(Clearwisdom.net) (Jade Magazine is a lifestyle magazine created by Asian women for English-speaking Asian women in the United States to share their views. This article is published in the second issue of this year)

Sha Quan would never have had a chance to explore the meditation movement called Falun Gong if she had stayed in China.

In fact, she hadn't heard of the movement, a practice that originated in China in 1992 seeking to bring better health and inner peace, until she moved to New York in the fall of 1997.

A regular graduate student at Hefei Technological University in her native Anhui Province, China, which suppresses organized religious groups, Sha had the slightest interest in any form of spiritual or physical movement although her father is an avid practitioner of Qigong, a collective term for Chinese movements to enhance body and mind through slow-motion exercise and meditation.

However, a casual dinner with a fellow Chinese student in a Brooklyn restaurant on an October day in 1997 changed her life.

A month after she moved to Brooklyn to pursue a doctorate in Molecular Biology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Sha, 29, was introduced by a schoolmate to the meditation movement over a discussion on faith. Eager to release stress from heavy school work and adjusting to a new culture, Sha tried to practice Falun Gong out of curiosity and has not stopped since.

"My thoughts have become so much clearer and my health has improved a great deal," Sha said, amazed at the transformation she made. "I have so much more energy and I look at the world and my life with a more positive perspective."

Falun Gong has become the most popular form of Qigong since its creator, Li Hongzhi, introduced the movement to the Chinese public in 1992. According to the movement's core teachings, stated in Li's book, Zhuan Falun, the principles of the practice are truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Practitioners strive to become better persons by carrying out the three principles.

"I consider myself a smart person," Sha said. "After I read the book, I did not see anything wrong with Falun Gong because what Master Li said in the book is all about the basic principles for human beings."

In the spring of 1998, Sha started to go to Central Park every Sunday to practice Falun Gong with others. In May 1999, she and her husband started a group in Prospect Park along with a schoolmate with hopes of getting more people interested in Falun Gong.

The responses from the passers-by have been encouraging. Before long, the group expanded to 10 to 12 people, mostly African Americans. They practice every morning and study Li's teachings together on the weekend.

Meanwhile, the movement's immense popularity has brought attention to the Chinese authority, which traditionally has an aversion to organized masses. [...] the Chinese government started to crack down on tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners across the country. Many of them were sent to re-education camps or mental hospitals, and demonstrators in Tiananmen Square were beaten up and arrested by the police, who tortured some of them to death in detention.

"There were 100 million people practicing Falun Gong," Sha said. "If the practice is not beneficial, why would so many people risk their lives to practice it? It's the Chinese government's fear to lose control of the people."

As the crackdown on Falun Gong continues to escalate, practitioners overseas have identified deaths of more than 250 practitioners caused by torturing in prisons [Editor's note: Up to present, 598 practitioners have been verified to have been tortured to death]. Sha, like many other overseas Chinese practitioners, is concerned about her family in China but does not succumb to the Chinese authority's persecution.

"After the Chinese government started suppressing Falun Gong, my parents asked me to stop," Sha said. "But I told them what Falun Gong is and they understood. Besides, they did not do anything illegal so the government cannot do anything to them."

"But if I go back now," sighed Sha, who has not visited her family in China since 1998, "for sure I would be arrested immediately and beaten up like other Falun Gong practitioners."

Sha has been an active advocate for Falun Gong and its followers. Her ultimate goal is to pressure the Chinese government to lift the ban on the movement.

Sha has made it a weekly routine to practice Falun Gong outside of the New York Chinese Consulate on West 42 Street every Saturday afternoon and volunteered to set up a booth on 8th Avenue every Sunday to distribute fliers to passers-by. She attended a demonstration outside of the World Economic Forum in early February to call more international attention to her cause.

"People have to know what's happening in China," Sha said. "I am from China and I always want the best for my motherland. There is no doubt about it."

"But we are peace-loving practitioners and have absolutely no intention to go against the government," Sha said. "Falun Gong is a peaceful practice and strictly non-political."

Not to the Chinese government, which has been quietly sending anti-Falun Gong signals to the overseas Chinese community and has forced a large number of overseas Chinese practitioners to stop the practice out of concerns for their families or business ties in China.

The pressure was evident when Sha's group applied to participate in the Chinese New Year parade on 8th Avenue hosted by the Brooklyn Chinese American Association last year.

"Apparently the association was under a lot of pressure from the consulate and announced that we withdrew from the parade without our knowledge," Sha said. "We had a press conference on the day of the parade and distributed fliers and balloons with the words 'Falun Gong' on them during the parade."

A similar anti-Falun Gong scheme resurfaced this year when several pro-China civil groups boycotted the Chinese New Year parade in Flushing because a Falun Gong group was scheduled to appear in the parade. Sha, who participated in the parade, said they were able to stay in the parade with support from the Taiwan Center in Flushing, which co-sponsored the event.

"I would like to be more active in the community," Sha said, who now practices on 66th Street, near Brooklyn's Chinatown. "And I hope that the Chinese government immediately stops all inhumane persecutions on Falun Gong practitioners and gives us back our rights to pursue our faith."