Leeshai Lemish talks about Falun Gong’s resistance and the
complicity of the West
If this persecution is so severe, why is it so rarely in
the news and why isn’t more being done about it?
Last month, I sat down with a journalist in a Taipei pub. ‘The media have a
blackout on Falun Gong’, he said. ‘You mean Chinese or Western media’? I asked.
Indeed, despite notable support from several politicians, journalists and
NGOs, after being persecuted for nine years Falun Gong practitioners still face
an uphill battle in the West.
On the Defensive
At 3:00pm, 22 July 1999, a news anchor appeared on Chinese screens to
announce that Falun Gong was banned. Protesting the ban was also banned.
Falun Gong practitioners in China didn’t know what to do – they were
meditators, not political activists. They only knew that the ‘Falun Gong expose’
on television 24-7 was full of lies, and that many of their friends had already
been arrested. They thought it was a misunderstanding. Something had to be done.
So they went to designated petition offices to register their complaints.
They were arrested. They went to Tiananmen Square to meditate – they were beaten
and then arrested.
Naďveté was quickly replaced by a startling
realisation – this was a long-prepared-for campaign ordered by the highest
echelons of the ruling Communist Party. They were up against the machinery of
the world’s biggest authoritarian state.
Some suggested they just practice at home and wait out the campaign, but even
that proved unsafe. As their friends and neighbours were tortured to death,
Falun Gong turned to the public with a non-violent grassroots movement.
Far from the Western press, they still distribute leaflets and VCDs, hang
banners, write letters, and post torture cases online. More daring feats include
scaling trees to hide timed loudspeakers that blare about prison torture and
killing as police scamper underneath looking for the source. Those caught often
pay with their lives.
As persecution flared in China, out west Falun Gong had no organised voice or
press office. Chinese graduate students and other practitioners drove overnight
to Washington. When they got there they argued: ‘We should hold a press
conference’. ‘No, we should hunger strike’!
Eventually, practitioners showed up at congressional offices wearing shorts
and T-shirts. Told that was inappropriate, they returned in suits, fold lines
still showing on their new button-down shirts.
One practitioner used his savings to make thousands of copies of
black-and-white fact sheets. Years later those seemed too simple, so a biologist
and his wife printed beautiful, glossy newsletters. But then people started
snickering – ‘Falun Gong, they have so much money’.
In Taiwan, officials ask me if Falun Gong is funded by the CIA. In DC, I’m
asked if Falun Gong is funded by the Taiwanese. The truth is, funding comes from
very dedicated practitioners.
Those people who showed up in shorts back in 1999 now run budding media
enterprises funded by advertising and the pockets of a few practitioners who can
afford to donate.
They have already registered successes. The Nine Commentaries, printed by the
Epoch Times, has sparked waves of resignations from the Chinese Communist Party.
New Tang Dynasty Television has been at the forefront of reporting on debacles
associated with the Sichuan earthquake, Tibet and other stories Chinese media
won’t cover. Until recently a French satellite company beamed this content into
China. Beijing pressured Eutelsat to betray the contract, according to Reporters
Indeed, Beijing has spared little effort. Chinese diplomats hand officials in
London and Geneva magazines comparing Falun Gong to groups that gas subways and
commit mass suicide. They wave carrots of ‘sister city’ relations, and sticks of
cancelling business deals.
Top universities haven’t escaped either. At my alma mater, the London School
of Economics, carrots are exchange programs and the Confucian Institute. As many
will admit in private, the stick of being denied access to China has long kept
scholars from writing boldly about Falun Gong.
A study I published about Western press coverage found that the more Falun
Gong practitioners have been killed, the less media have reported on it.
Practitioners, like starving Africans, have become what Herman and Chomsky call
Be it due to self-censorship policies, a bias against religion, judgments
that Falun Gong is weird, compassion fatigue, or Falun Gong’s own poor marketing
skills, many journalists avoid the story.
Meanwhile, media conglomerates have been falling over each other trying to
get into the China market. Some media websites (like the BBC and SCMP) have been
blocked after running a story on Falun Gong - one of China’s biggest taboos. So
they remain mostly silent. That is why practitioners are producing their own
In China, many remain apathetic. But leading lawyers, activists, local
officials, and countless ordinary Chinese have gradually come over to Falun
Gong’s side. Yet in the West, many still speak of cultural relativism or
illusions that the Olympics and free-trade will solve it all - eventually.
But those with relatives rotting in jail cannot wait. Practitioners are
further motivated by belief in karma. They worry that those who are complicit,
knowingly or not, are ultimately hurting themselves. They are also optimistic
that no just action will go unrewarded.
Falun Gong practitioners will thus keep telling people about the persecution
until it ends. We ask you to help us - through your thoughts and prayers, words
and deeds, emails and links.