16 years ago, in the afternoon of Nov. 20, 2001, 36 Westerners from 12 countries quietly appeared in Tiananmen Square—the symbolic heart of Communist power, with a simple message that shocked the Chinese. Their unprecedented protest soon made international headlines.
After the group photos, most of the 36 Westerners from Europe, Australia, and North America, sat down to meditate.
Against the backdrop of a Communist slogan that said, “Long live all the peoples of the world united together,” a few stood standing, with a golden banner that read, “Truth Compassion Tolerance.”
Their courageous actions astounded many Chinese onlookers.
20 seconds later, police arrived in vans, honking their horns like crazy. And the next moment, police vans surrounded the 36 Westerners.
Police began blowing their whistles all over the square, pushing away tourists, and grabbing cameras from people with cameras.
As the police made hasty attempts to tear down their huge banner, Canadian Zenon Dolnyckyj suddenly unfurled a smaller banner strapped to his leg, which read, “Falun Dafa is good.”
“America knows, the world knows, that Falun Gong is good!” Dolnyckyj cried out in Chinese, while running across the square, holding the banner.
[Falun Gong is an ancient cultivation practice based on the values—Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. By 1999, there were over 70 million Falun Gong practitioners in China, according to a state survey. Despite the practice’s benefits to one’s physical and mental health, the Chinese Communist Party launched a brutal persecution to eradicate the practice on Jul. 20, 1999.]
Three police knocked Dolnyckyj to the ground and a one brawny man punched him in the face, fracturing his nose. Another young man from Sweden lay on the ground unconscious, after being hit.
One police grabbed a French woman by her throat, and she choked. A man from Australia was beaten till his hand was broken…
One by one, these peaceful protesters were pulled, dragged away, and thrown into the police vans.
During a time when the entire world was fed fabricated lies about Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party’s enormous propaganda machine, why did these Western practitioners gather in Tiananmen, despite knowing the danger ahead?
Zenon Dolynyckyj, Personal trainer, Canada:
“I know Falun Gong is good because I have been practising for three and a half years. Because of practising Falun Gong I have been able to get over drinking, smoking, doing drugs and many other bad habits which only helped to pollute my heart, mind and body.”
“With the deepest respect I have come to your country to stand up for the truth for you.”
“Please don’t believe the lies [of the Chinese regime].”
Helene Tong, Sales Director, Taste of Life Magazine, France:
“It’s more about the Chinese citizens, who were deceived by the Chinese regime into thinking that we were a cult, and that was so unfair. I really want to talk to them, to have them see, look, we are white, we are from so many countries and we practice Falun Gong, do you know that?”
Lilian Staf, Graphic designer, Sweden:
“Since the persecution started, more than 50,000 practitioners have been arbitrarily detained and more than 10,000 have been sent to labour camps without trial. In the labour camps rape and torture is rampantly used to try to force the practitioners to stop practising Falun Gong. As a result a lot of Falun Gong practitioners already died.
“Only through raising the awareness of the atrocities can we stop them.”
Kay Rubacek, Artist, Australia:
“I’ve had so many health benefits, so many spiritual benefits, improvements in my relationships with my family and friends that what would happen if someone asked me to stop practicing Falun Gong. I wouldn’t do it. So I could understand why the practitioners in China wouldn’t either, and why they would go and appeal, and even risk their lives.”
Monika Weiss, Retired film editor, Germany:
“I’ve been working as a film editor for many years. And very often, I had interviews with Jewish people, and they were speaking about the Nazi regime. I understood it so deeply how much manipulation comes out from [the] media, and how the Chinese government is limiting its own people.”
What happened to them after the arrest?
They were put in a tiny cell in the Tiananmen Square Police Station. There, they came face-to-face with the dark side of China—one that was hidden from foreign investors and tourists.
“I started to look around the walls of the cell. I could see marks that looked like someone’s fingers had run their hands down, and there was some dirty kind of bloody stains there,” said Kate Vereshaka from Australia, in the documentary The Journey to Tiananmen.
One Falun Gong practitioner from Israel, Leeshai Lemish, was beaten by the police in a small room.
The police later took them to a hotel, where they were given food and water, so as to film them being “treated humanely.”
“What looks like a hotel, but is actually a public security facility. It’s all you know—two-way mirrors and rooms, and it’s just crawling with police,” recalled Adam Leining, an entrepreneur from USA.
The police threatened them to sign a statement written in Chinese.
They refused to sign, and hence, some of them were violently struck in the face, and stomped in the stomach.
Fearing the arrest would draw worldwide attention to this unlawful persecution, they were eventually released by the Chinese authorities, after 24 to 28 hour detention.
However, that was not the case for the many Falun Gong adherents in China.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, over 300 Chinese practitioners were estimated to be tortured to death by the regime by November 2001. As stated in a 2016 report, tens of thousands of practitioners are believed to have been killed for their organs to fuel China’s lucrative transplant industry.
So, why did the Chinese Communist Party persecute Falun Gong?
“Because people in all institutions and at all levels of society practiced Falun Gong. This scared the president of China [Communist regime] a great deal,” Dolnyckyj told Clearwisdom.com.
16 years later, a documentary has been made about this remarkable story. Watch The Journey to Tiananmen below.