Washington Square News (NYU Student Newspaper): Falun Gong finds home at Kimmel

Issue date: 03.22.2005

You've noticed the reenacted scenes of brutality and torture around town: men and women locked in cages, their hands and legs restrained and fake blood smeared on their weary faces.

Falun Gong demonstrations became a common sight for New York pedestrians this summer as followers of the practice, which originated in China, set up exhibitions in prominent NYC locations like Washington Square Park, Union Square and Times Square.

Now Falun Gong has spread to a new locale even closer to home than the village streets: the Kimmel Center.

Though the group has yet to attain full club status with the Office of Student Activities, the Falun Gong club has a roster of about 20 students, holds weekly meetings and has already hosted several events on campus this semester.

"We all had plans for a Falun Gong club at NYU for a while," said Stern junior Frank Yu, one of the club founders. "However, due to the size of the campus and our tight schedules, each one of us did not know there were other students at NYU that practice Falun Gong. After we met last spring, we decided to form a new club."

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a practice involving meditation and simple exercises started in 1992 by Li Hongzhi and is now practiced in more than 50 countries. The practice is rooted in three principles: zhen, shan and ren, or truth, compassion, and tolerance.

Reports of human rights violations by the Chinese government against Falun Gong followers first surfaced in the late '90s. Since then there has been a back-and-forth between Falun Gong [practitioners], who report that the government is wantonly imprisoning thousands of its followers, and the Chinese government, which denies those claims.

The Falun Gong club's purpose is twofold: to inform students of the abuses taking place in China and to provide a space for students to practice meditation and other exercises.

Student response to both goals has been positive, said Chin-Yunn Yang, another student who helped found the club.

"Overall people who have stopped by at meetings said it felt really good and that they can focus more and better on school," said Yang, a recent graduate of a master's program in Steinhardt who is helping the club gain its footing even though she no longer attends NYU.

Weekly meetings among club leaders and students are open to anyone, and include meditation as well as readings from Hongzhi's Zhuan Falun, the key Falun Gong text, which translates to "Turning the Law Wheel."

"We all benefited a lot from practicing and we want students to benefit, as well," Yang said.

In late February, the club screened "Sandstorm," a film about a Chinese police officer who has a series of flashbacks where he painfully recalls his involvement in the torture and eventual death of a Falun Gong practitioner. A Q-and-A session with Michael Mahonen, the film's writer and director, followed both screenings.

"I was inspired to write the script after practicing Falun Gong for about a year," Mahonen said. "The movie was made to reveal the persecution and it is based on firsthand accounts of what is going on in China. The tortures are much worse than shown in the film. There are other things that happen to followers that are too graphic to show."

The turnout for the second screening of "Sandstorm" shocked even the club founders.

"We were stunned that so many people came out to the second screening," said Yang. "There were 64 seats and we had to get extra because there were so many people there."

Many students are unaware of the alleged violent acts committed against Falun Gong followers in China. Moreover, students were surprised that the violence has reportedly continued for so many years.

"It's hard to believe that this is happening in a country that has such a rich and beautiful history," said Lara Brodsky, a Steinhardt freshman who attended the "Sandstorm" screening.

After spotting a flier advertising the Falun Gong club, Gallatin sophomore Alan Walk decided to participate and noticed improvements in his own behavior immediately.

"After practicing Falun Gong before a chess tournament, I found that I was able to focus much better," Walk said. "This led to one of my better performances at the tournament. Physically, I found that I was less fidgety."

Yang said Walk took to the meditation and exercises very well.

"He came twice to learn the exercises," Yang said. "The first time he stayed the full two hours. It's quite rare that people meditate for that long. He was so focused and so attentive that he wasn't distracted."

Club leaders are positive that other students will see the group and take an interest.

"We hope to grow as a club and to let people know about Falun Gong and to open up the practice to students," said Sheba McCants, a Gallatin junior and club member. "We just want to spread the word."

The Falun Gong club meets for two hours every Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the Kimmel Center, Rnursingoom 910.


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