(Minghui.org) On April 25, 1999, more than 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners in China went to the Appeals Office of the State Council in Beijing to petition for the legal right to freely practice Falun Gong. The “April 25th Appeal,” as it came to be known, was considered to be “the largest, most peaceful, rational, and successful appeal in China.” However, under the leadership of Jiang Zemin, the Chinese regime claimed that it was a “political conspiracy” that aimed to “besiege Zhongnanhai,” the government compound. The regime used this peaceful appeal as an example of why Falun Gong practitioners should be persecuted.

Ms. Zhang Yijie, a former official from the Ministry of Commerce, witnessed what happened on April 25th. She was employed as the Second Secretary of Economic Affairs at the Chinese Embassy in Romania in the mid-1980s, and a deputy division chief and later division chief at the General Office of the Ministry of Commerce in the 1990s. She was illegally detained seven times for practicing Falun Gong. On the 14th anniversary of the April 25th Appeal, a Minghui correspondent interviewed Ms. Zhang, who is currently living in New York. Looking back at past events and her experience of the persecution, Ms. Zhang says she does not regret the choices she made.

Ms. Zhang Yijie, former official from the Ministry of Commerce

Witnessing the April 25 Appeal

On April 25, 1999, Ms. Zhang returned to her home in Beijing from Germany at around two in the afternoon. While living abroad, she missed her practitioner friends. She gave several of them a call as soon as she put down her luggage. However, her calls went unanswered, including the calls to the assistant coordinators in the annex area.

“My husband, who was the bureau chief of the Europe division at the Ministry of Commerce, received a call from the Minister, Shi Guangsheng. He told my husband to find the practitioners who were employed at the Ministry and tell them to leave Zhongnanhai. When I heard this information, I hopped on my bicycle and rode to Zhongnanhai.

“I exited the Beilixiao District, Donghua City, rode past Chongwenmen Road, and arrived at Changan Street. I thought, 'Something must have happened. Changan Street is normally very busy, but it is empty today. There are no pedestrians and no vehicles. There is probably a curfew.' I only saw a few people on the sidewalk, and found out later they were undercover policemen. I rode my bike very fast in the middle of the street and no one stopped me. They looked at me with surprise and probably thought I was a special agent.”

Ms. Zhang arrived at Zhongnanhai in no time. “I saw practitioners lined up on both sides of the sidewalk. There were so many of them that I couldn't see the end of the line. Most of them were standing and reading books. Some of them sat on the ground reading Dafa books or practicing the exercises. The policemen looked at ease. They were either chatting with each other or with practitioners. It was orderly and quiet, and there was no commotion.”

Practitioners stood in an orderly fashion on the sidewalk

Policemen chatting leisurely

Ms. Zhang parked her bicycle and proceeded to inquire about the situation. Practitioners told her that He Zuoxiu, Luo Gan's brother-in-law, had published an article in the Tianjin College of Education’s Youth Reader magazine. The article had slandered Falun Gong. Some of the practitioners in Tianjin felt that it was necessary to explain the facts and the truth to the editors and requested that the article be removed. On April 23 and 24, 1999, the Tianjin Police Department dispatched riot police to beat up the Falun Gong practitioners who went to appeal, resulting in injuries to the practitioners. The police arrested 45 people. When Falun Gong practitioners requested the release of the detained practitioners, they were told that the arrested practitioners would not be released without authorization from Beijing. The Tianjin police suggested to the Falun Gong practitioners, “Go to Beijing. Only going to Beijing can resolve the problem.”

Ms. Zhang walked along the sidewalk hoping to find her coworkers at the Ministry and the practitioners in her district. “Amongst the practitioners I noticed there were students, cadres, military personnel, and policemen. Some of the practitioners had come from the nearby suburbs. Some of the people asked me questions, but they were not practitioners or undercover police. They listened to me attentively. They were very proper and spoke carefully. I thought they had special training, and assumed they were engaged in intelligence work. I thought I should tell them about Falun Gong, so I shared my cultivation experience and understanding with them. They didn't find anything wrong when I told them about Falun Gong and nodded as if in agreement.”

“In fact, as early as 1997, Luo Gan, the secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee , ordered the Minister of Public Security to send secret agents to collect evidence that Falun Gong was a 'cult.' After the agents had met the practitioners, they found that Falun Gong was a good practice. They were unable to gather any information against Falun Gong. Some of them began to practice and they even told their friends and family about how good the practice was. Once they understood the truth about Falun Gong, they also became practitioners.”

As Ms. Zhang continued the search for her friends and coworkers, she stopped to talk to people. After sunset, she finally found one of the coordinators. He told her that several practitioners went in with Prime Minister Zhu and were having a talk. The group of practitioners was speaking on behalf of all practitioners and an answer was expected soon. In no time, the coordinator said that things had been resolved and asked everyone to go home immediately. It was already after nine o'clock.

Ms. Zhang still clearly remembers the scene. “Compared to the atmosphere in the afternoon, I felt tension in the air in the evening. As people were leaving, I could hear their footsteps. It was very quiet. No one was giving commands, but the practitioners were more orderly than the soldiers. When half of the people were gone, I found my bicycle and left with the crowd. It was about ten o'clock in the evening.”

Later, some of the practitioners had heard from an insider that the regime was prepared to use military force to suppress the area around Zhongnanhai. But because practitioners were very calm and rational, a potentially bloody incident was avoided. This event was later known to the world as the “April 25 Appeal.”

Courageous and Fearless, Because They Were Lives Connected to Dafa

“At the time, I didn't have second thoughts and headed towards Zhongnanhai. When something was going to interfere with Dafa, I instinctively did what I was supposed to do. I had already experienced the Beijing Television incident in May 1998, and had done some serious thinking about Dafa and what it meant to me. Therefore, I didn't hesitate on April 25 th .”

At the end of May 1998, He Zuoxiu denounced Falun Gong during a Beijing Television interview; stating that it was harmful, etc. After the program was broadcasted, hundreds of practitioners visited or wrote letters to the TV station to clarify the truth by telling them their own personal experiences of practicing Falun Gong. Once the executives of the TV station understood the truth, the TV station very quickly broadcast a positive program on Falun Gong, showing practitioners peacefully practicing their morning exercises along with other people in a park.

“When we went to the TV station to clarify the truth, the cameramen brazenly pointed the camera toward practitioners and recorded everything. We were calm in front of the cameras. We thought that Dafa was being vilified and these people didn't understand the facts. We went there to tell people that Dafa had benefited millions of people as well as the nation.

“There was a group of us who had social status and were well-educated. We had experienced political movements in the past and our elderly relatives had been previously persecuted by the regime. Although we were not the kind of people who just believed in anything, we had not given up the quest for the meaning of life. I had money, social status, and a good family life. Prior to practicing Falun Gong, I felt there was something missing deep in my soul, and I thought that life should be more than just what it was. One cannot buy health; and fame and money can easily disappear.”

During those years, the more Ms. Zhang read, the more questions she had. She was unable to find the answers to her questions from religion or qigong practices. The more she searched, the more disappointed she became, until she learned Falun Dafa in 1994. “I was so shocked! I had finally found the answers to my questions after all those years, and my heart opened up. I found Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, the path we should all follow!”

Ms. Zhang's illnesses were healed after she practiced the exercises, read the books, and assimilated to the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. She was energetic and in good spirits. She was able to solve difficult problems easily and improve the quality and efficiency of her work. She no longer worried about gain or loss, and was kind to those around her, including those who harmed her. She focused on doing a good job and paid no attention to how others evaluated her. She stopped worrying about offending others or being on guard when interacting with others. “I didn't realize that I could be so light-hearted and carefree! And everything around me was so wonderful! I felt very blessed to be able to cultivate!”

In 1992, Falun Dafa was introduced to the public, and spread very quickly by word of mouth in China. Within a few years, millions of people were practicing Falun Gong. In Beijing at the time, there were many people who worked for the central authorities, the State Council's ministries and commissions, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the universities, that were practicing Falun Gong. Many of the mid- and high-level officials who worked at the Ministry of Commerce, the Overseas Economic and Commercial Counsellor, and the Eight Foreign Trade Corporation, were also practicing Falun Gong. People knew that practitioners had good moral conduct, were dedicated to their work, and enjoyed good health.

The popularity of Falun Gong caused it to spread rapidly and this triggered jealousy and fear in Jiang Zemin, the then-CCP leader. In 1996, Jiang and his gang began to formulate plans to persecute Falun Gong. In June 1996, the Guangming Daily, one of the CCP's official newspapers, published an editorial article attacking Falun Gong. In July 1996, the Chinese News Publishing Bureau, which is under the Propaganda Bureau at the Central Committee, issued an internal order to all cities and provinces, prohibiting the publishing and distribution of Falun Gong books. The bureau ignored that Falun Gong books were on the bestseller list. Fighting against pornographic and illegal publications was used as an excuse to ban the books. In early 1997, the Public Security Bureau began a nationwide investigation to gather evidence with the intent of casting Falun Gong as an “evil cult.” In May 1998, the regime created the “Beijing TV Incident.” In early 1999, the Ministry of Public Security sent plainclothes police to the practice sites to harass practitioners and provoke disturbances; but these attempts were peacefully resolved by practitioners. In April of 1999, the regime set traps for practitioners that would lead them to want to appeal. This created an environment for the regime to persecute Falun Gong.

“I knew there were dangers. But I had already been practicing for five years, and my life was already connected to Dafa. I regarded Dafa to be more important than my own life. When difficult situations surrounded Dafa, I didn't think about anything and was ready to face them, even if I was attacked by airplanes and artillery. Jiang Zemin angrily swore that he was going to eradicate Falun Gong in three months. The brutal torture and live organ harvesting of practitioners are evidence of his evil mind. Fourteen years later, Falun Gong is still practiced and has spread to all corners of the world.”

We Felt Tension Before the Major Appeal

Ms. Zhang practiced the exercises with a group of practitioners at 5:00 in the mornings at the Beili Community Garden in Donghua City. After the April 25 Appeal, Ms. Zhang felt that the situation was grim. Plainclothes police were either nearby or stood far way to observe their activities.

“One morning, we went to the garden and found feces smeared all over the ground and on the benches. We discovered later that policemen from the local station had done this. The Communist regime used such base methods to sabotage our activities. We conducted ourselves according to the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. By persecuting us, weren't they opposing those principles? I felt sorry for them. The atmosphere was tense, and we had a feeling that something major was about to happen.”

In June 1999, Jiang's gang established a “central authority leadership team” that put itself above the law. It was placed in charge of handling Falun Gong issues. In early July 1999, Jiang carried out a focused campaign at the central government level to eradicate Falun Gong. On July 20, 1999, Jiang publicly launched an all out persecution of Falun Gong.

Some people think the reason the Communist regime persecuted Falun Gong was because practitioners who appealed at Zhongnanhai were being political. Ms. Zhang thinks that theory is groundless. She explains, “People involved in politics are most likely interested in gaining some sort of power. Falun Gong practitioners are part of mainstream society, and many of them are leaders in their field of work. There are military personnel, policemen, experts and scholars, government officials, businessmen, laborers, and farmers. They come from all walks of life, and many of them are well educated and have a high social status. Cultivators take fame and profit lightly. Although they live in the secular world, their minds are in another realm. They would not be interested in politics for any reason. Since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it has been engaged in politics and caused the deaths of millions of people! If the regime wants to persecute you or kill you, all it has to do is create a baseless accusation and claim that you are involved in politics. It will deprive you of everything so that you would rather be dead than alive.”

When practitioners clarify the truth to people, many people think that they are acting against the Party. In turn, the Party wants to persecute them. Ms. Zhang says, “The CCP can detain you illegally, rob you, torture you, rape you, and kill you, but it does not allow you to speak up. It does not consider what it does or how it behaves as criminal acts. Yet, a person will be found guilty of a crime when exposing the criminal acts of the CCP. The CCP deliberately distorts the truth. No other entity is more evil than the CCP.”

“In democratic countries, there are no such prisoners of conscience. People's mere thoughts do not constitute a crime and everyone can think freely. The justice system only punishes those who break the law. The communist regime does not allow people to think independently and it wants to control what people think. It considers people who conduct themselves according to the principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance criminals. When Falun Gong practitioners protest the persecution, aren't they defending the rights of everyone?”

No Regrets

Because Ms. Zhang would not renounce her belief, she has been detained seven times since July 1999. Li Lanqing, the head of the 610 Office, sentenced her to a forced labor camp for 18 months, and then added another ten months, during which time she suffered brutal physical abuse and mental torture.

In order to “transform” Ms. Zhang, the guards forced her to stand up and stay awake for 42 days and nights, and she was put through intensive brainwashing. They beat her and kicked her until she was bruised all over, which made her bedridden for 17 days. Ms. Zhang almost lost her eyesight, her speech was slow, her hair turned gray, and her face was disfigured as a result of prolonged torture. She says, “They used all kinds of methods to torture me. Everything I experienced enabled me to see through their evil nature, and I believe more firmly in Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.”

“During the past few years, many people in Flushing, New York have asked us why we have kept practicing when there is such severe persecution. They wanted to know about Falun Dafa and eventually they began to practice too. There were others who were in Flushing to make trouble for us because they didn't understand us. One day these people wanted to find out more about Falun Dafa. Later, they began to practice and their illnesses were healed. At first, some of them where deceived by the CCP and were against us. One lady who used to cause disturbances and yell at us now says that Falun Gong is good. After she understood the facts, she wanted to practice too.”

Since the peaceful appeal by Dafa disciples at Zhongnanhai 14 years ago, the spirit of the April 25 Appeal has continued. Dafa practitioners have been telling people the facts about Falun Dafa, working to stop the persecution, and persuading people to quit the CCP and its affiliated organizations. They have been providing the opportunity for people to understand the truth and choose a bright future for themselves. Ms. Zhang Yijie has no regrets and feels deeply honored to be able to walk the cultivation path.