Narration: Early summer quietly arrives in China. Normally, this would be a perfect season for travel, as the scorching heat and rains have not set in. This summer, though, the world is busy battling the CCP virus.
Against all odds, the Chinese communist regime’s focus is somewhere else.
Even in the midst of a potential second outbreak, Chinese security forces continue to prioritize its repressive effort on Falun Gong practitioners over saving lives. This time, with a new tool.
On April 17, Licas News reported that police used measures like checking temperatures to trick people into opening their doors. In another instance, a healthy practitioner was tortured to the point of losing consciousness, and was later held in a quarantine facility for coronavirus patients.
According to data collected by Minghui.org, in February alone, 282 practitioners were arrested, 15 sentenced for their faith. This is twice as many compared to February of last year.
Between January and early April, the persecution claimed at least 17 lives.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient spiritual discipline based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Throughout the 90s, millions of people practiced Falun Gong in China. At the time, even the Chinese state media praised the practice.
On July 20, 1999, the Chinese Communist Party launched a smear crackdown on Falun Gong. Today, anyone could be picked off the street of China and unlawfully detained for their belief.
Is the crackdown arbitrary, or is it part of a bigger scheme to eradicate spirituality? In the midst of the pandemic, what identity crisis is at stake for the Chinese people? In this episode, I sit down with Fiona (Ziyi) Yang, a Falun Gong practitioner and independent documentarian, to discuss these questions.
Ziyi Yang: After July 20, 1999, one evening, a bunch of undercover cops stormed into my aunt’s apartment and abducted her after finding out that she was surfing on the web for information about Falun Dafa. Her home was raided, and all her books and CDs related to Falun Gong were confiscated. Since 1999, people from all of China have been forbidden from practicing or talking about Falun Dafa. In 2001, my aunt went alone to Tiananmen Square because she wanted to peacefully protest the persecution. She couldn’t understand why a good practice like this would be banned. And she thought that by speaking out, the positions of power would listen. But as soon as she held up a banner that read “Falun Dafa is good”, she was forced to the ground, and dragged into a van. And her little finger was torn from that struggle. She was detained in labor camps and brainwashing centers twice, just because she believed in Falun Gong. Till today, her eyes can’t see things clearly because the labor camp guards forced her to watch communist propaganda day in and day out for several consecutive days. And whenever she closed her eyes and refused to watch it, they used needles to poke her eyeballs in order to keep her awake.
That’s just one example. Thousands of lives have been lost during the persecution, which is still ongoing. Even though they claim that there’s no more labor camps in China today, that’s not true. More practitioners are still being detained even during this pandemic. The CCP uses the most horrific torturing methods on Falun Gong practitioners. And the idea is that the prison guards wouldn’t really do it themselves, but they’d incentivize other prisoners to do it by telling them that the harder you torture them, the faster you could reduce your sentence. So many of those prisoners followed suit. My aunt told me that there were some people who wouldn’t follow the order. Like, one of her cellmates tried her best to protect her, because she realized how practitioners are nothing like how the state media portrayed them. That we’re very rational and brave, that even in the face of the most unbearable torture, my aunt did not lose compassion in trying to clarify the truth and stop those prisoners from obliviously committing crimes. That compassion moved many people in the labor camp. But in a top-down system like this, people don’t have a choice. In the end, that cellmate was sent away.
Narration: Falun Gong’s popularity had a reason. Its principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance reminded the Chinese people at the time of a long lost culture, and a way of life in awe of nature and the vast universe. It was also seen as a spiritual awakening in the bleak aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre.
Ms. Yang: My aunt suffered digestive disorders and depression at that time, but her encounter with Falun Dafa changed her worldview completely. She understood that the purpose of cultivation is to elevate her inner being and return to her true self. For the first time in the history of spiritual practices, Falun Gong explained that cultivating truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance is the key to a healthy body and mind. Through cultivation my aunt’s health conditions improved a lot. I’m very grateful to Dafa for bringing her hope and guiding her with righteous values to face any ordeals in her life. That’s something she had never been able to do before. All these positive changes, physically or mentally, benefited people from all walks of life. At that time, even people who didn’t practice Falun Gong knew about the benefits it had on people and on society. I started practicing when I was four. Since I was little, I’ve learned through cultivation that I should always put other people first, look inward when I’m facing conflicts or difficulties. I can’t put it into words. But cultivation has given me so much wisdom, intellect and creativity, because its understanding of life is in accordance with ancient Chinese people’s reverence towards spirituality, nature, and the heavens. It made me realize how precious my life is, that no matter what happens I shouldn’t give up on finding solutions. More importantly, I learnt to measure right or wrong by compassion.
Narration: The crackdown on Falun Gong has been an exclamation mark in the CCP’s takeover of China. Since day one of its rule, the CCP has been cementing its grip on freedom of thought and freedom of religion.
Ms. Yang: When I look back on my childhood back in China, I remember being terrified for a long time. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I’m a practitioner, even though I had done nothing wrong. I remember in high school, I went on a ballet tour to Europe. One day we were out sightseeing in a place of interest, and one Falun Gong practitioner came up to us and tried to hand out a flyer. I took the flyer. I partly did that because I wanted to show my friends and team members that anywhere outside China you don’t have to be afraid of learning information you can’t otherwise within the firewall. But the other dancers on the team, and they were all middle-school students, got so frightened. They whispered behind my back and gave me a look that’s as if I was mentally ill. So… at that moment I felt very sorry seeing how warped this Party’s ideology has made the thinking and culture of these kids, and how much it’s deviated from human rights.
Simone Gao: There have been criticisms that the Chinese regime’s measures violate human rights. Some argue that their measures are China-specific. What’s your take?
Ms. Yang: That’s just a common mentality of the Chinese people. Today, whenever issues that exist in China are brought up, the basic thinking of people sees it as “anti-China forces.” I grew up in that vibe. That vibe itself is a result of having been through this ideological re-molding through slogans like there is no China without the CCP; the CCP is your closest family, etc. Constantly washing away your reason, in a way that people conflate the CCP with the Chinese nation. So, if you’re criticizing the CCP, you must be criticizing me; you are unpatriotic, anti-China. The actual human rights issue, though, gets glossed over in the internalizing, because people would go, whatever methods the government used to suppress a group of people must have been quote unquote “for the common good”. That same rhetoric was used to justify the suppression of Hong Kong protests, the persecution of Falun Gong, and whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang during this outbreak. Essentially, what people mean by “China-specific” is just “CCP-specific”. It comes down to who this government’s measures are benefiting, and what’s their priority in the grand scheme of things.
Ms. Gao: What’s the no. one priority of the CCP?
Ms. Yang: I think at its core, it is suppression of dissent so the CCP can maintain absolute mind control over the people. And in doing so, they stir up ardent loyalty to the party. I feel very unfortunate that we have a society operating on indoctrinated hate, whereas we should have had a moral spine that propped up social order and the order in our heart. A legitimate government should help keep up that framework. Not to define it. That job belongs to the people.
But since the persecution of Falun Gong began, the CCP mobilized the entire state apparatus to launch a disinformation campaign. CCTV aired a demonizing program against Falun Gong 24/7. They also warned of terrible consequences if you don’t rat out someone in your family or your workplace or your school who is practicing Falun Gong. So by suppressing dissent, the government separated society based on fear, based on whether you toe the Party line. And that led people to internalize hate towards any enemy that the Party wants to target. If you ask an average Chinese today why they turn a blind eye to the suppression of Falun Gong, 9 out of 10 would tell you it’s for the “common good”. They don’t really know what that means. Many have never encountered a practitioner in their life or known what it is about before making that judgment.) Not to mention what’s going on behind the bars is sealed off from the public.
This is a Stockholm Syndrome. And here’s an example of that. My aunt told me that whenever the guards were torturing a Falun Gong practitioner, the announcer in the hallway would loop the same Chinese pop song in the background in order to cover up the practitioner’s scream and cry. And for a long time, she would quiver at the sound of that music. This piece of imagery has struck me ever since. And it has since made me realize what fear can do to people. It’s just an analogy that best captures the endgame of the CCP method at its core – to fill your heart with fear, which would crush your faith in humanity, make you question it, disbelieve it, and in the end all you have left is blind trust in the Communist Party. That is the rationale behind our society’s inertia today. And that’s where we need to hold the CCP accountable.
Ms. Gao: How do you think the Chinese people should hold the CCP accountable?
Ms. Yang: I think any Chinese citizen has a civic duty. Everyone has his/her civic duty. Just because something hasn’t dawned upon you doesn’t mean you can ignore it. As long as you carry this identity called Chinese, the injustices that are ongoing inside China concerns you. So before we can answer that, we’ve got to think about why the Communist Party has cracked down on Falun Gong, a practice based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. What is their agenda and their true intention? Can a party like this truly represent Chinese people? Today, anywhere outside of China, in Hong Kong and Taiwan alike, people can practice their spiritual freedom without fear of being detained. But why, in the 21st century, are the people of China still being persecuted for their spirituality? This is the question that’s relevant to every Chinese citizen and anyone interested in the China issues, as the suppression of Falun Gong remains the single largest human rights abuse in our country. It should not be ignored. Our society needs truthfulness and courage in confronting these fundamental questions.
Now the CCP’s lies have extended to people around the world by covering up the pandemic. The world is furious. Chinese people are confused. But this identity crisis we face as a nation today is indeed caused by the CCP’s failure to represent us and represent our values. That’s something we have to think carefully about. What legacy are we going to write into history for this moment in time? And what culture can we leave behind for the next generation of Chinese people? I’m sure it’s not one of the Party culture. I believe that search of a cultural legacy is what Hong Kong’s peaceful protesters are fighting for, and it is what I hope to document and preserve at the end of the day.