By Christopher Adams: Pacific Media Centre
The persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China is well documented. But less well known is how followers of the spiritual discipline face harassment in many Western democracies from the Chinese Communist Party through consulates and embassies.
Auckland practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement founded by Li Hongzi in China in 1992, claim they still face many pressures from the Chinese government in New Zealand.
Practitioners say the CCP’s atheist ideologies leave no room for spirituality, which is why the government fears the Falun Gong movement. It has been outlawed in China since 1999.
Charmaine Deng, a practitioner who came to New Zealand 15 years ago from China, says Chinese Falun Gong adherents in Auckland find themselves isolated from the Chinese community.
“We try to talk to them but they close their doors,” she says.
Deng believes the CCP has caused much of the community to become anti-Falun Gong, claiming the Chinese Consulate-General in Auckland feeds misinformation to people in order to turn them against the movement.
The consulate’s website contains a large amount of anti-Falun Gong propaganda, describing the movement as a “cult” that is “anti-mankind, anti-anti-science and anti-society”.
“The CCP has extended the persecution of Falun Gong from China to New Zealand,” says Deng.
She says the consulate is not sticking to “New Zealand rules”.
“In New Zealand everything is supposed to be free.”
Daisy Lee began practising Falun Gong in China before moving to New Zealand several years ago. She says the Chinese state media, with its anti-Falun Gong rhetoric, has a big impact on how Chinese people view the movement - especially international students studying in Auckland.
“Chinese international students are the biggest problem for Falun Gong in Auckland,” she says. “They don’t read the Herald or watch New Zealand news, only Chinese media.”
Lee also says a website for Chinese students in New Zealand, skykiwi.com, is a problem for the movement in Auckland because of the many anti-Falun Gong messages posted on the site, often inciting hatred against the movement.
Exposure to Chinese media has turned many international students against the movement, sometimes leading them to turn up at Falun Gong events.
The Chinese consulate is organising students to disrupt events and protests held by both the Falun Gong and Free Tibet movements in Auckland, claims Lee.
Lee tells of meeting a Chinese student recently at the University of Auckland, who was putting up posters around the campus for a Chinese Students Association event.
Unaware of Lee being a Falun Gong practitioner, the student boasted he had been “organised” by the Chinese consulate to counter-protest against Free Tibet activists last year.
“Chinese mix up country, nation and government,” she says. “In China, the government is your mother, so some Chinese students believe the Falun Gong and Free Tibet movements are against their motherland.
“When I was a child in China we were told that communism would liberate the world, but after I came to New Zealand I realised communism was there to control us, not to liberate us.”
Another practitioner, Margo Macvicar, came to New Zealand from Scotland 26 years ago.
Macvicar got involved in Falun Gong in Motueka before moving to Auckland recently.
She finds the meditation routines of Falun Gong have given her a “quietness inside”, and changed her life.
Macvicar says Chinese students are one of the main problems the movement faces in Auckland, and also suspects the Chinese consulate of feeding them misinformation about Falun Gong.
“A lot of Chinese have been swayed by the consulate,” she says.
During a protest rally outside the Chinese Consulate in Penrose last year, an unknown vandal smashed Macvicar’s car window. She believes “there is a link” between the protest and the damage done to her car.
She was also spat at once when handing out Falun Gong flyers in Queen St.
Despite being isolated from the Chinese community, Falun Gong practitioners say it is not a lonely existence being part of the movement.
“We don’t feel lonely,” says Macvicar. “It’s not only through our belief; through our practice we learn to be tolerant and compassionate.”
Amos Chen, a practitioner originally from Shanghai, left China on the same day the CCP began cracking down on the movement in 1999.
Chen takes part in the silent protests the Falun Gong regularly hold outside the Chinese Consulate in Penrose.
He says the consulate makes life difficult for Falun Gong adherents living in Auckland in many different ways, such as not renewing Chinese passports when practitioners want to go to China to visit sick or dying relatives.
Chen recalls running a Falun Gong stall at an Auckland Chinese festival a few years ago, when a member of the Chinese community in charge of the event asked him if the stall was linked to the Falun Gong.
When he replied yes, the man said: “I want to close your stall because the consulate doesn’t like you.”
David Jiang, president of the Chinese Students Association based at the University of Auckland, denies any link between the Chinese consulate and the association.
A second year engineering student, Jiang says the association with more than 3000 members never acts as an information channel for the consulate.
“We support the Chinese government, but we are not a political group.”
The association’s main focus is on organising entertainment for Chinese students, and services such as free tutorials, he says.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Consulate-General in Auckland said there was no knowledge of claimed incidents such as Falun Gong practitioners’ cars being damaged near the consulate.
Picture: Falun Gong practitioner Amos Chen outside the Chinese consulate in Penrose. Photo: Christopher Adams.
Christopher Adams is a student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course, AUT University.