The Falun Gong unveiled the horrors of the persecution they suffer under the Chinese government in an art exhibit during the second Students' Union Political Action Week.
Falun Gong is an ancient form of qigong, a practice that cultivates the mind, body and spirit through diligent study of the principles of truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. Practitioners follow a set of five gentle physical exercises and claim that practicing Falun Gong can improve health by reducing stress and increasing energy, mental clarity and peace of mind.
The practice gained so much popularity after it was first introduced by founder Li Hongzhi in 1992 that the number of Falun Gong practitioners within China reached over 70 million in 1999. In the same year, there were Falun Gong practitioners in more than 50 countries worldwide, according to a report from the United Nations' Falun Gong Human Rights Working Group.
Initially, the Chinese government recognized and acknowledged the benefits of practicing Falun Gong, even allowing the state-controlled media to advocate Falun Gong's mental, spiritual and physical principles. Encouragement to follow Falun Gong practice, however, was short-lived.
Threatened by Falun Gong's widespread popularity, the Chinese government instituted a ban on books about Falun Gong beliefs and practice in 1996. Violence broke out on April 23, 1999 when armed police forces beat and arbitrarily arrested Falun Gong practitioners in the city of Tianjin.
Winston Liu is a University of Calgary mechanical engineering PhD student who was arrested and detained several times in China for practicing Falun Gong. In 2001, both Liu and his wife, Yao Yue, were arrested for downloading and disseminating material about the Falun Gong. They were sentenced to three and 12 years in jail, respectively. During his time in jail, Liu said he was interrogated until fatigued and suffered various forms of torture, including sleep deprivation and physical abuse with an electric baton. He was also forced to sign documents recanting his faith.
"After, you can't endure anymore, your brain just collapses," said Liu, noting he was afraid the Chinese government would produce a video of him--a former student of China's top university--having gone insane as material for Chinese propaganda.
According to the United Nations Falun Gong Human Rights Working Group, part of the Chinese government's disinformation campaign includes telling the public that Falun Gong causes people to die or go insane.
Official persecution of the Falun Gong began in July 1999 when the practice was outlawed as a cult. Since then, the UN has reported over 100,000 practitioners, including pregnant women, the elderly and young children have been sent to labour camps without trial. Those accused can be sentenced to up to 18 years in jail and it has been reported that many may suffer torture at the hands of their captors.
"It's like back in the Cultural Revolution," said Friends of Falun Gong club member and fourth-year geology student Jenny Yang.
Before coming to Canada, Yang said she had to denounce the Falun Gong in schools and in the workplace for fear of persecution. Even an ocean away, Yang cannot escape hatred of the Falun Gong.
"Sometimes I still get harassment phone calls--all the way from China," Yang remarked.
Despite continued persecution, practitioners of Falun Gong, both within and outside China, risk apprehension in their quest to reveal the brutal realities facing fellow practitioners.
The SU displayed artwork painted by Falun Gong practitioners in MacEwan Student Centre Tues., Mar. 6.
Throughout the day, the gallery drew crowds of onlookers who were silenced by the graphic paintings of Falun Gong being tortured for their beliefs.
"The painting is very touching with the baby by the mother's side," commented a visiting physics professor from Stony Brook University on a painting of a Falun Gong mother and her baby who were beaten to death. "If this happens, I mean, really, this baby had nothing to do with the Falun Gong. Either the government is exaggerating or the painting is exaggerating because it's impossible to kill a baby of seven months."