Falun GongDespite the misty rain, the small gathering of Falun Gong practitioners kept candles lit for their vigil on busy Ala Moana.
to the world
At its first isle vigil,
a practitioner says persecution
drives the group into politics
By Mary Adamski
A few passersby strolled over to look at the display of photos of people who have been imprisoned or killed in China because they are members of the meditation group.
About 20 local practitioners of the physical and mental discipline sat in silence, except to answer an occasional query.
Although they may be seen in city parks doing slow tai chi-like postures, this was the first time that the local Falun Gong sought a higher profile, stretching identifying banners along the street.
The Tuesday night demonstration matched vigils in several cities around the globe. They aimed to spotlight a United States resolution expressing concern about China's shortcomings in civil and religious rights. Debate on the motion before the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva was thwarted Wednesday by China and its supporters.
The demonstration was a rare step into the political arena, said local spokesman Martin Larsson. "The Falun Gong is nonpolitical. It is (Chinese president) Jiang Zemin who brought it into politics." Larsson said there have been 192 recorded deaths of Falun Gong members in China, most within the past five months as the government has escalated its attacks on practitioners. There have been 50,000 people detained or imprisoned just because they practice the discipline, he said.
Larsson and others took turns answering questions about Falun Gong, which most Americans know about only in terms of news briefs and photo captions from China. "China had a long tradition of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, but no one taught it lately," said Larsson, a Brigham Young University-Hawaii student from Sweden.
When Li Hongzhi began teaching Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, in 1992, he combined elements of the Eastern philosophies, meditation, exercise practices that are believed to focus energy, and basic principles of righteousness. Li left China in 1994 and now lives in New York.
Larsson said the government originally accepted the movement until, "by their own figures, they found there were 70 million. The numbers threatened the government and they declared it illegal."
FALUN GONG was banned after a peaceful demonstration by about 10,000 members in Beijing in April 1999. It was the largest manifestation of dissent in the capital since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstration in Tiananmen Square. The government now attacks the movement as a cult.
"Falun Dafa is not a religion, it tells a way of life good for every people," said Leung Yu "Tony" Ting. "We are here to wake up people wandering in darkness to let them know this is a way of life that works. Master Li taught cultivation of body and mind together.
"We just talk about these three principles," he said, pointing to their T-shirts, which proclaimed "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance."
Ting, who was a high school teacher in Canton and now is a property manager, said it offers a new focus in life for people. "We had great teachers in China who were affected by Buddhism and Taoism ... (but) we were taught by the government to learn to follow the Communists.
"Now, the crime rate is high, people are consumed by materialism, the mentality has gone down, down, down. We cultivate truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. Only that will bring back the mentality of people," said Ting.
"We don't have a church or a temple or an office. When get together in the park, we don't know each other's last name," he said.
Larsson said, "You won't hear Falun Gong practitioners say anything about another religion." He said there is no element of worshipping a divinity involved. When the local members talk about their beliefs, it is in terms of "cultivation" of the desired principles in their lives. Li instructs people in his books and lectures not to profit from the spread of his teaching.
"People in society are sliding downward on moral issues," said Larsson. "We have got to slow down, make the bad effects stop."
Ting said "I love China," but he will not return for a visit because he could expect persecution.
He said the long arm of the Chinese government reaches here. A cameraman videotaped people performing the exercises at the Chinese Cultural Plaza last year and refused to identify himself.
TING AND BRIAN SUN, a computer software technician, said they believe the film is in the Chinese government's hands and would be used to identify Falun Gong members if they try to enter China.
"I would like to return to visit my mother, but my wife says 'No, you wouldn't come back,'" said Sun, who was a university professor in China and has been in the United States for 10 years.
He said he receives e-mail spam and viruses which he believes are sent from China by opponents of Falun Gong.
Sun met with aides of the four Hawaii Congress members in Washington, D.C., in January in an effort to educate them about the movement and the human rights violations in China.