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Behind the Olympic celebrations: revealing the true face of China

[ Sabina Kupershmidt points out that behind the gloss of smiling athletes, China remains under the control of a brutal and totalitarian communist regime which forbids even non-political free association that does not have the state as the core of its focus]

The Chinese government has been persecuting the spiritual group Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) since July 22,1999. So far, the ban has resulted in the arrest of 100,000 peaceful Chinese citizens. Tens of thousands are languishing in labor camps having received long sentences (6-10 years) without trial. 1,000 have been put into mental hospitals. 360 are confirmed dead as a result of torture by Chinese police and/or prison camp personnel, although the true number may be much higher (probably more than 1,600). The deaths are often dismissed by the same officials as ‘suicides’ and the bodies are quickly burned, presumably to hide evidence of torture.

Why is China afraid of Falun Gong, a group which has never made any political statements? An official government report in early 1999 showed that 70 million Chinese citizens, including members of the Communist Party and government officials participated in the movement. The true number of practitioners is probably closer to 100 million. The Chinese government, like any other totalitarian government does not like grass-roots movements and could not tolerate so many adherents to a system of belief not centred on the state. Persecution and harassment of practitioners ensued which in turn resulted in a spontaneous gathering of 10,000 practitioners who quietly protested outside the central government compound, Zhongnanhai, in Beijing (April 1999). This led to a complete ban on Falun Gong in July of 1999 and since then practitioners have been arrested and brutally tortured. I don’t want to relate the many horror stories of their mistreatment but you can check on-line for more information.

I will try to explain what Falun Gong is all about, since I myself practice it. It is basically a method to improve body, mind and spirit through meditative exercises and through a lifestyle attuned to the three principles of “Truth, Compassion and Forbearance”. Everything is voluntary and free, including all reading materials and all teachings (which can be downloaded from the web). Every practitioner to whom I’ve ever spoken reports great improvements in health, which is also my experience. There are no politics involved anywhere.

From February 7th-9th, I attended a protest organized by the “Western US Falun Gong” group at the Winter Olympics intended to draw attention to the Chinese mistreatment of Falun Gong. According to my own estimates, about 1,500 people showed up for the march through downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday (the best-attended event). Most of the participants were Chinese, although some Western practitioners were also there. We first had group practice in a downtown SLC park, then the march and a press conference. In the afternoon we passed out informational brochures downtown, seeking to engage people in discussions about the situation in China. In the evening we held a candle-light vigil in the park until 10 pm. On Friday, the day of the opening ceremonies, we again spent the whole day outdoors, mostly on a hillside close to the Olympic Stadium holding banners and sitting in meditation. After nightfall, we again held a candlelight vigil. To my relief, we had indoor activities on Saturday. I found the schedule physically demanding. After all, we spent 12 hours a day for two days in cold weather and in the snow. We didn’t even take lunch or dinner indoors which might have warmed us up. Also, we did not stay in hotels (there were no hotel rooms available in Salt Lake City) but in a few rented houses; consequently, most of us slept on the floor and were rather sleep-deprived. The age range of participants was 3 years old to mid-80 years old, but the majority of practitioners seemed to be ladies well over 50. A lot were over 60. These folks traveled from all over the US to sit in the snow in Salt Lake City and meditate. Many of them don’t even speak English. I hope there were enough beds for the elderly folks, although where I stayed the first night, there was a man from Durham, NC, who looked close to 70, sleeping on the floor in the kitchen. Many of the same tireless people had participated in a protest against Chinese repression at the World Economic Forum in New York City on the preceding weekend. Quite a lot of them have experienced imprisonment and harassment in China due to their practice of Falun Gong. One of the 80+ year old ladies I saw, once traveled from her present home in California to Beijing in order to appeal to the government about the persecution, knowing full well that she would be arrested. And she did in fact get arrested. Now, she’s back in the US, willing to spend many hours in the cold weather, hoping to attract our attention to the situation in China.

I also saw two Western practitioners, both young men, who had traveled to China last November. They had met up on Tiananmen Square with 36 Western Falun Gong practitioners, unfurled a banner that read “Falun Gong is good. Truth Compassion and Forbearance”, started meditation, and promptly got arrested and some got beaten up badly by police. I was very moved by a college student from San Francisco who explained how worried his parents were when he told them of his plans to make his appeal on Tiananmen Square. He argued with them that if men of principle had not stood up for their beliefs throughout history, the world would be an awful place (I’m paraphrasing; he said it better than that). Fortunately, his parents supported him afterwards.

Please take time to tell your Senators, Congressman and Congresswoman not to neglect the human rights situation in China. President Bush is going to China this week; please write him an e-mail to direct his attention to this situation (president@whitehouse.gov). We have granted China many economic privileges during the last year. We feel that we need China in our corner, especially when our own country is under attack. Do you remember that our own country supported the Taliban 15 years ago? We understand that the situation is very complex and needs to be considered from many angles, however, it never pays to support evil. You can also sign a petition in favor of Falun Gong.

Sabina Kupershmidt

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