May 31, 2007

Shuqing Wei sat in the back of the car keeping the baby cool and entertained in the blazing sunlight beating down on the Daily News parking lot.

She and the baby girl along with the child's parents, Lixuan and Joe Tackett, have traveled a long way and there is still more road ahead. The group is criss-crossing the state enlightening Indiana communities about the plight on the other side of the world and hopefully helping people to stop and think.

The foursome are practitioners of Falun Gong, an ancient Chinese mediation and spiritual practice based upon the universal principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. The religion, which is open to all people, has a long history in China, however, recently its followers have become enemies of the state. [Editor: Falun Gong has no political agenda. It is the Communist Party that sees Falun Gong as enemy.]

Lixuan, who first happened upon Falun Gong while living in Houston, explained the religion gained much popularity in China during the mid-1990s. By 1999, a survey by the Chinese government showed 70 to 100 million people were practicing it.

"When they got more people practicing than party members, they got worried. They started cracking down on it," Joe said about the Chinese government.

According to Lixuan and Joe, the fear of losing control in the communist country caused the government to "persecute" the followers in July of 1999. Some escaped into exile. Hundreds of thousands however, were taken away to prison camps.

"Since then, unspeakable inhumane acts, including (more than) 100 forms of torture have been carried out in China against practitioners to get them to relinquish their beliefs," Lixuan stated in their press release. "No practitioner is immune to the persecution regardless of standing in society, age or gender. Include among those killed by torture have been city officials, judges, teachers, policemen, farmers, clerks, college students, pregnant women, infants, children and the elderly."

Wei knows these prison camps, which is largely why she is helping the others traverse the state. Her son, a student in Shanghai and a practitioner, was caught sending information about the persecution to America via the Internet, according to the Tacketts. He was arrested and thrown into a camp in Beijing and cut off from contact for several years.

It may be hard to fathom why someone would get into a car to spread the word about these seemingly distant atrocities. It may be even harder to see how people in Greensburg are connected. Joe answered it by simply opening a copy of Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and pointing at the writer's inclusion of a poem by John Donne:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

The Tacketts and Wei have driven all over Indiana - Bloomington, Bedford, Martinsville, Shelbyville and Columbus to name a few cities - reminding people they are all part of the human community and things can be done to stop atrocities. While Joe noted the Chinese government has tried to "demonize" Falun Gong [...]. They go to work, they have jobs and their children go to school. However, it was information that had recently come to light that caused the trio to take time away from their lives to spread the word. According to a recent independent study by Canadian human rights lawyers David Matas and David Kilgour, the imprisoned practitioners are being used like a live crop and their organs are the bounty being harvested.

"This is not a human rights issue. It's a crime against humanity," Joe said.

The Tacketts said on the open market, organs can be a highly lucrative business with a good heart garnering between $130,000 and $160,000 and a healthy kidney can get $62,000. Falun Gong practitioners make good donors, the Tacketts noted, because the religion promotes good health. The independent report, which served more than 80 hospitals, stated most Chinese surgeons and facilities reported using Falun Gong donors. These people are primarily prisoners and their organs are harvested without their consent, and their bodies destroyed. The study also noted while China does not have an organ donor program procedures sharply increased post-1999. For example, the study showed 33 liver transplants were done in 1999 while 1,601 were done in 2004. It also reported while the United States has a two to three year waiting list for organ recipients, one can be made available, guaranteed, in two weeks in China. In addition, Lixuan noted, news is finally coming from China about transplant tours.

"There are these Chinese transplant tours for foreign visitors who wish to buy organs. The people of Greensburg need to know about this. If they need an organ transplant, is it worth getting it from an innocent, to kill a life," Lixuan said.

While it may seem hard to understand how anyone so far away could change this situation, Joe said it only takes some thought. Spreading those seeds of information is the reason why he and his friends have committed to hitting 20 cities. It is not just the organ harvesting and human rights violations, Joe said, but also the intense dictatorship that keeps an iron fist around the Chinese people. While the world's largest nation has become a major player on the global economic scene, things are not what they seem. Joe stated slave labor, unsavory business practices and clear deception should make people think twice about picking up the next item made in China.

"I know it's impossible not to buy Chinese things but I want people to sit and think about it. Why is this stuff so cheap. Is it because it was made in a labor camp?" Joe said. "As soon as you open up evil to daylight, it ceases to exist." While the atrocities paint an unsavory picture, Lixuan wants to ensure people do not condemn the entire culture.

"The Chinese Communist regime is not representative of China. China has 5,000 years of a beautiful legacy. The Chinese Communist regime stole it away, and they've killed 80 million of their own people in peace time," she said.