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September 13, 2001 Falun Gong student held 33 days in China




by Barbara Black

Ying Zhu, a 35-year-old undergraduate student in international business at Concordia, was held for 33 days in solitary confinement when she tried to visit her ailing mother in Gaungzhou, China, apparently because she belongs to a new religious movement.

Zhu held a press conference June 22, on her return to Montreal, and subsequently walked from Montreal to Ottawa to draw attention to the plight of fellow Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, practitioners.

Falun Gong prescribes a program of medication and exercise as a means to achieve health and serenity. Concordia has an active branch of the movement.

At her press conference in June, Zhu said that support from Canadians had probably helped secure her release, and singled out Concordia for praise. Rector Frederick Lowy wrote a letter of protest to the Chinese government when he heard of Zhu’s imprisonment.

Just before travelling to the mainland, she had taken part in a demonstration in Hong Kong to protest the suppression of the Falun Gong movement in China. The organization is regarded by Chinese officials as a dangerous cult.

The Falun Dafa Association of Concordia subsequently took part in Montreal’s Canada Day parade on July 1. It was led by Ying Zhu, carrying a large Canadian flag. She also took part in a walk from Montreal to Ottawa in support of persecuted fellow practitioners.

The Falun Gong movement was started in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, known as “Master Li.” It goes back to the traditional Chinese concept of qigong (qi means vital energy, and gong, to practice or cultivate).

As the movement has grown, the opposition of the Chinese government has increased. After a surprise demonstration in Beijing in early 1999 by 10,000 adherents, the movement was banned. Since then, a number of people have died as a result of their affiliation with Falun Gong by refusing medical treatment or committing suicide; exact numbers are hard to determine.

While Falun Gong has no priests or administrators, its adherents have mounted an effective publicity campaign in support of Ying Zhu and others, garnering the support of influential Westerners, including Canadian MPs and the governor-general.

Religion Professor Susan J. Palmer, who specializes in the study of new religions, has been looking closely at Falun Gong for several years. In an essay posted by montrealgazette.com on June 9, she wrote about a Falun Gong “experience-sharing conference” she attended in Ottawa in May, at which Master Li made a surprise appearance.

“The novel aspect of this event was that Master Li was urging his disciples to stop being victimized, and to participate in a cosmic war that is being waged on many planes,” Professor Palmer wrote.

“The experience-sharing speeches I heard just a year ago tended to focus on miraculous healings, on resolving conflicts at home or at work, on moral reform through upgrading. Now, the overriding concern [is] to ‘suffocate the evil.’

“This is understandable, considering the extraordinary cruelty and violence perpetrated against these sincere and upright people, their families and friends. There is a heroic, inspiring aspect to Falun Gong’s brave struggle for justice.

“And yet — I find something appalling in the fact that more than 200 people have chosen to place themselves in a situation where they have died horrible, painful deaths.”