The excessive caution many people show with respect to Falun Gong has the same source as the non-appearance of politicians when the Dalai Lama visits. That source is fear of what the Chinese authorities may do to them. For an American like myself, probably the worst possible is a harassing phone call from the Chinese embassy or denial of a visa. Since my research is about China, I value the opportunity to go there. But I do not believe that a free person in a free country should act differently than they would be inclined to, out of fear of a foreign autocracy. But many do.
It is an idea with staying power. A belief as old as Chinese civilization itself, having resonated with a stunning range of dynasties, provinces, and personalities. To generations has it spoken. In the very substrate of China’s culture is it firmly embedded.
Westerm citizens with little or no knowledge of how China differs from countries governed by the “Rule of Law” typically react naïvely and inappropriately to reports about the Beijing regime’s suppression of Falun Gong. Some suggest that Falun Gong practitioners have contravened Chinese laws and therefore have only themselves to blame for their problems; others ask why practitioners do not hire Chinese human rights lawyers to defend them or even to bring lawsuits on their behalf against officials who have illegally seized their property or inflicted torture upon them.
WHAT was meant to be a look at an egregious human rights violation turned into a stunning show of incivility—a breakdown of all values and practices that New York’s most prestigious university holds dear. For two hours last Friday, the Columbia University community was given a chilling glimpse at one Chinese export America can decidedly do without: hatred.
It used to be you could hardly turn a corner in China without a taste of Falun Gong. Practitioners filled the nation’s parks at the break of dawn for their Tai-chi-like exercises. Its texts, regularly bestsellers, lined the shelves of Wangfujing’s bookstores. And in the summer of 1999, countless adherents filled the streets of China’s capital in protest of an unlawful ban that would soon to morph into what leading human rights attorneys have called “genocide.”
BEIJING is preparing to host the 2008 Olympics. But if what I was told there recently by former prisoners is true, the civilized world must shun China.