Civil Disobedience and the Education of China
BY LEVI BROWDE
In a remote region of China several Falun Gong practitioners live in a township at the base of a big mountain. The mother-in-law of one of them lives in a township on the opposite side of this mountain. She told her son-in-law that no one had distributed materials in her township telling the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong. At 4:00 p.m. one afternoon late in the summer of 2003 that son-in-law and the other practitioners from his township set out on foot over the mountain.
That night they delivered 800 sets of fliers to a dozen villages, with almost every house getting a set, and put up posters on trees, telephone poles, and walls. They returned late the next afternoon, having walked over 100 miles. No journalist was there to witness their feat.
Some western media have been reporting that the Chinese government has virtually succeeded in snuffing out all dissent by Falun Gong in China. These reports in fact parrot, unintentionally for sure, the claims in Chinese government propaganda. But a recent commentary by Xinhua, the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, gives the lie to these very claims, and forces all to take a closer look at what the practitioners in China are doing.
On September 14, 2003, Xinhua editorialized "We must fully see the protracted, arduous and complicated nature of this struggle [against Falun Gong]." "Protracted, arduous, and complicated" are not how one describes the attempt to deal with dissent that has already been snuffed out. What does Xinhua know that many in the West may not?
Perhaps some western reporters have concentrated their gaze too much on the activity in Tiananmen Square. In the weeks following the beginning of the persecution in 1999, hundreds of practitioners were arrested every day in the square, while conducting peaceful appeals inevitably cut short by squads of police.
These demonstrations made a deep impression for good reason. Mass, public, non-violent civil disobedience in the People's Republic of China has only happened once before. That the public appeals continued for a year, then two years, and then longer was unheard of.
The first impulse by practitioners in 1999 was simply to tell the government that a mistake had been made. And so they went to Tiananmen Square, to the State Appeals Offices, to local officials. They trusted in the rightness of their cause, but they learned there was no one in the government free to hear their story. Everyone in China, not just the practitioners, was under compulsion to show the "correct attitude" toward Falun Gong or face persecution themselves.
Meanwhile, the government launched a non-stop propaganda campaign that demonized Falun Gong, inciting the people against it. Practitioners discovered that even individuals who had known them their entire lives now suddenly had questions about Falun Gong; questions about them; questions the seeds of which were planted by the anti-Falun Gong propaganda.
Even public demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that made big news in the West received no coverage in China's state-run media. Except for the dozens of people on the Square to witness the appeals for themselves, for most Chinese, they never happened.
Thus, practitioners had to find other ways to educate the people and the government, and do so despite a systematic and comprehensive effort to brainwash and brutalize the practitioners, despite relentless propaganda, and despite a blockade on all information from outside China.
Practitioners did not stop going to Tiananmen Square because they had been defeated. Rather, they began a campaign extraordinary, audacious, and unprecedented: patiently and kindly to explain, without any access to conventional media, to everyone in China what Falun Gong is and why the persecution is wrong.
Consider the events of October 12, 2000. It was just another morning in a Beijing park. The government's propaganda had spent fifteen months giving a billion people a single, hate filled message.
At 7am, the regulars of Fragrant Hill Park, Temple of Heaven Park, and Yuyuantan Park heard a new voice. "Kind-hearted Beijing people, we are Falun Dafa practitioners...," sounded eighteen different loudspeakers across the city. The 12.5-watt loudspeakers echoed in the skies above the capital for two hours.
Citizens stopped and listened while policemen frantically searched for the carefully hidden loudspeakers.
At noon, the broadcasts resonated in Purple Bamboo Park and the Beijing Zoo. The final loudspeaker was mounted at a detention center where practitioners were being tortured.
On the morning of May 13, 2001, residents of towns across northeastern China woke up to find their streets filled with over 500 colorful banners. Red characters painted on a yellow fabric hanging from a tree spelled out the words: "Falun Dafa is good."
The previous night, practitioners had left their houses and quietly placed little letters, fliers, and CDs on thousands of doorsteps. The little "Falun Dafa Day" gifts bore information their neighbors could hear nowhere else within China's borders. It said Falun Gong is practiced freely around the world, that the so-called "self immolation" is a hoax, and that practitioners are being unjustly persecuted.
What was done in a single night in May 2001 throughout northeastern China has been done continuously in a piecemeal fashion throughout the entire nation. The truthful words on the banners, fliers and CDs have been made illegal in China. Yet, with limited resources and risking their lives whenever they walk on the street, practitioners in China have delivered such "illegal" facts to households everywhere, in big cities and tiny villages, slowly countering the effects of the regime's lies.
Spring can be particularly cold in Changchun.
The three-year campaign has been especially bitter in this city, the hometown of Falun Gong's founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi. While many of the city's people carry on with their lives, practitioners are still dying in Changchun's jails and labor camps.
Families huddle around their TV sets on the evening of Tuesday, March 5, 2002. At 8 pm the state-run broadcast is suddenly interrupted.
There is a brief blackout. Then, unexpectedly, images appear of Falun Gong practitioners in large groups practicing in parks around the world, footage of the persecution, a slow-motion analysis proving that the so-called self-immolation is a hoax...
Families in approximately 300,000 homes watched the 50 minute broadcast, and the airing is the talk of the town for days.
Enraged, Jiang Zemin orders Falun Gong practitioners shot on sight. Overnight, Changchun is turned into a police state.
Policemen raid the city's houses as 5,000 practitioners are arrested in three days. Witnesses see bodies being thrown out of high-rise windows. Others hear screaming from beyond prison walls. At least six people who helped carry out the broadcasts have been tortured to death, others have been sentenced to long jail periods.
Nonetheless, over a dozen such broadcasts that have since taken place in major cities throughout China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have been reported.
"We don't know how much you know about your husband, and we don't know how much you are aware of his actions," reads a letter sent to Ms. Zhao, the wife of the Chaoyang County Detention Center's deputy director.
"We don't know, as a woman and a wife, how you feel about his actions. We also don't know how much you know about Falun Gong. However, we do know that people should live with kindness."
The letter is also sent to the deputy director's high-school son, to the workers in his work unit and his wife's work unit, and to his neighbors.
"He put Dafa practitioners in chains, poured cold water on them, and shocked them with electric batons," the letter reveals. "He has personally beaten every practitioner who has been detained in the county detention center."
Soon after this letter is sent, news surfaces that all of the Falun Gong practitioners detained at the county detention center were released.
One of the deputy's former classmates tells practitioners the deputy said he would never participate in this persecution again.
Across the country, Falun Gong practitioners are now directly seeking out the perpetrators. They tell them to stop torturing people since the world has an ancient moral principle: good is rewarded with good and evil with evil.
When the persecution began, the practitioners could easily have stayed at home to do their exercises, patiently waiting for perhaps a decade or more for this latest spasm of violence by the Communist Party against the Chinese people to end. Certainly, this is what Jiang Zemin expected.
But the practitioners chose civil disobedience, not as a tactic, but as a natural expression of the principles of Falun Gong, of truthfulness-compassion-tolerance.
The practitioners use non-violence, because according to their beliefs, they cannot harm others. They seek to educate, because in telling others the truth, practitioners allow the people of China to choose what is good. They risk their all, because the meaning of life is found in living according to what is best in each of us. With their words and their actions, the practitioners of Falun Gong simply appeal to the Chinese people not to do harm, but to consult the truth available to each inside them.
And so, in the teeth of Jiang Zemin's frenzied efforts to deny their right to appeal, tens of millions of practitioners of Falun Gong have continued to exercise it, appealing to the hearts and souls of the Chinese people everyday. They do so by putting posters up on village walls, by hanging banners from buildings or bridges, by slipping fliers under apartment doors or passing them out on crowded city buses, by mailing VCDs to government officials, by sending e-mail messages, by faxing busy offices, by calling officials on the phone, by text messaging, by broadcasting TV signals, by whatever peaceful and non-violent means they can find to reach others.
Most importantly, the practitioners of China calmly tell others their stories, one on one, explaining that Falun Gong is good, and the persecution must end. And each time they change a heart, the persecution does end...one person at a time.
Levi Browde is a project management consultant in New York City who has researched and written dozens of articles on the persecution of Falun Gong in China.