March 31, 2005

The struggle between the Chinese government and the spiritual practice of Falun Gong highlights how weak the Chinese government really is, 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson said Wednesday at Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Union.

Johnson's lecture, which focused on his award-winning coverage of the Falun Gong movement in Beijing, was part of the Paine Lectures sponsored by the MU Department of Religious Studies, the School of Journalism, the Asian Affairs Center and the Center for Religion, the Professions and the Public. His book, "Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China," highlights the events of the movement.


China officially banned Falun Gong in July 1999, and Johnson said persecution followed, as many practitioners of Falun Gong were taken into police custody where they were subjected to torture and brutality.

Huagui Li, who attended Johnson's lecture, experienced this brutality first hand. While trying to print and hand out fliers about Falun Gong, Li was arrested by police who were not wearing uniforms.

Li was taken to a detention center for 21/2 months. Li said she was put in a 30-square-meter cell with 30 murderers, prostitutes and thieves and was forced to listen to anti-Falun Gong materials. She was not allowed to sit down because they thought she was meditating.

After her stay at the detention center, she said she was taken to a labor camp for 51/2 months. While there, she was constantly surrounded by people trying to force her to give up her beliefs. Li said she was forced to do more than 10 hours of labor each day, making toys for export to the United States and Africa.

Sara Effner, a practitioner of Falun Gong who was in the audience, said she can't understand why the spiritual practice is considered controversial, because it doesn't lead to corrupt behavior.

"I was really impressed with (Johnson's) description of what the persecution was like," Effner said. "I only wish it could be stopped."