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Painting away persecution

A painter’s gentle brush strokes will deliver a message today against religious persecution to USF.

The artwork of Zhang Cuiying, a traditional Chinese painter, will be exhibited in the Marshall Center Ballroom. Cuiying has held exhibitions in 20 countries around the world.Traditional Chinese painting focuses on inner beauty and slow meditative brush strokes. It also combines painting with calligraphy and poetry.

The event is hosted by practitioners of Falun Gong, a form of self-improvement involving five gentle exercises and meditation. It is known by its practitioners for its ability to heal.

Cuiying is a practitioner of Falun Gong. The practice saved her art career after arthritis almost paralyzed her, said Franklin Cui, the organizer of the event. She was jailed in China for eight months after showing her support for the practice.

The purpose of the event is to stop persecution and spread awareness, according to Cui, who is studying civil engineering as a graduate student at USF.

He said thousands of Chinese are imprisoned and tortured because they practice Falun Gong.

The Chinese government outlawed the practice of Falun Gong in 1999. According to an August report, the Chinese government has called the organization an “evil cult” that is “a threat to civilized society all over the world.” The article also said the Chinese government has blamed thousands of deaths on Falun Gong. The government claims these deaths are the result of followers refusing medical care.

“There are a lot of fabricated cases by the Communist Party,” Cui said.

According to Cui, the teachings of Falun Gong do not encourage people to refuse hospital treatment.

He said he does, however, believe in the healing power of Falun Gong. He said it cured his insomnia.

“The key issue of Falun Gong is that you have to change your heart to be a better person,” said Cui. “Then you can be free of illness.”

Cui is president of a student organization called Falun Dafa that has three active members. The organization educates people of Falun Gong’s practice. He said that Falun Gong can be summed up in three words: truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.

The exhibition begins at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony and two guest speakers. Janet Blair, a resource specialist for the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, and Lisa Raphael, an author and Holocaust survivor, will speak.

Blair said she plans to speak about the center. She said she also plans to speak in support of human rights.

She said her organization serves a large number of refugees from all over the world. Many of them are victims of “politically motivated torture.”

Raphael, who was originally from Vienna, said she plans to talk about the history of “persecuting anyone who represents truth and compassion.”

Raphael practices Falun Gong. She compares the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, partly because of countries’ refusal to act on the matter.

“If the world had not been blind to the abuse, it would not have been so severe,” Cuiying said.

Cui said that the Chinese government is concerned because the number of practitioners of Falun Gong is greater than the number of members in the Communist Party.

“I think the Communist Party cannot tolerate a group they cannot control.” Cui said.

Raphael said both Falun Gong and the Nazi Party used the swastika as a symbol.

Because of this, it makes the historic similarities even more poignant, Raphael said.

“Falun Gong uses a left-facing swastika as a symbol. This represents good fortune, well-being and the light of spiritual truth,” Raphael said. “The right-facing swastika represents darkness, misfortune and suffering.”

The art exhibit runs until 4 p.m. and is part of Cuiying’s U.S. tour. The artist is spending seven days in Florida.

Raphael said she believes in the power of art to transform suffering and take it to a level that bypasses cultural barriers.