Falun Gong activists visit Manitoulin

Diana Ding, Hongyan Lu and Steven Liu hold up a banner decrying the alleged harvesting of organs for transplant industry from imprisoned Falun Gong members in China, while Ms. Lu’s husband Jay Brauneison reads a statement outlining their concerns. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—It sounds like something out of a futuristic sci-fi horror flick, an oppressive government uses an overblown pretext to imprison a large number of its population and then harvests their organs for use in transplants for fun and profit. It is simply too outrageous to be believed, isn’t it? Not according to a small group of determined Falun Gong activists who held an information protest in front of the Little Current Cenotaph September 7.

For Canadian citizens Hongyan Lu and her husband Jay Brauneisen the issue is deeply personal. “At the end of June I learned that my mother, who is a Falun Dafa practitioner in Shijiazhuang City, China, had been arrested along with nine other practitioners,” said Ms. Lu. Her mother, she explained, had been visiting friends who are fellow travellers on the Falun Gong path when she was picked up in the sweep.

“When my mother was first abducted we were told she refused to offer up her identity,” said Ms. Lu. “This is a strategy used to protect relatives and friends, but also made it much more difficult for us to find her.” Even though Ms. Lu has relatives in the Chinese justice system (her uncle is a judge and a cousin is a police officer) she spent many worried weeks wondering about her mother’s fate. “They both tried and failed to gain access to my mother,” she said. “This situation was scary for me as I feared she would disappear and be killed for her organs.”

That fear was not completely without foundation.

Former Canadian Liberal MP for Edmonton East David Kilgour along with human rights lawyer David Mates and journalist Ethan Gutman have produced reports that, although relying somewhat heavily on inference and extrapolated estimates rather than directly verifiable evidence, was enough for organizations ranging from the US Congress to the United Nations to ask questions, particularly since an increase in organ availability coincided with increased prosecution and imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

Two years ago, Anne-Tamara Lorre, the Canadian representative on human rights to the United Nations, raised the issue of organ harvesting in China saying, “We remain concerned that Falun Gong practitioners and other religious worshippers in China face persecution and reports that organ transplants take place without free and informed consent of the donor are troubling.”

The Chinese government and medical establishment categorically deny the allegations of forced organ donation or that imprisoned donors have been targeted without informed consent. Following the release of the Kilgour report, China declared they abided by World Health Organization principles that prohibit the sale of human organs without written consent from donors and denounced the report.

The Chinese government maintains that 90 percent of China’s organ transplant sources come from executed prisoners, with a rise in organ availability surging even as the number of executions has dropped 10 percent annually since 2002 and the number of potential executions falls far short of the number of transplants taking place. Only 130 people signed up to donate their organs between 2003 and 2009.

Ms. Lu noted that cultural mores in China still run strongly against organ donation despite generations of government effort to eradicate superstition and religious opposition. “The body is not supposed to be desecrated,” she noted. That ongoing cultural taboo, deeply engrained in the Chinese psyche, is a lens that also calls into question government assurances that all organs are willingly and freely given.

There is a lot riding on the transplant industry. A heart or a liver can cost up to $160,000, according to state-run hospital websites, making transplants a significant source of revenue.

The latest edition of the Kilgour-Matas-Gutman reports estimate 60,000 to 100,000 transplants a year. None of these allegations have been proven in court, either domestically or through UN or US investigations. Chinese investigations have universally refuted the allegations.

So what is Falun Gong (Falun Dafa et al)?

Based on an ancient Chinese spiritual practice combining meditation, exercise (think Tai Chi) and a moral philosophy that emphasizes truthfulness, compassion and forbearance and a detachment from attachments to the material world to achieve spiritual enlightenment. It also has a strong “moralistic” bent and some controversial views on race. Homosexuality and promiscuous sex are considered contrary to the generation of positive karma and different races are assigned separate heavens, with mixed race children products of “a chaotic situation brought about by mankind” and  indicative of “the Dharma-ending period,” a time when people will no longer be able to follow the teachings of Buddha. Another odd aspect of the religion is the assertion by its leader that aliens have invaded the earth and are using television and technology to subvert the human race.

Even taking the homophobic and racist attributions far past the boundaries where the practitioners of the practice say they lie, those facets can easily be sourced in many of the world’s mainstream religions in comparable levels and the whole “alien” thing is fairly common amongst conspiracy theorists of any faith base. On the balance, to an outside observer, Falun Gong seems pretty benign amongst the world’s religious and spiritual practices.

But the Chinese Communist Party has claimed Falun Gong “is a menace to society—a superstitious, foreign-driven, tightly organised, dangerous group of meditators.” This after having initially greeted the practice with some tolerance, and even some support during the early 1980s and 90s.

A large number of the proffered reasons for the Chinese government’s antipathy to Falun Gong do not stand up well to close scrutiny, but students of the historical methodology of the Chinese Communist Party, particularly taking into account the Maoist assertion that “China is governed through the mouth of the gun,” know that the party is completely antithetical to any other potential power base rising to challenge the supremacy of the party (think Tiananmen Square). That historically has been reason enough to come down hard. With 10,000 members of Falun Gong coming together to protest the beginnings of a crackdown, that tendency would only have been exacerbated.

With Canada seeking a closer rapprochement with the Chinese economically, the human rights aspects of the Falun Gong allegations are likely to prove problematic for the Canadian government as activists such as Ms. Lu and her family seek to shine a light on the less savoury aspects of who Canada is seeking to do more business with—and perhaps bring about pressure on China to loosen its grip on its media and religious freedoms. History, however, does not appear to be on their side.