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
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 Zhus 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
The Falun Dafa Association of Concordia subsequently took part in Montreals
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 Gongs
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.