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Panelists discuss cultural freedom in China


A documentary regarding the injustices that were inflicted on the citizens of China was presented Tuesday at the Marshall Student Center.

The screening, hosted by the USF Falun Dafa Cultivation Society and sponsored by Student Government, was followed by a panel discussion on the film.

“Free China: The Courage to Believe” is a film by Michael Perlman that examines the communist regime of China. It follows the story of Jennifer Zeng and the persecution she felt for practicing Falun Gong, a philosophy rooted in traditional Chinese values.

The documentary also discussed the issues of forced labor, organ theft and information suppression.

Maureen Gamrecki, the moderator of the panel discussion and a follower of Falun Gong, said the spiritual practice of Falun Gong, which teaches truth, compassion and tolerance, has lead thousands of other Chinese citizens to be imprisoned.

“The communist regime believes in total power control,” she said. “The tolerance of beliefs are antithetical to the communist regime approach — they felt threatened.”

In the documentary, Zeng said she was sentenced to a reformation camp and subjected to forced labor and torture. Upon appealing her sentence, her request was denied and she was beaten into submission by electrified batons.

She said she would have had no hope of leaving the camp until she renounced her faith and accepted Marxism and atheism as the correct worldview.

However, according to information presented at Tuesday’s event, the extent of persecution for some goes beyond imprisonment.

According to a report by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China, the Chinese government has been harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners, often while they are still alive. Much of the demand for these organs comes from abroad.

“This is real,” Gamrecki said. “This isn’t a Hollywood movie.”

Furthermore, the report said “reformation” is often through labor camps.

According to the film, forced labor makes up a large portion of the Chinese economy. A large portion of the products, such as Christmas lights and Homer Simpson slippers, are exported to the U.S., the film stated.

Zeng, after one year in reformation, wrote an official statement denouncing her beliefs. She later gained asylum in Australia after fleeing her country.

Zeng went on to write a book about the injustices of China and the benefit of Falun Gong. It became an international best seller and played a role in promoting human rights in China.

An opportunity for freedom in China comes from the Internet, another discussion panelist, Xue Sherwood, said. Although the Chinese government has censored the majority of media, citizens are still finding ways to get uncensored information. Currently, Sherwood said, New Tang Dynasty Television and Epoch Times has led the way for the uncensored domestic information.

“When the people know what is happening, that information can save…the truth can set people free,” Sherwood said.

The documentary also encouraged the international community to get involved. China is currently the world’s second largest economy and is heavily involved in trade with the U.S., potentially complicating diplomacy, Gamrecki said.

“We all make money off of it in the short term, but in the long term it won’t be beneficial,” she said. “To deal with a free, open China, with real entrepreneurs that have faith in the work they are doing, that is the business that you want to do in the long term.”

The documentary argues that America, as a leader in the free world, has a responsibility to convince China about the virtues of democracy.

“In the last few years, we’ve gotten a lot of congressional notice,” Sherwood said. “But there’s a lot we can still do.”

Oana McKinney, a representative of the Falun Dafa Cultivation Society, said she hopes the documentary will start a grassroots movement. She said much of the responsibility falls onto the youth’s ability to spread the word with social media.

“Maybe they can help if they spread the information about the persecution in China,” McKinney said. “… Little steps can help.”