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Wednesdays at 8.30am, repeated at 8.00pm


Falun Gong crackdown continues
27 November  2002 

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Falun Gong practitioner Jennifer Zeng was arrested in Beijing in 2000, and was detained and tortured for twelve months in a labour camp. After her release, she fled to Australia. In October this year, Jennifer submitted a lawsuit in the UN and the International Criminal Court, charging Chinese President Jiang Zemin with implementing "state terrorism" against Falun Gong. Jennifer Zeng tells her story this week.

Program Transcript

Stephen Crittenden: Welcome to The Religion Report.

On the program today: a really extraordinary interview on a subject that we’ve perhaps paid too little attention to during a tumultuous year, and that’s the Chinese spiritual and meditative movement, Falun Gong, and the intense and ongoing crackdown against Falun Gong in China over the past three years.

And in major cities in Australia, you may have seen the silent protests by Falun Gong members outside Chinese Embassies and Consulates, which have continued over many, many months.

Falun Gong has been described as a sinister religious cult, but its members and supporters say that it’s no more than a meditative practice based on a series of breathing exercises, and they point out that it has as its central principles the ideas of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.

Certainly Falun Gong and its American leader, Li Hong Ji, have been critical of the Chinese Communist regime. It seems hard to imagine that a silent protest of 10,000 people in Tiananmen Square could have been read as anything other than a political provocation.

Well today on the program, we hear the story of a Falun Gong member who’s been the victim of the Chinese government’s barbaric crackdown. Jennifer Zeng is living in Melbourne, and she’s applied for refugee status in Australia after enduring months of torture in a Chinese forced labour camp throughout much of the year 2000. Here in Australia, Jennifer’s actively campaigning to draw attention to the persecution of her fellow practitioners, which is still going on in China.

A few weeks ago her husband, who’s still in China, was arrested by the authorities – perhaps because she and a number of other Falun Gong members have commenced an action against Jiang Zemin in the International Criminal Court.

Jennifer Zeng told her harrowing story to Lyn Gallacher.

Jennifer Zeng: To be frank, the first time I read [the book of Li Hong Ji], there was only one sentence on the first page of the book, which says that Master Li says [that] in the whole world, it is only he who is teaching something of a high level. And I felt a little bit not very comfortable toward this sentence. But when I continue reading the book, and when I get to page four, I was suddenly attracted by what he was talking about. Then I forgot about criticising anything about him any more, because I felt all this mysteries, this heavenly secrets that I was looking after for all those years, came to me suddenly. So I forgot about criticising his teachings.

Lyn Gallacher: Why is the Chinese government so upset about the practice of Falun Gong in China?

Jennifer Zeng: I believe and most people believe too, it is because the practice spread too fast, and the population are just within seven years, the practitioners outnumbered that of the Communist party members. Because the effect is really amazing, and this kind of miracle does not only happen to me, it happened to many other people. So we actually before the crackdown, Falun Gong never did any advertisement or propaganda or anything. Just through mouth and words, it spread very fast, and the number of the practitioners is really really large. And that, maybe, aroused some worrying among the authorities.

Lyn Gallacher: Now, what happened to lead up to your arrest?

Jennifer Zeng: In December in 1999, I heard there was going to be a court trial about four Falun Gong members, so I thought I’d like to go there and to listen to the trial. So I went, and again before I actually reached the court, there was many, many police standing on the street, and I asked one of them whether there’s a trial today. And he asked me “what do you want to do?” I said “I want to listen to the trial”, and then again he asked me whether I was a Falun Gong practitioner. And I say “yes”, and this time I was arrested and then sent to the detention centre, and held there for 48 hours with all sorts of other criminal inmates there.

Lyn Gallacher: And then you were tried?

Jennifer Zeng: No, no there was no trial.

Lyn Gallacher: You were never tried?

Jennifer Zeng: No, I was never, never tried.

Lyn Gallacher: So tell us about the time in prison.

Jennifer Zeng: That was really, really unimaginably cruel. As soon as we arrived at the dispatch centre for the labour camp personnel, we were forced to lower down our head, all day long, and the first day we were there we were forced to squat under this scorching sunshine for more than 15 hours a day. And we must lower our heads, looking at our feet and motionless. Some practitioners just fainted away, and whenever you fainted away and left on the floor, the police just shock you to make you awake.

Lyn Gallacher: With electric batons?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, with electric batons. And I was also shocked until I was unconscious, and they dragged me, kicked me on the floor. And every day, from the second day on, every day we had to stand, standing with our heads looking at our feet for 16 hours a day, motionless, and we were never for one minute allowed to raise our head to look into the face of the police, or to talk to anybody. We must repeatedly recite out loud the regulations of the labour camp for 16 hours a day, and this kind of torture nearly made me insane, I just could not forebear this kind of torture. And I was held in the dispatching centre for 37 days in the hottest season. The temperature was more than 40 degrees, and in 37 days we were never given the chance to have a shower, to change or to wash our clothes. And every morning we had only two minutes to wash our hands and use the toilet, brush our teeth – altogether two minutes. So any time, any moment, we were under the most tightest pressure, the physical and the psychological pressure was just out of the imagination of any human, how they could treat people like that.

Lyn Gallacher: And you said some people died.

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, I knew of two cases myself. One is in the detention centre. That lady, I was held with her in the same cell for several hours, then she was separated from me. And because she went on a hunger strike to protest for her rights, and then they force-fed her, and during the process of force-feeding, she was killed. But at that time, we didn’t even know what’s her name, where did she come from. We only know that she was 45, and coming maybe from the north-east part of China, because she refused to tell the police her name or where she comes from, and so the police tortured her to death. And another one I met, a male practitioner in the labour camp, and his wife was also tortured to death in another detention centre in Beijing.

Lyn Gallacher: And they also practiced sleep deprivation, in order to make you renounce Falun Gong?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, that’s the cruellest method, one of the main method they use to make us sign. From October or November of 2000, whoever went to the labour camp must sign a statement to denounce Falun Gong. Whoever refused to sign, they just keep you awake for as long as – when I was there I know the longest period was 15 days, no sleep at all. And after I leave, I heard that the period was extended to one month, no sleep at all, just to keep you awake. They use other criminal inmates to watch you. Whenever you want to sleep, they just kick you or beat you up, to make you awake, and just to totally break you down mentally, to make you sign.

Lyn Gallacher: What happened to you under that process?

Jennifer Zeng: Well actually, from the first moment we were sent to the labour camp, we were at endless pressure to sign that paper. They don’t allow us to sleep, they force us to watch the propaganda material of the government, and they use other criminals to watch us, to torture us, in order to make us sign. And actually, I tried to withstand all this kind of thing for six months, before I finally felt it was too much, and gave in and signed.

Stephen Crittenden: You’re listening to The Religion Report on ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, and the world wide web. And we’re listening to an extended interview – indeed a piece of testimony – from Jennifer Zeng, a Falun Gong member who was tortured in a Chinese forced labour camp through much of the year 2000. She’s speaking to Lyn Gallacher.

Lyn Gallacher: And then they let you go?

Jennifer Zeng: No. Many people will think maybe they will give you some peace after you signed, but after I signed I found out the situation became worse for me, psychologically and mentally, because the purpose of the dignity of people is you can have your freedom of thinking. At least, if you don’t have freedom of acting, you can think, you can keep your mind to yourself. But they even rob you away of this kind of, the last thing to keep you as a human being. Even after I signed, they still watched me, monitored me, and asked me to write my thought reports to the police, they want to make sure that you really, really think Falun Gong is not good. And they expect me to reform, and asked me to help them to try to reform my fellow practitioners. If they think you are not reformed well enough to be released, you will still be kept there, so besides the pain of betraying my own consciousness and my own belief, I was also, I felt I have no freedom of thinking. And I felt so ashamed of myself, with such huge disgrace towards my own consciousness and my own dignity, and I dared not to say my real thoughts to the report.

And there are many times I was forced to watch them torture my fellow practitioners, I heard their screams when they were beaten up, and I really wanted to cry, but I dared not to show my sympathy. I was forced to act as if I didn’t care anything about Falun Gong any more, and this kind of torture nearly made me insane. I could hardly describe this kind of pain. To betray your own belief that you cherished most in your life, and to try to find a way out in such kind of a situation – you cannot tell the truth, at the same time you don’t want to tell a lie, because it is absolutely against the principle of Falun Gong to tell a lie. And I was forced to tell a lie. But that is the only time I was forced to tell a lie, after I practiced Falun Gong for all these years, that is when I signed and said I would give up. And to watch my fellow practitioners being tortured, and at the same time I dared not to show any sympathy, and that’s really the worst thing for me. A human being was deprived of their freedom of thinking, and of expressing, and they just want to rape you mentally, repeatedly, and that is worse than the electric shock for me.

Lyn Gallacher: So what happened when you were eventually released?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes. As soon as I stepped out of the gate of the labour camp, I found I was not welcomed by my family. My husband was there, together with my local police. The local police got a bus there, and took me directly to the police station. And they expected me to go to the brainwash classes to help them, to go there as an example of a reformed Falun Gong practitioner, to use me as a tool for them, to reform my fellow practitioners who refused to sign a statement, because there are not as many labour camps as they want them to be, because there are too many practitioners, they don’t have enough labour camps to hold all of them. So they set up all sorts of so-called brainwashing classes, to try to reform those who were not sent to the labour camps. So the local police expect me to go there. If I refused, they would regard me as not being reformed, and they would send me back to the labour camp right away. So I had to run away from my family, only five days after I was released from the labour camp.

After more than one year’s separation from my family, when my family needed me so, and I wanted so much to be with them, but I couldn’t. I had to run away, to avoid being used as a so shameful a tool, that’s a shame nearly killed me. I couldn’t.

Lyn Gallacher: So you eventually ran away to Australia?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

Lyn Gallacher: And how are you doing now?

Jennifer Zeng: I’m applying for refugee status, which I’m still waiting, and I cannot go back to China, and my family cannot come here, and that’s really a tragedy for me.

Lyn Gallacher: So you’re working on trying to raise awareness for the cause.

Jennifer Zeng: Yes. Actually when I arrived, when my airplane landed in Australian land, at the same time I felt very happy, because I know this is a free land, and I would be protected and I can practice my beliefs freely here. But at the same time, my heart was very heavy, because I knew that every minute, behind the walls of the labour camps, the jails, the detention houses, all throughout China, there are thousands and thousands of practitioners still there, and every minute they are suffering and maybe dying. When I was in the detention centre, the oldest was 83. And they also arrested blind people, paralysed people, disabled people, they spared no-one, and they tortured everybody, every Falun Gong practitioner, just want to force them to sign the statement. Because the police have their quota. Up to date, there are more than 1,000 practitioners were tortured to death in custody. So I couldn’t be really happy until this kind of persecution ends.

Lyn Gallacher: Are you getting help from Amnesty International and groups like that in Australia?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, Amnesty International and other human rights organisations such as the Human Rights Association here in Australia, and also a lot of government people. I know there are a lot of people trying to help us.

Lyn Gallacher: And you’re writing a book?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, I’m writing a book of my own story, because I felt that people outside China, and inside China as well, don’t really know what’s happening, especially what’s happening behind the walls of the jails. And I felt because, you know, now the Falun Gong issue has really become a worldwide hottest topic for this last three years, and many people are very concerned, very interested about Falun Gong issue. And I believe that in the future, the Falun Gong issue will influence many, many people, and I felt this is a very important historic issue in a sense, so I felt it’s my responsibility to write down something, to record something and to have people know what’s happening.

Before the crackdown, there were 100 million Falun Gong practitioners in China, and such a large-scale persecution never happened in the history before. So maybe people in the future would like to know in a more in-depth way what’s happening, why so many Falun Gong practitioners they are willing to sacrifice so much for the principles of truth, compassion and forbearance – and why they have the capability to suffer so much, and why the practitioners outside China are putting in so much effort trying to help with the situation. And up till now, there are only a few books about Falun Gong, and none of them are written by Falun Gong practitioners. So I felt maybe there would be very large interest, public interest about people. There are many people want to know, as Falun Gong practitioners, what they think, what they behave, how they react to the persecution and why they have the ability to insist, or to adhere, or why they choose to behave as they’re choosing. And I think it’s my responsibility to write something about that, because I have this story to tell.

Lyn Gallacher: I guess as you write your book, you must be surprised that this has happened to you.

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

Lyn Gallacher: Do you think that when you were at university studying a science degree, this is how your life would have turned out?

Jennifer Zeng: No, I never expected my life would turn out to be in such a way. When I was in university, I was thinking I would become a scientist or something. I never imagined that one day I would end up in a jail, and then trying to escape from my own country, and then trying to write a book. I never imagined my life would be this way. But I never feel any regret of my choosing this path of cultivation of Falun Gong. I feel it’s really very important to me, and I never regret this choice of me.

Lyn Gallacher: Jennifer, thank you very much.

Jennifer Zeng: Thank you.

Stephen Crittenden: Jennifer Zeng, speaking to Lyn Gallagher.

You’re listening to The Religion Report on ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, and the world wide web – well, perhaps not everywhere on the world wide web.

...................................

Falun Gong occupies an interesting place in Chinese history, which has seen other rebellious movements led by charismatic spiritual figures. The White Lotus Rebellion in 1796, the Taiping Rebellion of 1851, and the Boxer Rebellion of 1900: all were, in part, responses to the early throes of modernisation in China, and all were ruthlessly suppressed.

Dr John Wong is Reader in History at the University of Sydney, and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. And you may have heard him on Radio National’s marathon A Thousand Years in a Day, talking about the Boxer Rebellion. He says that in spite of some differences between these historical rebellions and Falun Gong, many of the rootcauses are the same, and the Chinese authorities are afraid of them.

John Wong is talking to David Rutledge.

John Wong: I would say it is a religious cult, and it is the latest of a very long series of religious cults that have happened in China from time immemorial. If you look at the two, or two and a half thousand years of written records of China, you will find that each time there is great social and economic distress, you would find this phenomenon, very similar to what we find today in the Falun Gong business. At the moment, China is going through phenomenal economic and social stress, because of the restructuring of the entire economic system in China. Whatever security was there in the life of ordinary people, is now out of the window. And in this great distress, people are looking for something that might give them some sense of security.

I’ll give you just one example. In the old days of Communist rule, there was medical care, everybody was guaranteed medical care. Now that medical care is gone. So if somebody comes along and says “I can offer you some simple forms of exercise, and then you feel all better”, then of course people feel very attracted. And once you are attracted to it, then it goes beyond simple physical exercise, you go into all sorts of things that we see in the Falun Gong phenomenon.

David Rutledge: How has it made that leap, though, from a practice of simple physical exercise, to what you would call a religious cult? If people are just practising deep breathing, then why is the government so up in arms against it?

John Wong: Ironically you mention the government, and I should say here that before April 1999, even the government supported the Falun Gong movement. Because if the Falun Gong people went around the place giving people peace of mind, giving them some better health, and the simple exercises and so on, then it would be welcomed by any government. Because the government itself realised that there can be great social upheaval because of the restructuring. The turning point came in April 1999, when suddenly one morning, without any previous warning, over 10,000 people gathered outside the compound where the top Chinese leaders live. And although you may call it a silent, peaceful, quiet demonstration, symbolically that was quite frightening for the Chinese authorities. First of all, there was no warning. Two: for people to sit outside the compound was a challenge to the authorities. Three: the sheer number of people that could be mobilised, without the government noticing anything, shows the ability of the Falun Gong movement to mobilise people. So really, from that point onwards, the government began to think of measures to cope with the situation.

Now I should add too, that even before the government took steps to suppress the Falun Gong movement, there were several incidences which had upset the government. One was Central Television, which is the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party. Central Television made an adverse comment on Falun Gong. The next day, after the comment was made, tens of thousands of Falun Gong members besieged Central Television, and demanded an apology and a correction of the statement. And at that time, the government didn’t really take it too seriously, and allowed Central Television to apologise. Now, can you imagine, in a state like China, where the word of the government is a command, and Central Television dishes out commands every day, and you go there, and make it apologise, that was a very serious challenge to government authority.

And there was another incident, in which a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences in China, who was a scientist, wrote something that said “look, wait a minute, this Falun Gong business is not very scientific”. And next day, tens of thousands of Falun Gong members besieged the university where this academic taught, besieged his home, pursued him everywhere. Now, that went on for several months, until finally the government decided that this challenge to government authority has to be dealt with.

David Rutledge: Well China, of course, has a history of people’s rebellions against repressive government, people’s rebellions run by spiritual or charismatic religious leaders. We know about the Boxer uprising, the Taiping Rebellion – is Falun Gong in any sense a continuation of this historical tradition?

John Wong: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that this is a pattern. Whenever there is great social distress, economic distress, you find people taking this form of action. So in that sense it is continuity. It is not continuity, because it bears no relationship to all these previous religious movements. The founder of Falun Gong claimed that it has gone on for 2,000 years, and just recently he has revealed the truth. Now, I don’t think this is the case, and there’s no evidence to support whatever claim he has made in that respect. It simply emerged out of present conditions of great distress.

Stephen Crittenden: Dr John Wong, Reader in History at Sydney University.

Well that’s all in this week’s program. Thanks to Michelle Goldsworthy for studio production.


Guests on this program:
Jennifer Zeng
Activist and Falun Gong practitioner
John Wong
Reader in History, University of Sydney
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