Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Free China: Falun Gong Courage in the Face of Persecution

Odds are excellent you have many products lying about the house that were assembled by Falun Gong practitioners.  The Chinese Communist Party forces millions of religious and political prisoners to serve as outright slave laborers.  Many victims of the so-called Laogai work camps are in fact Falun Gong practitioners.  Two such Laogai survivors tell their harrowing stories in Michael Perlman’s expos√©, Free China: the Courage to Believe (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Based on traditional Chinese Taoist and Buddhist beliefs, Falun Gong was not always prohibited by the Party.  In the movement’s early days, many Party mouthpieces even hailed practitioners’ healthy lifestyle.  However, despite the lack of an organized bureaucracy, when the estimated number of practitioners exceeded total CCP membership, the Party freaked.  Despite growing adherents within the military, the government responded much in the same fashion as it did at Tiananmen Square—with extreme brutality.

Jennifer Zeng was a Party member.  Dr. Charles Lee was an American citizen.  Both assumed their statuses would provide some protection, yet both were condemned to the Laogai system.  Soon after international activists secured his hard fought release, Dr. Lee found the very Homer Simpson slippers his work camp had manufactured in an American retailer.

While Perlman’s primarily focuses on the Falun Gong experience, he necessarily touches on human rights abuses that apply to all faiths and prisoners of conscience oppressed by the Party, including the Tiananmen crackdown, allegations of prison organ harvesting, and the notorious internet firewall.  Frankly, one would have liked to see Perlman pull a Michael Moore on Cisco executives, whose Chinese division regarded the intrusive Communist internet policing to be a swell business opportunity.

The testimony of Zeng and Lee is simply harrowing, encompassing tremendous physical and emotional torment.  Perlman also incorporates expert commentary from Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), probably the most principled human rights advocate in the U.S. Congress, and former Canadian MP David Kilgour, who left both the Conservative and Liberal Parties for reasons of principle.

Free China wants to end on an optimistic note, but it sadly feels like a bit of a stretch.  Yes, dissident Falun Gong supporters now have the means to report to the world the human rights abuses inside China, having founded NTD TV and the Epoch Times (which I proudly contribute to, in full disclosure).  Yet, the Party’s oppression continues unabated.  Since the current administration has essentially mortgaged our economic future to China, those like Rep. Smith who strive to alter the Party’s abhorrent behavior will have limited leverage for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, Free China is right on target diagnosing the problem.  Indeed, it does so with commendable economy, clocking-in at just a whisker over an hour.  A timely wake-up call, it should be seen by everyone who values the right to think and worship freely.  Recommended especially for younger New Yorkers, who must learn to appreciate these values, Free China: the Courage to Believe opens this Friday (6/7) in New York at the Quad Cinema.