Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Yijie had been completely free to teach the spiritual practice Falun Gong to her co-workers in the company basement and share the practice’s books in her co-workers’ mailboxes in 1998.
A year later, the communist regime declared that Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, and all of its books, were illegal.
Mi Ruijin, a retired medical researcher with the rank of captain in the military, had been traveling around the country with Falun Gong’s founder, Master Li Hongzhi, before the Chinese communist regime’s brutal persecution began in 1999.
Falun Gong had been the most popular qigong practice in China, but it suddenly became “public enemy No. 1” for the Communist Party, which feared the spiritual group’s growing influence.
However, as members of the Communist Party, Zhang and Mi knew the practice had brought amazing benefits to people and taught them to become better people. They refused to stop practicing.
A higher perspective
Falun Gong’s simple moral teachings had a radical impact on those who encountered them.
The Chinese sports administration estimated in the late 1990s that there were 70 million Falun Gong practitioners in China. The discipline had spread almost entirely through word of mouth.
These two women, both from families with strong ties to the Communist Party system, saw Falun Gong grow very quickly within the spirituality-starved country.
Mi Ruijin first heard about Falun Gong at a class in Beijing with her sister, and she was touched by the practice’s focus on cultivating truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. She knew that this is what she had been looking for.
Mi said Falun Gong “explained everything very clearly, including where humans come from, where they’re going, and what the purpose of life is.”
“I experienced a happiness I cannot express in words,” Mi said, during a recent interview in Flushing, Queens, where she now lives.
Both her mind and body experienced positive changes, she said. “Since my early 20s, I could not handle the cold. I used to wear layers of down and still feel a deep chill. By the third day of the Falun Gong classes, that had vanished. I was so happy, excited, and surprised that I cannot explain it.”
Zhang Yijie, who used to work as a bureau chief in what is now the Ministry of Commerce, reported similar feelings from Falun Gong’s teachings.
“I had a high-ranking husband, a beautiful daughter, and a great job. My whole life was so smooth. But I felt a sense of emptiness, loss, and listlessness inside,” she said.
She said when she read ‘Zhuan Falun’ (the main Falun Gong text) for the first time, her whole life was rocked to the core.
Zhang cried as she said, “I knew my life had found its home and resting place. After I practiced, my thinking and perspective on humanity, the cosmos, and the life before me, all changed.”
“I experienced … that unlimited joy, a kind of happiness that has no explanation or expression. A joy from the heart.”
The Chinese Communist Party began the anti-Falun Gong campaign on July 20, 1999. Falun Gong was suddenly called sinister and dangerous, and those who practiced it were uneducated and stupid.
Zhang was sent to 18 months of re-education through forced labor, where she was tortured. She refused to sign a document slandering Falun Gong, and 10 more months was added to her sentence.
Her husband was also imprisoned and forced to divorce his wife.
The persecution quickly swept through the country. Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been documented as tortured to death, but the true number is believed to be much higher.
Reported methods of torture include burning with cigarette butts, blunt trauma, poisonings, beatings to paralysis, electric shocks, and dozens more. The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings wrote in 2004 that “the cruelty and brutality of these alleged acts of torture defy description.”
Researchers say imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners have even been used as a living organ donor bank for military hospitals.
Both Mi and Zhang eventually fled the country, and met each other for the first time in the United States.
Zhang Yijie and Mi Ruijin now participate in events to draw attention to the plight of Falun Gong practitioners, such as parades and other peaceful demonstrations. They hope as more people become aware, the faster the harsh persecution will come to an end.