Pair brings attention to persecution in China

Controversy over Falun Gong meditation prompts outcry from student practitioners

In January, Charles Lee, a resident of Menlo Park, Calif., was detained upon arrival in China for his practice of Falun Gong, a meditation practice currently outlawed in China.

Ten months later, two UCLA students, who practice the exercise and sympathize with Lee, are fighting for his freedom.

As practitioners of the mind and body exercise, David Kute, a third-year classics student, and Hsin-ling Hsieh, a doctoral student in economics, are protesting what they believe are persecutions of Chinese people by the Chinese government.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice of bringing peace to the body and mind, which is done through exercises and meditation. Founded in 1992, Falun Gong exercises include slow and gentle movements of the body, while exhaling, inhaling and stretching.

The exercise was banned in China in 1999, during former President Jiang Zemin’s regime. Communist Party officials outlawed it believing the exercise was cult-like and caused its followers to commit suicide.

The two students met this past summer during a protest in front of the Chinese consulate office in downtown Los Angeles. Kute – who has been practicing Falun Gong for three years – collaborated with Hsieh and decided to inform students of their cause.

The students have used several means to raise awareness.

After presenting their cause to Undergraduate Students Association Council, a resolution calling for council’s support of the practice of Falun Gong was passed this past week.

Kute also met with U.S. congressional members this past year. The meeting led to the House of Representatives drafting a resolution condemning the oppression of Falun Gong practitioners.

“We’re trying to make people aware of the persecution in China because it is severe,” Hsieh said.

Hsieh has practiced Falun Gong since 1998. Afflicted with a liver tumor at the time, Hsieh began practicing after an adviser suggested the meditation to her as a way to improve her health. When Hsieh learned of Lee’s detainment earlier in the year, she immediately dedicated herself to his cause.

Lee, a U.S. citizen, is also believed to have been detained when he traveled to China for his efforts to expose what he believed were human rights violations by the Chinese government.

Kute met Lee before his detainment, when both were handing out flyers about Falun Gong during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I felt bad about the situation he was in, but felt good about his character,” Kute said.

In 2002, Kute also traveled to Tiananmen square in China to protest, but was reportedly beaten and arrested by the police.

“The police were kicking me in all directions … I yelled ‘Falun Dafa Hao,” Kute said, which means “Falun Gong good” in Chinese. Kute said he is currently blacklisted by the Chinese government and may be detained if he enters the country.

Every Thursday afternoon, Kute and Hsieh practice Falun Gong with several other students on campus.

“It has totally improved my health and my mind,” Hsieh said.

The Falun Dafa Information Center reports that 821 people have been persecuted and killed because of their practice of Falun Gong.

“People are dying in China everyday. And some university students like us are deprived of their rights,” Hsieh said.

Ying Wu, an associate professor of statistics at UCLA and a Falun Gong practitioner, said he respects the students for their activism.

“I think they are really trying to help those people who were persecuted, including Charles Lee,” Wu said. “I really admire their effort.”

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