SEYMOUR - Local followers of Falun Gong are getting ready to celebrate Falun Dafa week, while the U.S. embassy of the People's Republic of China has denounced their gathering, calling the practice a dangerous cult.
The town of Seymour recently issued a proclamation declaring the week of Aug. 5 to 11 Falun Dafa week, describing the practice as a "self-improvement practice rooted in ancient Chinese culture."
Meanwhile, Zhang Yuanyuan, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., said he is very distressed about the news.
"I'm very disappointed to hear this. I don't know who could have gotten involved in such a celebration," said Zhang.
According to Zhang, Falun Gong is a dangerous cult in China, and so far, there have been more than 1,660 deaths because of it.
"In this country Falun Gong followers are tricky; they try to hide the past of Falun Gong in China and try to present it as an example of human rights and religious violations, when it is not so," said Zhang.
Zhang added that he hopes local governments stop issuing proclamations to glorify the practice of Falun Gong.
In 1999, the communist Chinese government banned the practice in the People's Republic of China.
First Selectman Scott Barton said the Connecticut General Assembly endorsed the practice by issuing a proclamation as well.
"I believe in human rights, period," Barton said. "In America people have the freedom to practice what they want. Freedom to make choices is very important."
Other side of the coin
One area resident who has been practicing Falun Gong for four years, said it is not a cult because its teachings forbid the killing of any kind of life.
According to the woman, who was born and raised in Beijing, Falun Gong, based on truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, is a system of exercises and teachings that deeply transforms the mind and the body.
She said it is beneficial in improving health.
"Some of the people who practice Falun Gong are sick and they want to get better," she said.
According to the resident, Falun Gong involves four standing exercises and one sitting meditation. Followers also have the option of reading books that explain its principles.
"All people have to do is follow these principles in their daily lives to be well," she said.
The week's celebration will start with an introduction seminar on Monday, Aug. 6, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Seymour Public Library. For information, call 393-1702.
Hong Kong - Hong Kong on Monday let in US academic Li Shaomin, expelled by China for spying last week, in a move that underscored its special status within communist China but may earn it Beijing's wrath.
"American ethnic Chinese scholar Li Shaomin arrived in Hong Kong in the afternoon and was granted entry this evening," the Hong Kong government said in a statement.
Li, who has worked in Hong Kong since 1996 as an associate professor of marketing at City University, was convicted in Beijing on July 14 of spying for Taiwan and ordered to be deported.
He was arrested on a trip to southern China in February and said he was innocent during his one-day trial, held the day after Beijing was awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Whether Hong Kong would let Li return to his university post after a spying conviction has been seen as a major test of the limits of this former British colony's autonomy within China.
The government statement suggested police would keep a close eye on Li, saying: "The .. government will not allow anybody in Hong Kong to undertake espionage activities and jeopardise the interests of Hong Kong and the State (China)."
Hong Kong was granted a large degree of autonomy after its return to China and operates under a "one country, two systems" formula that preserves its capitalist economy and British Common Law tradition for 50 years.
But pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong have been adamant that Li was convicted of spying on one country, which includes China and Hong Kong, and he should be barred from the territory.
It was the latest in a series of hard decisions for Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa, pitting the city's special status against the positions of Beijing.
Mainland court judgements are not binding in Hong Kong. But Tung's administration, chosen by Beijing, has barred people who China objects to, such as political dissidents and foreign members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The Falun Gong group has been banned in mainland China since 1999 but is legal in Hong Kong - another example of "one country, two systems". But Hong Kong's tolerance clearly upsets Beijing.
Several pro-Beijing politicians have said convicting someone of spying in mainland China and then letting them return to work in Hong Kong would make a mockery of Chinese justice.
Ma Lik, a Hong Kong delegate to China's National People's Congress, or parliament, said earlier that he would press Tung to speed the enactment of an anti-subversion law if Li were allowed to return.
Tung has dodged enacting such a law, which is required under Hong Kong's post-handover constitution, apparently fearing the reaction from pro-democracy politicians and human rights groups.
HOUSTON A member of the Falun Gong sect who was tortured in China before a harrowing escape to the United States was released from a Houston hospital Saturday after treatment for severe burns.
Tan Yongjie, who hitchhiked to Houston after escaping to Hong Kong and stowing away aboard a California-bound cargo ship, was admitted to Park Plaza Hospital on July 13 after his wounds opened.
"He's had extensive skin graft surgery on his legs," said Jack Xiong, a member of the Houston Falun Gong community, adding that doctors expect Mr. Tan to make a full recovery.
Mr. Tan returned to the Star of Hope homeless shelter, where he was living before his admission to the hospital. Mr. Xiong was hopeful the estimated 100 to 200 local Falun Gong members could help Mr. Tan.
Through translators, Mr. Tan said his story began as a factory worker in Baoan, Guangdong Province, where he began practicing Falun Gong since June 1998. China banned the sect in 1999, and Mr. Tan said he was detained 15 days four different times, each time refusing to renounce his beliefs.
He said he was arrested April 26 for distributing fliers calling for an end to government persecution of Falun Gong members. He said he was beaten, then sent without trial to a labor camp in Baluo County.
After repeated torture sessions, Mr. Tan said, he was hung by handcuffs for more than five hours. On June 2, Mr. Tan said he was tied to a post and burned about his legs 13 times with a red-hot iron rod, urging him to give up Falun Gong.
Mr. Tan escaped the camp soon after and fled to Hong Kong, where he sneaked aboard a cargo ship headed to Long Beach, Calif.
After two weeks of living in a crate at sea, Mr. Tan said he caught a ride with someone headed to Florida on Interstate 10 and was dropped off in Houston. Houston police directed him to the Star of Hope shelter.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers in the 1990s with a blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi.
Thousands of followers are in jails and labor camps and tens of thousands have been arrested and pressured to renounce the group in the government crackdown. Falun Gong members say many followers have been tortured and that 250 have been killed.
The government banned Falun Gong as a threat to Communist Party rule and Chinese society.
"On one hand, we'd like people [in Houston] to help Mr. Tan, but also we'd like everyone to know what is going on in China," Mr. Xiong said. "We hope this will spur some kind of action to alleviate the situation in China."
Against the back drop of a bright yellow banner with Ming Hui School written in bold red letters, a group of exercises slowly & gently raise their arms, palms outstretched.
They hold the pose for a moment, their faces serene. Then, abruptly, & in unison, they snap out of it, & their bodies fall into relaxed curves.
It's a mixed group ranging in age from 5 to 70. Participants include students from elementary school through college, housewives, postal workers, doctors, graphic designers, & software engineers from Columbia, Md., to Chantilly.
Come Saturday everyone changes into T-shirts & sweat pants to begin a quest for truthfulness, compassion & forbearance--which they say are the three founding principles of the Chinese exercise of Falun Gong.
These are students of the Ming Hui School, which opened it's doors in January this year--the first Falun Gong school anywhere in the world, its founders say. A second school opened in March in Australia. Classes are held every Saturday throughout fall & spring in rented space at the Richard Montgomery High School off Rockville Pike. The students make voluntary contributions to help pay for the space.
Followers describe Falun Gong, more formally known as Falun Dafa, as a practice of refining the body & mind though special exercises & mediation.
Based on ancient Chinese principles, Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a spiritual leader who now lives in New York.
Practitioners say the slow but deliberate moves have rapidly gained popularity the world over because they are designed to heal the body & the sprit without the war & tear of other forms of physical exercise. They chose ming hui as the name of their school because the words mean understand & wisdom in Chinese, says the school's co-founder & curriculum director, Judy Su Jing Chao. For her students, Mrs. Chao, 48, has devised a curriculum that involves reading for two hours every Saturday from the two books & poems written by Li Hongzhi. In one book, China, Falun Gong, Mr. Hongzhi discusses such topics as cultivating energy & compassion & abolishing jealously & attachment.
Classes at eh school are in both English & Chinese, with a Spanish practitioner available for those who need translation. The study classes are followed by two hours of practicing Falun Dafa exercises.
Our school is for everyone, young & old, Mrs. Chao says, add that the students include people who just stared learning Falun Gong & those who have been practicing it for years.
The school already has an enrollment of about 30 children & 40 adults, but Mrs. Chao says there is space for anyone who wants to join.
What's more, it is all free of charge. We do not seek payment for what we teach because that is what our leader, Li Hongzhi, believes, says the schools principal, Jianmei Yu.
Almost all adults working at eh school hold other jobs, Mrs. Chao is a graphic artist, & Dr. Yu, 37, was a physician in China & now does medical research for a local biotechnology firm.
Dr. Yu says she was moved into practicing Falun Gong after attending a New York conference where she heard a teen talk about giving up drugs when he discovered Falun Gong.
Her own body has been healed by the exercise, she says. I am healthy, but I would sometimes suffer from back pain & headaches. It's all gone now. I just feel more relaxed, she says.
The movement to preserve & propagate Falun Gong has been spreading around the world, particularly in the face of strong attempts to stifle it in China. In the beginning, the Chinese government encouraged Falun Gong. But when they found that it was becoming more & more popular they began to crack down on it, Dr Yu says.
A commentary released on the Chinese Embassy Web site earlier this year describes Falun Gong practitioners as a cult & Li Hongzhi as a cult leader.
Abroad, however, the practice thrives. In the United States, including in the Washington area, groups of practitioners meet once or more a week to practice Falun Gong, usually in libraries, parks & even on National Mall. Innumerable Web sites discuss the virtues of this method of exercise.
Dr. Yu says having a school gives people a chance to learn not just the exercises, but the principles behind them, which could be of great value in a stress-filled & violence-filled world. If everyone learns them, we may need fewer police, she says.
She & Mrs. Chao, thought of starting the school after a nine-day Falun Gong summer camp last year. It was very successful. The children enjoyed it so much they didn't want to leave, she says.
They spread word of the new school through a local Chinese television channel, ads in community newspapers & word of mouth.
Students pour in & continue to return every week, primarily because they say they have noticed a positive difference in their lives.
Wattana Bounthong, 26, a postal worker from Arlington, says he enjoyed learning with the children because they do everything more truthfully. The environment in a post office could be very stressful, but Falun Gong had changed all that for him, the Laotian native says. Doing physical exercises usually tires you, but these fulfill your body, he says.
We appreciate the freedom in this country, the ability to do what we want to do & practice Falun Gong, Mrs Chao says.
Many of her students are, like her first-generation immigrants from China or Taiwan. They all hold jobs here & have created new lives for themselves, but the oppression back home in China haunts them.
Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been tortured to death in China Dr. Yu says. Thousands more are in prison. But there is nothing political about Falun Gong, she says.
The school is closed for summer & will open again in September, but so strong is the students' commitment that on evening this week after working long hours most of them turned up for a mid-vacation session to exercise together.
The special exercise session was help on the grounds of Richard Montgomery High School, & afterward the students closed their eyes & meditated, sitting cross legged on the grass.
Exercises have picturesque names, such as: Buddha showing a thousand hands, & The great heavenly circuit, Despite these names, no religion is involved, its followers say. Instead, Truth, compassion & tolerance are in every breath we take, says student Frances Yang who lives in Chantilly.
A cosmetologist by profession Mrs. Yang looks strikingly young for her 42 years, but she credits Falun Gong & not her beauty training for her youthful looks. It is what is inside that matters. Falun Gong makes you beautiful inside, she says.
Girija Bisoor 36, an Indian immigrant & housewife from Columbia, roped her husband & son into learning Falun Gong after hearing about it from a Chinese friend. She says it has been a life-altering experience.
I am more understanding now with my son, & I feel more energetic at the end of the day.
She plans to start attending the Ming Hui school, along with her son Tejawsi, 15, who says he resisted learning Falun Gong at the beginning but then discovered it helped him become a better person.
I can not tell the good from the bad, & I don't fight with my parents anymore, he says.
Parents say their children are getting a head start on good values. Children don't quarrel: they learn not to blame each other, says Naiwen Chen, 52, a teach at Ming Hui School.
Five year old, Liuzhi Zhang doesn't say much, but his father Hailian Zhang, 34, points to drawings made by his son that show the law wheel of Falun Gong, a yellow circle with a swastika, an ancient Chinese symbol, at the center.
The law, wheel depicts the energy of the universe, Mrs. Chao says.
Liuzhi, who lives in Northwest, has been attending Ming Hui School since January. He can already recite all the poems taught in class, Mr. Zhang says.
Tony Xue, 9, of Bethesda, says he has learned about telling the truth & being kind to people. He also has learned about tolerance. It is like when you are meditating & you get really itchy but you learn to hold it, he says.
HOUSTON - A member of the Falun Gong sect tortured in China before a harrowing escape to the United States was due to be released from a Houston hospital Saturday after treatment for severe burns.
Tan Yongjie, who hitchhiked to Houston after escaping to Hong Kong and stowing away aboard a California-bound cargo ship, was admitted to Park Plaza Hospital July 13 after his wounds opened.
"He's had extensive skin graft surgery on his legs," said Jack Xiong, a member of the Houston Falun Gong community, adding that doctors expect Tan to make a full recovery.
Tan was expected to return to the Star of Hope homeless shelter, where he was living before his admission to the hospital. Xiong was hopeful the estimated 100 to 200 local Falun Gong members could help Tan.
Through translators, Tan said his story began as a factory worker in Baoan, Guangdong Province, where he began practicing Falun Gong since June 1998. China banned the sect in 1999, and Tan said he was detained 15 days for different times, each time refusing to renounce his beliefs.
Tan said he was arrested April 26 for distributing fliers calling for an end to government persecution of Falun Gong members. He said he was beaten, then sent without trial to a labor camp in Baluo County.
After repeated torture sessions, Tan said he was hung by handcuffs for more than five hours. On June 2, Tan said he was tied to a post and burned about his legs 13 times with a red-hot iron rod, urging him to give up Falun Gong.
Tan escaped the camp soon after and fled to Hong Kong, where he sneaked aboard a cargo ship headed to Long Beach, Calif.
"He didn't even know where the ship was going," Xiong said.
After two weeks of living in a crate at sea, Tan said he caught a ride with someone headed to Florida on Interstate 10 and was dropped off in Houston. Houston police directed him to the Star of Hope shelter.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers in the 1990s with a blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi.
Thousands of followers are in jails and labor camps and tens of thousands have been arrested and pressured to renounce the group in the government crackdown. Falun Gong says many followers have been tortured and that 250 have been killed, including 50 in the last month.
The government banned Falun Gong as a threat to Communist Party rule and Chinese society.
"On one hand, we'd like people (in Houston) to help Mr. Tan, but also we'd like everyone to know what is going on in China," Xiong said. "We hope this will spur some kind of action to alleviate the situation in China."
Xiong said Tan intends to return to China some day. His immigration status in the United States is uncertain, but Xiong said he is hopeful Tan can stay based on religious persecution by his native government.
"Basically, he is not sure quite what to do," Xiong said. "His plans are not very definite."
In many ways, the last two years of Louise Huang's life has mirrored the plot lines of George Orwell's novel, "1984."
A totalitarian state tried to erase her spiritual belief system. Her disillusion quickly provoked virulent cruelty. Her purported crime? State subversion.
Huang practices Falun Gong, benevolent spiritual teachings derived from Chinese traditions. On July 20, 1999, the communist Chinese government outlawed its doctrines.
From that point on, China unleashed unbridled and vehement repression; blows of fist and feet, pervasive surveillance, detainment, brainwashing, brisk pressure to renounce subversive beliefs, and for some, death.
China is bent upon squeezing Huang and other Falun Gong practitioners into submissive control.
Huang refuses to relinquish. She endured imprisonment and torture for the decision, but found a way out last summer. In July 2000, she fled China and came to live with her brother and his family in Fairport.
Two years later, countless more remain in her native country and the repression continues.
"Their basic rights of existence are in danger," Huang said of her fellow practitioners in China. (Her brother, Weidong Huang, translated for his sister). "But I have the forum for them. I can stand up to speak for them.
She walked from New York City to Washington, D.C., over the past weeks, sharing her stories with those she passed. Over the weekend in D.C., she joined thousands who protested the two-year anniversary of China's crackdown on Falun Gong and its peaceful practitioners.
They beseeched their representatives to stop the injustice.
Huang's brother, his wife, and Penfield practitioner, Helen Chou, left for the Washington protest Wednesday from Perinton Park. They presided over a brief ceremony, calling attention to the problem.
Amnesty International sponsored the local send-off. The organization has called for the immediate release of all of the jailed practitioners in China.
"This is such an important issue because the persecution of the practitioners of Falun Gong in China is so severe," said Chris Dygert, coordinator for the Rochester Chapter of Amnesty International.
Sally Poole Gonzalez, a local resident, said she first learned of the problem a year ago from a Wall Street Journal article. The article exposed the death of a practitioner while in police custody. She said she was appalled.
"I wanted to see what I could do as an American to help out," she said of her attendance at the event.
More than 250 practitioners have died in police custody, the victims of brutality and deprivation, Huang charges. The Chinese authorities have said the deaths are the result of medical ailments.
A Web site listing recent deaths flashes portraits of mainly young, innocuous looking Chinese citizens.
The situation is urgent, Huang said. Banners reading, "SOS Urgent: Rescue Falun Gong Practitioners Persecuted in China," and pins could be seen throughout the Washington protest.
Locally, about 10 people gathered to call attention to the situation.
"When I heard about the persecution and abridgement of human rights of the practitioners of Falun Gong, I felt it was important to make my voice and our community's voice known," Brighton Town Supervisor Sandy Frankel said at the local event.
A step toward amity
Huang journeyed nearly 200 miles on foot to make her voice known. She left from New York City July 3.
Those she met offered support. Some knew nothing of her situation. Many were incredulous.
A man in his 50s cried after he read a flyer Huang handed him. It described the death of a Chinese women and her 8-month-old child while in police custody. He hugged her.
Another women stopped her car and shook Huang's and her marching companion's hands. Restaurant owners offered free drinks and food to those on the trek.
"Even though I can't understand English, I could obviously see from their hearts they are kind hearted and righteous minded," Huang said.
Many asked what they could do to help. Huang directed them to write to their congressmen, sign petitions and stay informed.
"They all said, 'Don't be afraid in our country, because you have the freedom to practice your belief,'" she said.
Huang attempted similar outward protest in her native China. Chinese authorities were not as welcoming. They offered no hugs or handshakes, only imprisonment and brutality.
When the Chinese government first announced its ban on Falun Gong in July 1999, she left her native Guangdong province and traveled to Beijing to protest the decision. She planned to file a formal appeal with the government, a right Huang said is guaranteed under the Chinese constitution.
She arrived in Beijing and booked a hotel room. She never made it to the appeal office.
"The police basically broke into the hotel and arrested me because they thought I was a practitioner," she said.
Authorities shipped her back to the Guangdong province, where local authorities interrogated her for seven hours upon her arrival. She was in a small room surrounded by five policemen. They asked her for names of other practitioners, and how many she knew within the area.
They tried to force her to write a confession, agree not to appeal the state's crackdown and not to practice Falun Gong.
"They told me I can no longer have my belief," she said.
She would not acquiesce. She remained indignant.
"I feel I didn't commit any wrongdoing as a citizen. All the things I did, did not violate the law," she said. "I feel I'm a law-abiding citizen. I refused to answer their questions."
Police threatened to send her to jail. In the interrogation, Huang said she realized police had tapped her phones. She signed a quasi-statement, she said, simply to get out of there.
A work supervisor escorted her home.
She would continue to practice, she would continue to appeal, and she would continue to suffer for it.
Huang said she was never left alone again.
Police monitored and harassed her. At work, where she coordinated activities for the Communist Youth Party, supervisors asked her to write a statement of thoughts denouncing Falun Gong. She told them she must write for the truth, she said.
She asked for vacation days, and a supervisor informed her the police said she was not allowed to leave the area. Thousands of other practitioners endured the same treatment. The government began a caustic propaganda campaign against the practice.
Huang's frustration mounted. By October of that same year, she made another appeal. She would be detained nearly a month this time.
"I decided to go to Beijing again to appeal for the unjustified situation," she said.
She made it to the appeal office, but she never reached an official. Police confronted and arrested her in the building. They sent her to a local detention center.
Authorities detained her for 12 days. Huang and other cell mates staged a hunger strike during the ordeal. Shortly after the detained refused to eat, police came into the cell and pulled out a white-haired older woman from Beijing who was participating in the hunger strike.
Police later returned the women with blood dripping from her nostrils. Huang said authorities had shoved two plastic tubes up her noise and forced a salt water solution into her stomach through the tubes.
"Her face was paper white," Huang recalled.
The women was their example to stop the hunger strike.
Huang was transferred to another cell. She watched as police beat a male practitioner in that cell, she said.
She was sent home and held in a detention center there for another 15 days.
Her spirit would not be broken.
"No matter how much trepidation or difficulty I will go through, I firmly believe Falun Gong is good," Huang said.
After her release, she was expelled from the Communist Party. She lost her job. The authorities asked her family, with whom she lived, to sign a letter attesting she would not appeal government decisions again. Huang said her family had little choice but to sign.
Police warned her if she appealed again, she would be sent to labor camps.
Yet, she continued to practice Falun Gong.
Two months after her release, she sat in the home of a fellow practitioner. They conversed and prepared a meal. Police broke through the door, Huang said, and charged each person in attendance with disturbing the public order.
Authorities sent her to a labor camp for 15 days. She weaved baskets at the camp, and was forced to walk 15 to 16 hours a day, she said. The prison uniforms were dirty and unwashed, she said. She ate rice and a few vegetables.
"The conditions were cruel," she said.
She was arrested so suddenly, her family didn't know what had happened to her. They went to local authorities to ask of their daughter. The police told them nothing, Huang said.
"This time, I could feel we are losing more and more of our rights to practice Falun Gong," she said.
The crackdown increases
In America, her brother watched and read the reports coming out of China. The crackdown had increased at the beginning of last year, and so too had his worry.
"We knew the persecution was brutal," Weidong Huang said.
He called her at home, but decided it was too risky because of police taps. In China, his sister was about to undergo the harshest of her detainments.
She traveled to Tiananmen Square in June 2000. She ruled out another appeal, and decided to protest by conducting Falun Gong exercises in the square.
She was quickly arrested, and thrown into jail - again.
There, the violence reached its harshest tone. She watched as police forcefully beat a male practitioner in her cell.
The practitioner refused to give his name. A group of four police officers began punching and kicking him, she said. The beating continued for 10 minutes. Police dragged the man to another room and continued beating him, Huang said.
He screamed in pain, calling for help in desperation, she said. Police brought the man back to the room. He was bloody and bruised, hunched over and vomiting, Huang said.
Police transferred her to a basement room. About 30 others were in the room. The males were handcuffed to a water pipe. Police asked Huang her name. She refused to tell it. They told her to face the wall and spread her legs apart.
"He punched my back with his fist," she said of her interrogator.
She wouldn't talk.
"I didn't tell them my name because I refused to bow to the violence," she said.
She was jailed for two days. Police recognized her accent and sent her back to her providence.
Huang had not told her parents she left for Tiananmen Square. When their daughter returned, the family planned a trip out of town. They worried for her safety.
The Public Security Bureau denied Huang's visa. Huang was not allowed to leave the country. She plotted a clandestine escape, but would not provide details because she said she did not want to incriminate those who helped her.
By July, she was free and at her brother's Fairport home.
Her voice has only grown louder in America.
"One voice is small," she said. "One hundred voices is still very small. Ten thousand voices you can maybe just start to hear. One million voices, then everybody around the world will hear."
Falun Gong is an ancient form of qigong, the practice of refining the body and mind through special exercises and meditation.
It consists of self-improvement through studying founder Li Hongzhi's teachings, and performing five gentle exercises, including seated meditation. At the heart of the practices are the supreme principles of the universe; truthfulness, benevolence, and forbearance.
Through a combination of studying the books and performing the exercises, practitioners strive to become better people by embodying these principles in everything they do.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
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