Eight years after China’s Communist government outlawed the Falun Gong movement’s tranquil exercises and meditations, a crackdown shows no signs of relenting. Yet millions of the movement’s most faithful practitioners refuse to abandon or renounce their beliefs and practices.
Recent stories emerging from Chinese prisons tell of the Falun Gong faithful being killed and the authorities “harvesting” their organs for use in medical transplants.
“The brutality and persecution continue with many documented cases of death after torture,” said Hui Yee-han, a Falun Gong spokesperson in Hong Kong where the movement remains legal. “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) steps deeper and deeper into the mud, doing so many crimes and killing good people -- not only killing physically, but also spiritually.
“Many Falun Gong followers have become prisoners of conscience. They won’t compromise. Renouncing the Falun Gong, admitting to being evil, promising to repent and writing long passages praising the government in return for freedom isn’t a valid choice for them. They won’t go against their consciences.”
A homemaker from the Peak practising Falun Gong since 1998, Hui last visited the Chinese mainland in 1999. “It’s dangerous for us to go there,” she said.
“In Falun Gong, we have no member registrations, no institutions and no offices. Everyone’s welcome, and people come and go freely,” said Hui. “At our largest activities in Hong Kong, we attract up to 400 people. Each morning we have exercises and meditation activities at about 30 parks.”
The Falun Gong faithful fortunate enough to live in Hong Kong use the busy sidewalks to stage protests against the rampant abuses just across the border. “It’s a peaceful way to make the Chinese leadership feel pressure,” said Doris, a recent participant when demonstrators in medical garb depicted the harvest and sale of body parts. Some pedestrians, among them mainland visitors, stopped and stared. Others aimed cameras.
The CCP describes Falun Gong as an “evil cult” that leads its followers toward insanity, even suicide. “There’s no resemblence between what the CCP says and what we practice,” Hui said. “We spend a lot of time clarifying the truth to people who don’t understand.”
Initiated by Li Hongzhi, who lives in the United States, the Falun Gong movement spread to more than 60 countries. “Basically, it’s a traditional practice for the mind and body,” Hui said. “People are attracted to upgrade physical health. We have five sets of exercises, four with slow, gentle movements. The fifth is meditation. After practicing, we feel more lighthearted and stress-free. By reading, we deepen our morality and try to become better people.
“If you define religion as a means to finding your ultimate truth, believing in God and becoming a better person, then Falun Gong has similarities. But we call it a spiritual practice because we have no temples, churches or clergy.”
As the practice of Falun Gong spread tens-of-millions-strong across China, officials in Beijing grew uneasy. “By 1996, the government began to investigate us in suspicion about why so many people practiced one thing,” Hui said.
Reasonable people should conclude that Falun Gong brings benefits, Hui said. “With improved health, we feel better, become happier and contribute more. Society saves on medical expenses. The CCP knows this, but worries about anything involving belief and people gathering.”
In 1999, the authorities arrested practitioners in Tianjin, leading to a large protest in Beijing. “By then, our books were being banned so we asked for freedom to practise,” Hui said. Within a few months, the CCP had outlawed Falun Gong and began to jail its supporters. Many endured torture until they agreed to “repent”. Thousands remain in prison.
“We want to stop the persecution,” Hui said. “So we appeal peacefully. All our actions are peaceful, rational and law-abiding. We appeal to the United Nations and to governments around the world.” She urges CCP members to shun the ruling party. “If enough people withdraw, the CCP will crumble by itself.”
Even in Hong Kong, people fear that the mainland authorities might accuse them of sympathizing with Falun Gong. “Most Hong Kong people have ties to the mainland,” Hui said. “Deep in their hearts, they’re afraid of the CCP. They don’t want to get into trouble.
“The Hong Kong government has a huge reluctance to see us. No officials ever meet with us, although we’ve asked many times. Only the police talk to us at our activities. We’ve applied dozens of times to rent government-run venues. The Leisure and Culture Department always says that everything’s fully booked, yet we’ve gone on one of the specified dates and found the venues vacant.”
Hui realizes that the mainland authorities infiltrate and spy on Falun Gong activities in Hong Kong. She is not frightened, but stays on alert. “We’re closely monitored. The spy system is so deep that it spreads to every corner of the world. One mainland practitioner who came to join us was beaten up and killed after returning home. We believe that a spy here reported on him.
“We’re doing something right and righteous,” she said. “Falun Gong is good – it’s free and you get so much for your health and spirit. Across China, people still practice it, but mostly discretely at home.
“We’re civilians without power, money or arms. All we can do is what we can do. Relying on the truth, we want to reach the most people we can. With more understanding, the scenario would improve and the crackdown would stop.”
Falun Gong practitioners exercise daily
in public parks across Hong Kong.
Authorities on the Chinese mainland
call this meditation style illegal.
Street protesters in Hong Kong draw attention
to China's illicit trade in human body parts.
Banners in a Hong Kong shopping district
denounce human-rights abuses across China
Believers in the Falun Gong movement
outlast China's Communist Party.