It’s mid-afternoon in Bath Abbey Square. A warm breeze is funnelling its way between the limestone buildings, toppling over the heavy sound of footsteps and a street performer playing Spanish guitar. Tourists snake their way down one side of the Roman Baths; most are fanning impatience from their faces while others tap their feet to the music. Some are instead observing the static and silent figure of a Chinese woman sitting cross-legged on the ground. She is wearing a yellow jumper, her hands are pressed before her chest and her eyes are closed. The breeze plays with the banners lined along one side of the abbey behind her; the bold and beautiful characters of mandarin are displayed across one, translated: “The Chinese Communist Party is harvesting organs from living Falun Gong practitioners."
Performing Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) in the square every Saturday, Amy Liu Palmer wants to raise awareness about the persecution practitioners have faced in China since 1999. Born in Beijing and living in the UK since 2001, Amy estimates to have collected over 20,000 signatures in the last three years.
In 2006, allegations surfaced that practitioners were also the source of a living organ bank, ready to be killed and have their organs sold to national and international patients for large sums of money. Remarkably, the “typical waiting time” was promoted to be as low as one to two weeks for kidney transplants. According to NHS statistics, the average waiting time for an adult kidney in the UK is 1168 days.
Founded in 1992, it is a set of simple exercises incorporating meditation that was quickly welcomed into Chinese culture and amassed a large following.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) says the evidence supporting these allegations is false. But if we are to trust the CCP and their assertions, how do allegations revealing a horror such as this begin in the first place, a horror the CCP vehemently denies and yet nevertheless is unable to lock away? To begin, we need to be clear about what Falun Gong is. The CCP would like us to believe it is a “cult”, and, one that positions itself against the interests of China.
I pull Amy away from her little stand of flyers to find some shelter behind the abbey away from the noisy square. “Communist ideology is fighting the Heaven,” says Amy, “fighting the Earth, fighting the Man. But Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese culture. We’re peaceful. It’s harmony. We respect Heaven, respect each other. So it basically doesn’t agree with Communist ideology.”
Despite having deep roots in traditional Chinese culture, Falun Gong is a relatively new discipline. Founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992, it is a set of simple exercises incorporating meditation that was quickly welcomed into Chinese culture and amassed a large following.
Many versions of this kind of demonstrational display are common in public squares.
Initially, the practice was supported by the Chinese government. In parks and squares, citizens from all walks of life would come together to perform this “self-cultivation” practice. The sequences are said to improve concentration and overall wellbeing, so why then, and after having first supported Falun Gong, was this non-religious, non-political and health promoting discipline identified as a threat to the state of China by the CCP?
The simple answer is that Falun Gong became too popular for its own good. The CCP rules by control. If something is discovered that it cannot control then it will expend the effort needed to remove that threat. In 1999, with a recorded number of over “70 million” practitioners, a figure greater than the membership of the ruling CCP, Falun Gong, with its honest foundations centred on “truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance,” was seen as too large an entity. The CPP feared it. On 20th July 1999, a law was passed banning Falun Gong, it was firmly enforced and identified practitioners were arrested and detained.
Amy’s sisters were among the arrested. “In that time in China it was really serious,” says Amy. “All the police stations [and the] labour camps were full up with practitioners!”
Her eyes are drawn to the page of my notebook as I write. “I heard my two sisters were being sentenced to one year each for practicing Falun Gong in 2001,” she says. “After one year they came out from [the] labour camp. They lost jobs, husbands divorced. Basically they have to look after their own children. They had one child each in their family.”
A report claims that between 2000 and 2005, the source of some 41,500 organs remains ambiguous.
But one of Amy’s sisters continued practising Falun Gong. She was rearrested and sentenced to another year in prison.
“In the prison they forced her to reform and she refused,” says Amy. “Anyway, it’s early 2004 and we hear that she died in prison and we went to see her in prison.” Amy’s family were only allowed to observe the corpse from a distance, with only the face visible.
“Her body was covered and they quickly cremated her because we didn’t have the right to do anything. She was labelled, Enemy of the State,” says Amy.
In 2006, after the first allegations of organ harvesting were made known, David Matas and David Kilgour, two Canadian lawyers, were asked by The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) to compile an independent report into the allegations. This report has been published in a book, Bloody Harvest.
The findings present a considerable argument against the CCP, with both lawyers convinced that organ harvesting of living Falun Gong is taking place in China. They outline the discrepancy in the high number of transplants China performs in contrast to the availability of donors. In her report dated 24 July 2006, Allison Kirk, Associate Director to the Program in Human Rights and Medicine at the University of Minnesota, claims that between “2000 and 2005, the source of some 41,500 organs remains ambiguous.”
Photo by Matthew Small.
China is second only to the US in the number of transplants it performs; but, unlike the US, a nationwide donor scheme has only existed in China for the past two years. Furthermore, an organ donor register such as we have in the UK has been hard to implement. Many Chinese believe the body should remain whole in life and death. So where do all the organs come from to conduct such a high rate of transplants?
In response to these growing concerns, the UN assigned a Special Rapporteur to challenge the CCP over the allegations — as stated in a letter sent to the CPP in January 2007:
A full explanation of the source of organ transplants would disprove the allegation of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners, particularly if they could be traced to willing donors or executed prisoners. The request for an explanation for the discrepancy in the number of transplants between the years 2000 to 2005 and the numbers from identifiable sources of organs is reiterated.
The CCP responded by dispelling the data compiled by Matas and Kilgour as “erroneous” before declaring that in “China, it is categorically prohibited to coerce persons sentenced to death into donating their bodies or organs or for their bodies or organs to be resold for profit.” But instead of providing a conclusive defence to the allegation, the CCP instead offered its own conclusions, targeting Falun Gong:
…the Chinese Government wishes to draw the Special Rapporteur’s attention to the following fact: the situation and the figures alleged in the communication that we have received are merely the product of agitation by Falun Gong; furthermore, most of them have already been revealed to be unfounded rumours.
The largest identifiable source of organs used in China is comprised of prisoners sentenced to death. The CCP says these are willingly donated with written consent obtained before any organ is taken. Given China’s human rights record the circumstances in which this consent is obtained is worrying. Nevertheless, there has been a rapid rise in transplants taking place in China.
An economic analysis of the organ trade and Falun Gong organ harvesting in China by Yale University in 2007 records that between 2000 and 2005 some “60,000 transplants were completed […] a 3-fold increase from the number of transplants in the six-year period between 1994 and 1999.”
In 2007, David Matas (second from right), an international human rights lawyer in Canada and one of the authors of Bloody Harvest, met officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and held a hearing at the Human Rights Committee of the Irish Parliament.
Prisoners sentenced to death cannot continue to meet this increased demand. The logical and likely answer, a lie according to CCP propaganda, is that the large population of Falun Gong practitioners — housed in prisons, labour camps, and “re-education centres” — are making up the numbers.
Amy and I are standing in the shade at the base of the thick abbey walls. “I’ve been living in the UK for 10 years,” she says, “and I find out [about organ harvesting] and I really want to know what happened to my sister because we only saw her face. We couldn’t see anything of her body. We were not allowed.”
While we are talking a couple of tourists stop by Amy’s stand and pick up leaflets before walking away. I ask her what drives her to keep coming back to the square each week.
“Simply, I want to raise awareness because my people [Chinese], they don’t know this.” She looks at one of the banners where there is a picture depicting the pale corpse of a man on a surgical bed. “Nobody can hear these innocent peoples’ voices because as everybody knows in China, no freedom.”
If large scale organ harvesting of detained Falun Gong has been taking place in China during the previous two decades, inevitably resulting in the death of the victims, then this will be proved to be one of the largest human rights violations to be recorded during the 21st century. Despite this the atrocities committed against the Falun Gong have gone largely uncontested.
Sometimes I get a bit of trouble from the Chinese students because they have all been brainwashed.
As a relatively unfamiliar practice in the West, Falun Gong has not produced the headlines, as something might that is easily identifiable in our culture. Since the ban of Falun Gong in China began the CPP has tried to dirty the name of Falun Gong, releasing mass “misinformation” through state controlled media, while also establishing the “610 Office”, as requested by the then Chinese leader, Jiang Zemin, in “handling the Falun Gong Issue.” Furthermore, in China truth is a luxury the CPP reigns over. It is not that Chinese people do not care about Falun Gong; it is that the majority simply do not know.
“I think this is mostly the Communist Party’s trick,” says Amy, her brow furrowing. “They deny everything. In 1989 — you know, in Tiananmen Square — the Communist Party just used machine guns and tanks over the students.”
Remembered as a grim testament to the lengths the CCP will go to maintain total control; the 1989 pro-democracy protest was eventually crushed by the military, claiming hundreds of Chinese lives.
“In the UK, I found out the truth,” she says, “but when I was in China, even the text books tell us nothing happened. They didn’t kill one of them! This is their [CCP] trick, they always deny things.”
Thousands of miles away in a stone square in a city in Somerset the power of the CCP’s denial still reaches Amy and her protest. Bath’s heritage with its Georgian features and English charm makes it a large draw to tourists from all around the world. I ask Amy how she is perceived by the different people she encounters.
“Bath people are really kind,” she says. “Local people and tourists, they all support me. Sometimes I get a bit of trouble from the Chinese students because they have all been brainwashed and people stood up to protect me, telling them off.”
I think about my previous visits to the square, observing Amy practising Falun Gong and making note of the range of expressions and emotions her protest stirs in the people passing-by. I look on as faces twist with sickness as they read the flyers, or the way the majority of the Chinese tourists’ eyes flicker towards the banners, nervousness clear in their wide pupils as though reading something they shouldn’t. “How do adult Chinese react to you, since you are allowed to protest here in the city centre?”
Amy shuffles a little on the stone beside me, her vision again following the people criss-crossing back and forth before the abbey, as though she’s watching her answer moving with them.
“Some people just walk away,” she says, “and some brave Chinese come to talk to me and ask a bit more information, and some small percentage is really aggressive. They think I am the enemy of the state […] and they basically don’t believe. They say this is a lie. This didn’t happen in China, which is connected because in China the internet is all blocked and the government won’t let people know the truth. They are innocent victims and they just don’t know. Some of them, they’re really shocked.”
Despite their best efforts to suppress Falun Gong, cracks have started to show in the CCP. A report in The Epoch Times in April 2012 details how Wen Jiabao, the regime’s Premier, “has been pushing for ending the persecution of Falun Gong.” Wen’s proposals were not accepted by elements of the CCP, including, and unsurprisingly, Jiang Zemin; the man responsible for initiating the persecution against Falun Gong in 1999.
On July 20 2013, Amy joined Falun Gong practitioners from all over the UK to deliver their petition to Downing Street. On the 14th anniversary since the persecution of Falun Gong began, they again called on the UK government to do more — as did practitioners and human rights campaigners in other countries.
This article, expressing the same allegations that have been waiting to be addressed for over 6 years, is founded on lies. At least this is what the CCP would tell you. In response to that, I would say that, given the brutal and bloody reign the CCP has held over Chinese, Tibetans, and Uighurs, they do not have the luxury of our trust. If the allegations are a lie, then it is time the CCP proved them to be. It is time for the truth.
As the spring breeze flicks the pages of my notebook closed, I thank Amy for speaking with me. Overhead the abbey bells strike the hour and we look upon the busy square. A man eating a sandwich is reading Amy’s banners while an elderly woman is stooped over the stand, adding her name to a growing petition of people who wish to know the truth.
Amy smiles. It is a smile made of strength and resolve, framed by a tender face. The bells soften beneath her words, “I really see the heart of the world.”
Amy Liu Palmer in Bath Abbey Square. Photo by Matthew Small.
MATTHEW SMALL is a fiction writer and freelance journalist whose articles have been featured in Writers’ Forum, Wiltshire Magazine and The Journal of Wild Culture. In 2012, he was shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Bursary in association with Legend Press. He lives in the limestone city of Bath in southwest England.
A Bloody Harvest: Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong in China, by David Kilgour and David Matas
Chinese labor camp inmate tells of true horror of Halloween ‘SOS’ CNN report, by Steven Jiang (November 3. 2013)