On April 25 eighteen years ago, together with ten thousand-plus Falun Gong practitioners, I stood quietly on Fuyou Street outside the Zhongnanhai Communist Party leadership compound in Beijing, where the Appeals Office of the State Council is located—the office the regime has established where people could complain of official misconduct.
It was a warm and sunny spring day; and the temperature was just about right, not too hot and not too cool. Although many people were there, it didn’t feel that way. Everybody just stood quietly. Most of the time, I was reading my “Zhuan Falun,” a book I always carried with me that lays out the core teachings of Falun Gong, which are based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
I felt very calm. Never did I realize what that day and that appeal would mean to China and to the world in the years to come. On the evening of April 25, the then-head of the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter to top officials warning that the practitioners’ appeal was a “new signal” of a movement that threatened the Communist Party; in July he would order a campaign to eradicate the practice of Falun Gong.
On the day before, I heard from a fellow Falun Gong practitioner that He Zuoxiu, a Chinese Communist Party propagandist who covered culture and science, had just published an article slandering Falun Gong. Many Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin City had protested this article. They wanted the public to know it was full of lies and asked that it be retracted. They ended up being beaten and arrested.
The police and authorities in Tianjin then told practitioners that this affair could only be resolved by appealing to the central government. Therefore, many practitioners decided to go to the Appeals Office in Beijing to express their concerns.
After reading He Zuoxiu’s article, I also decided to go.
At that time I had been practicing Falun Gong for nearly two years and had regained my health and found the real meaning of my life. I firmly believed that this practice could only be beneficial to everyone and every society. However, He Zuoxiu’s unfair and vicious attacks on Falun Gong could undermine people’s opportunity to benefit from it. Therefore, I took responsibility to do what I could to stop those attacks.
For me, the decision-making process was as simple as that. However, on the morning of April 25, while watching so many practitioners walking quietly down the street in front of me, I couldn’t help shedding tears. I didn’t understand why I was crying. I only vaguely felt that I was deeply moved, and very proud.
Perhaps, on some deeper level I had a premonition about exactly what these Falun Gong practitioners were destined to go through, and about the marvelous courage and magnificent deeds they would display for many, many years to come.
I later learnt that many people had left notes before they left home in the morning in case something happened to them. Behind the calmness and quietness of that day, was the courage to let go of life and death.
What does Chinese society lack today? Isn’t it exactly the kind of people who have the moral courage to uphold justice and to sacrifice for others without much hesitation or calculation?
Some Chinese claimed that these practitioners were involved in politics; some said that they were stupid; some also believed that there was no chance to challenge people in power.
Eighteen years have thus passed amongst misunderstandings and misgivings. However, eighteen years afterward, when we look back at that day, we see more clearly the significance of it.
Those were a group of people who looked ordinary and simple, but had actually gained greater wisdom and courage. They had found the meaning of life and, without hesitation or a single backward glance, silently chose to shoulder the grave responsibilities of upholding justice and the truth.
For this, some of them have lost their lives, homes, or families; some have been imprisoned and tortured; some have been murdered for their organs; and some have to live in exile. They have been tormented, defamed, and ridiculed.
The same silent courage and serene calmness displayed for the first time to the world on April 25 eighteen years ago has accompanied them and enabled them to rise above the most ruthless repression in human history. Their example has brought hope and brightness to a world full of despair and darkness. They are changing China, and will change the world.
Jennifer Zeng is the author of “Witnessing History: One Chinese Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong.” Before being persecuted in China for her faith, she was a researcher and consultant in the Development Research Center of the State Council, the State Cabinet. Her story is featured in the award-winning documentary, “Free China; the Courage to Believe,” co-produced by New Tang Dynasty Television and World2Be Productions.