Cover Story: Tortured for Meditation

UC professor opposes China's attempt to smash Falun Gong

Jymi Bolden

Dr. Sunny Lu says she cannot safely visit China, where she was born.

Arrest and torture await Dr. Sunny Lu if she ever returns to China under its current regime. Her crimes are truthfulness, compassion and tolerance.

Lu is a psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati. Born in Beijing, she's lived in Cincinnati for the past 20 years. She cannot safely return to China because she practices Falun Gong, which employs meditative exercises to integrate the physical being with the spiritual being.

In July 1999 former Chinese President Jiang Zemin began the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, declaring it a cult. In labor camps, the Chinese government uses sleep deprivation, electric shock, rape and other forms of torture to force practitioners to renounce their beliefs, according to Lu. Those who go on hunger strikes to protest their treatment are force-fed. More than 700 known deaths have resulted from this torture alone, Lu says. The total known death toll is in the thousands, she says.

"(Zemin) is personally responsible for this," Lu says.

"Many Chinese leaders disagree with him but go along because it would be hard to keep power."

The extermination of Falun Gong is Zemin's top priority, according to Lu. Zemin is no longer president of China but maintains a powerful role in the Communist state.

The government-controlled media carry fabricated stories slandering Falun Gong, Lu says. She compares the propaganda campaign to the one waged during the Cultural Revolution.

"They're so deceptive," she says. "People should have the right to choose based on truth and information."

Falun Gong is not a cult, but practitioners are unable to defend the meditation system in China, according to Lu.

"There's nothing to hide," she says. "All channels to the government have been blocked."

So practitioners daily take their case to Tiananmen Square, with banners and leaflets proclaiming the goodness of Falun Gong. They are swiftly arrested.

Practitioners are denied the right to counsel guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution; in fact, lawyers are encouraged to report practitioners to the government, Lu says.

That kind of repression is already spreading, she says.

"If it is allowed to continue, it won't stay in China," Lu says.

In June 2002 Lu discovered the Chinese government had placed her on an international blacklist. As a result, she was denied a seat on a flight to Iceland, where she hoped to protest Zemin's visit.

"The people of Iceland know Falun Gong is peaceful," Lu says.

About 3,000 Icelanders protested in the place of Falun Gong practitioners denied transportation to the country. They placed tape over their mouths to protest China's violation of freedom of speech.

Practitioners' homes in the United States and other countries have been broken into, with nothing but address books taken, according to Lu. Some have been physically abused. Lu has received threatening and slanderous e-mails. A friend in Washington, D.C., found her cell phone conversation at work had been intercepted and recorded, as a kind of warning, on her home answering machine.

"Many people are being watched," Lu says.

Lu is particularly concerned about Dr. Charles Li, a U.S. citizen arrested in China and charged with "preparing" to interrupt Chinese media broadcast. Li had returned to China to visit his parents and tell them of his engagement.

Because Li is a U.S. citizen, he has "only" been beaten so far, according to Lu. On May 27 he went on a hunger strike, resulting in his being force-fed. From prison, Li wrote a 96-page document to the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, but eight of those pages — containing information on his request to be a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Zemin — were removed by prison officials, Lu says. He has been denied contact with his fiancée and the U.S. Consulate.

Lu is one of many plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The defendants include Zemin and the 610 Office, the Gestapo-like police force that carries out the acts of persecution. The suit accuses Zemin of genocide and crimes against humanity. The U.S. Justice Department has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The American Justice Department doesn't represent Americans but the Chinese Government," Lu says. "Americans are most kindhearted, knowing, generous and sympathetic and know the truth. I think we really appeal to the people of conscience."

A practitioner of Falun Gong for five years, Lu says it has helped her anxiety and enabled her to better help her patients.

"Through daily practice, we treat others with respect and tolerance," she says.

Falun Gong is not a religion and practitioners are not interested in politics, according to Lu.

"We want to understand the world," she says. "I'm curious how the mind and body work."

The growing popularity of Falun Gong is the reason for its persecution, according to Lu. She says the 70 million Communist Party members in China feel threatened by the more than 100 million Falun Gong practitioners.

"The fear is the power of control," she says. "Fear has allowed the basic human rights to be denied. They do anything to bring hatred to a people and then they can do whatever they want to those people."

Falun Gong has helped spread the truth about China, making it more of a threat to Zemin and his reign, according to Lu.

"Because the truth can be dangerous over there," she says.

For more information about the repression of Falun Gong, visit To learn about practicing Falun Gong, visit or join practitioners at 2 p.m. Saturdays at the Sharon Woods Boathouse and 1-2 p.m. Sundays at the Sharonville Community Center.

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