Amid Virus Spread, Candlelight Vigil to Protest China’s Human Rights Abuses Goes Digital

Amid Virus Spread, Candlelight Vigil to Protest China’s Human Rights Abuses Goes Digital
A Falun Gong practitioner family participates in the online candle vigil to commemorate the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, on April 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Tuidang Center)

NEW YORK—Every year, hundreds donning bright yellow shirts would convene around this date, holding candles in hand as they meditate to soothing music.

As the last rays of the sun lace the horizon with a myriad of hues, practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Dafa would gather in silence as the bustling rhythm of the surrounding metropolis carries on.

This year, owing to the current pandemic that has kept people around the world hunkered down in their homes, Falun Gong practitioners decided to hold an online vigil instead to mark the occasion.

On April 23, over 1,000 practitioners from across a dozen regions in the United States, along with those from as far as the U.K., Taiwan, and Malaysia, joined an online platform to commemorate the 21st anniversary of April 25, when roughly 10,000 adherents had gathered in Beijing to appeal to the central government for an environment to freely practice their faith.

april 25
Screenshots of people participating in the online candle vigil to commemorate the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, on April 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Tuidang Center)

Also known as Falun Gong, the ancient spiritual practice that features gentle meditative exercises and moral teachings based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, received wide appeal among the Chinese public in the 1990s. By the late 1990s, it drew an estimated 70 million to 100 million adherents.

The Chinese regime ultimately did not grant their appeal; the atheist Communist Party deemed the vast numbers a threat to its rule and unleashed a nationwide campaign to eradicate the practice in July 1999, arresting and detaining hundreds of thousands of adherents, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. Thousands are confirmed to have died as a result of the persecution, though the true number is likely higher.

This year was the first-ever virtual vigil event. At the appointed hour at 8 p.m., screens lit up with candlelight pouring forth, as practitioners hoped to expose China’s ongoing human rights abuses during a time of social distancing.

Yi Rong, the event organizer and president of the New York-based nonprofit Tuidang Center, said the day is meant to remember the unwavering faith of practitioners in China.

“We don’t want this day to pass in obscurity,” she said in an interview.

April 25 commemoration
Falun Gong practitioners set up candles marking the 21st year of persecution in China, in New York, N.Y., on April 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Tuidang Center)

Lives Jolted

Among those who attended was Tang, a native of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, who took up the practice in 1996. He was a fresh college graduate with a lucrative job offer on hand when the persecution began in 1999. Having experienced the practice’s health benefits first-hand, he recalled the moment of shock when he found himself to be the target of a nationwide persecution despite having done no harm.

He was compelled to tell people the truth; he decided to travel to Beijing and unfold a banner, knowing that he risked never returning again.

It led to his first experience being inside a detention center. On the first day, guards physically assaulted him, dealing blows to his waist. Every hit would make him shriek in pain.

Over the years until he fled China in 2015, Tang was arrested eight times, spending over six years behind bars for refusing to give up his faith. At a forced labor camp, he had to cut and polish glass pieces that were to be assembled into chandeliers for export overseas. His meals consisted of mushy food that “more resembled pig feed,” he said.

He was tortured with force-feeding three times, each time because he fought for his right to study and exercise by staging a hunger strike. One of the harrowing experiences involved four or five prisoners who pinned him down to a wooden board and forced down liquid through a thick tube that went from his nose to the stomach, repeatedly pulling the tube out and inserting it back in. Blood streamed out from his nose continuously.

It was a way of inflicting misery in order to make him cave in, Tang said, adding that some substance in the liquid had caused a burning pain in his stomach.

online candle vigil
Falun Gong practitioner participates in the online candle vigil to commemorate the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, on April 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Tuidang Center)

Since the persecution began in China, Han Yi, then only in primary school, said she probably spent less than two years with her mother Wu Shunzhen—who was in and out of jail for roughly a decade, often with only a few months in between to see each other.

She recalled a period of four months in 2004 when guards denied the family’s request to visit Wu in jail. When she was allowed to see her mother again, Han noticed several patches of hair missing from her mother’s scalp. Only later would she learn that her mother was pulled into an abandoned building in the prison with the curtain drawn down, where guards tortured her. They deprived Wu of sleep, slapped her when her eyelids closed ever so slightly, put ointment in her eyes, and poured water over her body and left her shivering in the cold.

Police officers visited Han at school and pressed her for the whereabouts of her mother or other local practitioners, threatening that her future was on the line.

Falun gong april 25 2020
Candles set up for the online vigil event to commemorate the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, on April 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Tuidang Center).

A Choice

Faced with mounting pressure, each practitioner made a conscious decision to persevere.

During the worst moments, when every minute felt like a year, Tang said he had held fast to one thought to carry him through.

“Truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance is not wrong,” he said. “As challenging as it may get, I still have [these values] to guide my life.”

He managed to escape in 2015 to New York. Not long after, he joined the Tuidang Center, making daily phone calls to mainlanders explaining why they needed to break ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Literally meaning “quitting the Party,” the grassroots “Tuidang” movement has led 354.8 million Chinese to renounce Party affiliations over the past 16 years.

The virus may be scary, but what’s scarier is a regime that has been willing to endanger people’s lives in order to maintain its power, he said, citing the CCP’s history of outbreak cover-ups.

Wu was smuggled through Thailand and eventually sought refuge in the United States, where mother and daughter were reunited.

Now studying at Stony Brook University, Han said a thorough inner reflection has helped her appreciate her mother’s tenacity while in China. “Life is more than living in comfort,” she said. “The outside power won’t change what you have gained deep inside.”

Shao Changyong, an aspiring military officer back in 1999, knew he was likely foregoing his career and all the associated privileges when he joined the 10,000-strong appeal in front of the Party headquarters in Beijing 21 years ago.

“As I look back on the past 21 years, it’s still the most honorable deed in my life,” he said.

From The Epoch Times

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