Falun Gong barred from SF parade

Sponsors of Chinese New Year’s event say group too political

SAN FRANCISCO – The floats won’t begin rolling for about a week. The giant slinking dragon costume remains mothballed. But a push by the controversial Falun Gong sect to march in the city’s Chinese New Year Parade has ignited political fireworks over whether China’s government is trying to meddle in U.S. politics.

Falun Gong, which is outlawed by China’s government, has been barred by sponsors of the Feb. 11 event that draws hundreds of thousands of people to downtown San Francisco and caps a two-week celebration of the Chinese New Year, which began Jan. 28. The group has also been excluded from similar events in Southern California; organizers of parades in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles rejected Falun Gong’s applications in 2005 and 2006.

Parade organizers say there is no room for groups such as Falun Gong, which China contends is an “evil cult” that aims to overthrow the Beijing government.

“Having them is an endorsement of their philosophy of overthrowing the Chinese government,” said Pinki Chen, organizer of the San Gabriel Valley Annual Lunar New Year Parade. “We just don’t want to get involved in something like that. … We have a lot of business connected to China.”

But Falun Gong practitioners describe their group as a nonpolitical self-improvement regimen based on exercise and meditation, and they say parade officials are simply doing Beijing’s bidding.

“There’s no reason we should not be in the parades,” said John Li, a Los Angeles-based Falun Gong volunteer coordinator, noting that his group’s parade team consists of a lotus-flower float, meditators, drummers and dancers. “It’s just because we’re Falun Gong.”

In San Francisco, a city with one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Chinese-Americans and one that is routinely visited by Beijing’s top government officials, the Falun Gong dispute has resulted in name-calling, threats between two of the city’s most headstrong public figures, and warnings from the Chinese Consulate.

Central to the standoff are Supervisor Chris Daly and longtime Chinatown activist and fundraiser Rose Pak, who is praised by supporters for her plainspoken manner but attacked by critics for her frequent profanity and pointed political attacks.

Ms. Pak – who has been called the city’s most powerful resident not in public office – has argued that Falun Gong is too sharp-edged for the family-oriented parade, which is sponsored by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

At one heated City Hall hearing recently, Mr. Daly suggested that Ms. Pak was pushing China’s political agenda. She in turn accused Mr. Daly of triggering an FBI inquiry into her longtime relationship with Beijing officials.


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Los Angeles Times, via the Dallas Morning News, USA
Feb. 5, 2006
John M. Glionna and Hemmy So, Los Angeles Times
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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday February 5, 2006.
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