because of their belief in Falun Dafa.
Chunrong was the key person in an accounting firm that was widely respected. Because of her belief in Falun Gong’s principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, she insisted the company conduct its business honestly.
After her arrest, the business floundered, and 70 people lost their jobs.
Chunyan’s husband was harassed by police because of his practice of Falun Gong; he died on Jan. 3, 2002, after being found at home unconscious with the gas turned on. The family considers his death suspicious—he was found with a head wound.
Ten days later, Chunyan was arrested. A lawyer said she could be released if she gave up her practice of Falun Gong. She refused, was imprisoned, and her business equipment confiscated. After two imprisonments totaling seven years, her company was closed.
21 Years of Persecution
The fates of the Wang sisters are simply one example of a national calamity the CCP has visited on China.
Falun Gong is an ancient practice that was passed on in lineage fashion for centuries. It was first taught to the public by Li Hongzhi in May 1992 in Changchun in northern China.
Falun Gong involves doing five meditative exercises—four standing and one seated—and living according to teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
The practice spread rapidly by word of mouth to all parts of China and to all classes and professions. Individuals reported experiencing improvements in health and morality, better relations with family and co-workers, and less stress. According to Chinese state reports in 1999, 100 million people in China—1 in 13 Chinese—were practicing Falun Gong.
The then-head of the CCP, Jiang Zemin, lay the groundwork for the persecution he would launch a few months later with a letter to the Politburo—the highest Party organization—on the evening of April 25, 1999.
Jiang expressed concern that Falun Gong was “a kind of national organization, with many followers from the Communist Party, officials, scholars, soldiers, as well as workers and peasants.”
He feared what he perceived as the threat posed by Falun Gong’s traditional moral teachings to the legitimacy of the CCP’s ideology, which is based on atheism, materialism, and the idea of struggle.
Jiang wrote: “Can the Marxism, materialism, and atheism that our Communist Party members uphold not win the battle with what Falun Gong promotes?”
The letter continued: “This is absolutely ridiculous!”
On July 20, Jiang brought the whole weight of the Party-state down on the heads of the practitioners. He’s reported to have given the order to “destroy their reputations, bankrupt them financially, and eliminate their bodies.”
Jiang is said to have believed he would eradicate the practice of Falun Gong in three months, and, based on the experience the CCP has had in stamping out other groups, this expectation wasn’t unrealistic.
And the CCP has done its worst. The Falun Gong website En.Minghui.org, which serves as a clearinghouse for information about the persecution, confirms the deaths of 4,363 practitioners from torture and abuse. Due to the difficulty of getting information out of China, the actual number of such killings is undoubtedly many times higher.
There also is a very large but unknown number killed through the practice of forced, live organ harvesting, which some researchers have classified as a “cold genocide.”
Yet, 21 years after the persecution began, Freedom House estimates that up to 20 million people are still practicing Falun Gong in China, and the official Falun Gong website, FalunDafa.org, shows the practice has spread to 91 countries.
Peacefully Opposing Persecution
Mindy Ge, an actuary, helped organize the event.
She explained in opening remarks why Jiang’s persecution has failed to eliminate Falun Gong: “Over the past 21 years, Falun Dafa disciples in mainland China and around the world have launched a feat of peacefully opposing persecution—in rational, wise, and peaceful actions they clarify the truth to the world, expose the persecution, and spread truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.”
In fact, Ge explains that practitioners have changed the situation in China. As a result of their efforts, “kind-hearted people have become more and more aware of the evil nature of the Chinese Communist Party and have taken off its shackles.” More than 360 million people have renounced any connection with the CCP or its youth organizations: the Young Pioneers and the Youth League.
Ge, in an opinion commonly shared by practitioners gathered outside the embassy, believes the CCP and its persecution of Falun Gong will soon end.
Erik Meltzer, an IT professional, spoke after the candlelight vigil about the significance of July 20: “July 20 is the day that changed China forever. Since the CCP took rule of China in 1949, there have been so many brutal campaigns and so many innocent lives lost, but never before have we seen such a brutal persecution where it is not just life that is being taken but is as if the soul of China is being crushed.”
Yet, Meltzer sees the response of the Falun Gong practitioners as giving hope to China.
“I hope [July 20] can be a day where the people in China can say I won’t believe the lies that I have been told by the CCP and … [I will] take the right side so that [I] don’t have any regret when things change in China.”
Bjorn Neumann, a small-business owner, said after the vigil that he believes that after the CCP ends, then “the truth will be revealed about what the practitioners really did and endured.” Neumann believes this will awaken people about the real nature of communism. While young people today are very naïve about communism, he said, they will be given a chance to understand how evil it is.
Hanging a Banner
When Chunying was asked about the meaning of July 20, she smiled and chose to tell a story about how she hung a banner in the Masanjia prison.
Her sentence at Masanjia was coming to a close, and before she left that hellish place, she wanted to tell everyone that Falun Gong is good.
She devised a plan.
Prisoners aren’t allowed to have any writing implements, but Chunying had talked at length about what Falun Gong is and how its persecution is wrong—what practitioners refer to as “clarifying the facts”—with a non-practitioner prisoner who was entrusted with using a brush pen. She agreed to give Chunying a brush pen and some red ink.
Chunying had also clarified the facts to the non-practitioner prisoner who was responsible for monitoring her every movement. She became Chunying’s accomplice in making the banner.
Chunying then took a yellow sheet and tore it into a one-foot-wide, six-foot-long piece. Being caught with that, or with the brush pen, or the ink, would mean her sentence would be extended. So she had to find ways to hide everything, even though she never had any privacy.
And she did so under extra pressure. Her daughter was six months pregnant. She had delayed having a wedding ceremony because she wanted Chunying there. And she wanted her mother to help care for her child after it was born.
With her cellmate’s help, Chunying was, over 16 days, able to paint one character at a time on her banner. By July 20, it was ready, but then it rained heavily the whole day.
Chunying woke up early on July 21, and the rain had stopped. Everything was quiet. She made her way to the restroom, which was on the fourth floor. She tied her banner to the window, and let it drop.
Then, for more than 30 glorious minutes, everyone in Masanjia could see, in red ink on a yellow background: “Falun Dafa Is Good/God Is Disintegrating the CCP/Quit the CCP to Make Certain of Your Safety.”
The guards scrambled to tear down the banner, and then began an intense, but quiet, investigation. Try as they might, they couldn’t find who was responsible for the banner.
Chunying was released on time, attended her daughter’s wedding, and was there for the child’s birth.