It used to be you could hardly turn a corner in China without a taste of Falun Gong. Practitioners filled the nation\u2019s parks at the break of dawn for their Tai-chi-like exercises. Its texts, regularly bestsellers, lined the shelves of Wangfujing\u2019s bookstores. And in the summer of 1999, countless adherents filled the streets of China\u2019s capital in protest of an unlawful ban that would soon to morph into what leading human rights attorneys have called \u201cgenocide.\u201d If in the 1990s Falun Gong was in the Chinese public\u2019s eye, as the new century approached so too was it in the West\u2019s: in 1999 and 2000 reports of bold Falun Gong protests on Tiananmen Square as well as, often, their tragic consequences, were daily news in the Western press. Most any avid news reader could claim at least some inkling of familiarity with the group and its ban. But since then, as told in an essay by Leeshai Lemish, Falun Gong has largely disappeared off the media\u2019s radar, if not the public\u2019s consciousness. And indeed, gone are the days of thousands assembled in protest at the symbolic heart of the Chinese state; the trademark yellow banners, shouts of protest, and open shows of police violence in response have largely been absent over the past five years. Then where has the Falun Gong gone, if anywhere? And what has become of it? Has the world\u2019s largest communist state\u2014a Goliath against a David by any reckoning\u2014pulled off its proposed \u201csolution\u201d to the \u201cFalun Gong problem\u201d\u2014that is, \u201ceradication\u201d? Many have read the absence of public protest as a tacit \u201cyes.\u201d However, little could be further from the truth. The force, or inspiration, behind Falun Gong\u2019s early protests has not died out, and much less has its following. Quite the opposite, it has only grown, matured, and evolved. With a tenacity born of spiritual conviction, the group has weathered twenty years of brutality to today stand as a catalyst for change in China on a scale few could have imagined. At present it is waging a human rights effort comprised of everything from phone calls to flyers, public expos\u00e9s to cable splicings, underground print shops, and even the arts. And daily, a chorus of non-Falun Gong voices is joining in, tired of oppressive rule, to demand change. As little-known as this is in the West, it likely amounts to the single largest grassroots movement in the history of China\u2014if not the world. Never has Chinese history seen a movement of the sort, blending as it does nonviolence, high-tech, and religious conviction. This is a story that, once complete, will likely be told in China for generations to come. COERCION AND CRISIS By late 2001, China\u2019s Falun Gong found themselves at the receiving end of a Maoist-style campaign designed to \u201ceradicate\u201d the meditation group. For many the darkest days of communist rule had returned. It was in that year China\u2019s leaders officially sanctioned \u201cthe systematic use of violence against the group,\u201d according to the Washington Post, combined with \u201ca network of brainwashing classes\u201d and a campaign to \u201cweed out followers neighborhood by neighborhood and workplace by workplace\u2026 No Falun Gong member is supposed to be spared.\u201d The Post told of James Ouyang, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, and other adherents like him \u201cbeing beaten, shocked with electric truncheons, and forced to undergo unbearable physical pressure.\u201d One Party official who had advised the regime on the suppression stated that, \u201cAll the brutality, resources and persuasiveness of the Communist system is being used\u2014and is having an effect.\u201d And so it seemed. Ouyang, as the Post\u2019s story recounted, had by the time of his release from labor camp confinement denounced Falun Gong\u2019s teachings and rejected the practice. He had joined the ranks of the \u201creformed,\u201d as Party officials call them. Statistically, his break from the practice meant one less student of the Falun Gong. But was this what Ouyang really wanted? Was it an expression of his own will, of free choice, or of some realization? Hardly. The Post story tells in heart-wrenching detail how Ouyang was \u201creduced to an \u2018obedient thing\u2019\u201d over the course of ten days of torture. He was stripped and interrogated for five hours at a time. Any failure to reply \u201ccorrectly\u201d (with a \u201cyes\u201d) led to repeated shocking with electric truncheons. He was ordered to stand still facing a wall; for any movement, he was shocked; for collapsing of fatigue, he was shocked. By day six Ouyang couldn\u2019t so much as see straight\u2014the result of staring at plaster three inches from his face all that time. He was then shocked yet again, his knees having buckled, after which he finally gave in to the guards\u2019 demands. For the following three days he denounced Falun Gong\u2019s teachings. Still officers continued to shock him, causing him to repeatedly soil himself. Only by day 10 was the denunciation deemed \u201csufficiently sincere\u201d by authorities. He was then transferred to brainwashing classes, where after 20 days of 16-hour sessions and a formal, videotaped rejection of Falun Gong, Ouyang finally \u201cgraduated.\u201d Cases of \u201creform\u201d like Ouyang\u2019s are quickly held up by Party officials as models of success. Hence the videotaping. To the larger world outside the labor camp, or those tucked away in Beijing\u2019s central leadership compound, it looked indeed as if the Party-state was scoring \u201cvictories\u201d against the Falun Gong. But lost upon onlookers was\u2014and often still is\u2014the tenuous nature of such \u201csuccesses.\u201d Few have considered how terribly forced, and fragile, they are. They are predicated upon the regime\u2019s ability to coerce. They demand of people statements they do not believe in, and do so, often, with stunning displays of cruelty. The \u201ctransformed\u201d individual, once back out in the world, is always a liability for the state. He must be made to continually feel threatened, to be reminded of the pain and brutality once felt. He must be isolated, lest interactions with other, \u201cunreformed\u201d adherents rekindle that original affinity with the practice. And he must be deprived, in terms of access to the written teachings of the practice, or even dissenting (non-state controlled) information about what is being done to its followers. Failing any of these coercive measures, the \u201ctransformation\u201d might well wear off. This has of course been a dangerous proposition for a government that cannot afford to provide basic education or health care to hundreds of millions of rural citizens who suffer abject poverty, or that witnessed some 87,000 riots and \u201cmass incidents\u201d just two years ago. Does it really have the resources, or the charisma, to pull off such tactics forever? As one New York Times correspondent put it, writing in 1999, \u201cHas it come to this: that the Chinese Communist Party is terrified of retirees in tennis shoes who follow a spiritual master in Queens?\u201d Nor would it seem China\u2019s rulers have considered the long-term stakes of the campaign. What does it mean for the world\u2019s largest political regime to outlaw and try to \u201ceradicate\u201d a group of meditators who aspire to live a life of virtue? The Xinhua News Agency, the official mouthpiece of China\u2019s Communist Party, affirmed what the Party was up against in an unwittingly candid commentary just one week into the campaign. Xinhua declared that, \u201cIn fact, the so-called \u2018truth, kindness, and forbearance\u2019 principle preached by Li Hongzhi has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve.\u201d Others, such as China-analyst Willy Lam, soon observed the deadly fruits the Party was reaping. Writing in the same year of Ouyang\u2019s ordeal (2001), Lam declared that, \u201cChina is on the brink of a chengxin crisis that threatens not only to tear asunder its moral fabric, but derail economic and political reforms.\u201d \u201cChengxin,\u201d Lam explains elsewhere in his essay, is the Chinese term for \u201chonesty\u201d and \u201ctrustworthiness.\u201d Today, nearly a decade into the campaign against Falun Gong, the chengxin crisis has sunk to new depths as witnessed in the by-now daily revelations of tainted goods issuing forth from China. Few have connected poisoned toothpaste to the plight of Falun Gong, but the connection seems hardly a stretch. Knock out of the picture 100 million of your country\u2019s best citizens, and scare witless anyone who would try to live similarly to them, and you have a recipe for disaster. Or poisoned cough syrup, if you will. RETURNING Falun Gong practitioners meet in secret with Western journalists near Beijing where they demonstrate some of the Falun Gong exercises and recount the human rights abuses they and those in their community face. Many persons like Ouyang never really came to loathe Falun Gong. The denunciations for the vast majority of \u201creformed\u201d adherents were wrung out of them, quite literally, with torture and threat. What they did learn to loathe, however, was the Party-state. Ouyang told the Washington Post, \u201cNow, whenever I see a policeman and those electric truncheons, I feel sick, ready to throw up.\u201d The professions of Party loyalty secured in the bowels of China\u2019s gulag, in other words, did not quite amount to Revolutionary zeal. Instead, witnesses from China suggest, they bred a deep resentment of the oppressor. And questioning. As the title of an essay by Falun Gong\u2019s teacher put it, \u201cCoercion cannot change people\u2019s hearts.\u201d Falun Gong had given so many so much\u2014vibrant health, newfound meaning, mended relationships, and a positively contagious sense of optimism. To renounce the practice was for many a return to a state of brokenness. It wasn\u2019t long, then, before public declarations nullifying the forced recanting began to appear. Titled \u201csolemn declarations,\u201d the statements started appearing on Falun Gong\u2019s main website, Minghui.org, en masse. Hundreds of adherents were writing professions every day. Tong Shixun, who was abused by authorities in a Shandong province labor camp, wrote in September of 2001 that he wished to \u201csolemnly declare as null and void everything I said and wrote while I was not in my right mind as a result of intense persecution.\u201d Like many others, his declaration was accompanied by a vow to resist the persecution. \u201cI\u2019m determined about my practice, and will seize this opportunity of time to expose the evil taking place,\u201d Tong wrote. \u201cI will redouble my efforts to clarify the truth and set right my mistakes.\u201d Today, a staggering 350,000,000 some statements have been received by the website. The figure gives a glimpse at the massive changes happening. Consider what goes into each single statement. First the individual must be willing to make a public declaration. This act alone can land, and has landed, one back in the gulag. Then the person must have access to the Internet; unlike in the United States, only 1 in every 26 persons in China owns a computer, let alone has Internet access. Additionally, just to reach the Minghui website\u2014and know of the possibility of a declaration\u2014requires access to sophisticated software, so tight is China\u2019s Internet censorship. Finally, to communicate one\u2019s statement to the website is itself a task, as a vast array of Internet filters and monitors are in place to prevent any communication about Falun Gong from taking place. We might imagine that for every person who issues a statement that makes it through and gets tallied, another 50 adherents exist who have returned to the practice unannounced. Accounts from even remote, rural villages received by Minghui\u2019s editors and the Falun Dafa Information Center confirm this sense. Many report that the vast majority of their locale\u2019s pre-1999 ban practitioners have returned to Falun Gong, often with a commitment stronger for it. In some cases taking up Falun Gong is not so much a matter of return, but beginning. Such was the case for 32-year-old Zhang Xueling, of Shandong province. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zhang took up the practice after a chance encounter in jail. Zhang had been incarcerated for probing the death of her mother, Chen Zixiu, 58, who was murdered by Chinese police for her faith. In prison Zhang met a number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. They were the only persons kind to her in the prison, she observed. The experience moved her. After her release she herself began to practice Falun Gong. \u201cI used to be a materialist and believed that everything in life could be gained from hard work,\u201d Zhang told the Journal. \u201cBut Falun Dafa makes more sense. At its root are three principles: truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. If we adhere to these, isn\u2019t that a deeper meaning to life?\u201d Sources in China point out, however, that many have held to the faith right through, defying any attempts at Party \u201ctransformation.\u201d Some have simply gone untouched. Many have weathered the storm. Others, as in the case of Ms. Gao Rongrong, a 37-year-old accountant in Shenyang city, have paid the ultimate price. Gao was tortured to death in the grisliest of fashions for refusing to recant. To date more than 3,000 Falun Gong are known to have been killed in the persecution. CONVICTION A woman defies a plain clothes policeman on Tiananmen Square. If the Falun Gong\u2019s mounting size has grown unnoticed to outside observers, so too has its strength. Particularly, its strength of conviction. If the greatest nonviolent movements of the 20th century are any indicator, however, this is an oversight. Gandhi once proclaimed that, \u201cA small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.\u201d Much less one that is millions strong, tempered, and growing. The first layer of conviction is the more immediate of the two. From the fateful July day in 1999 when their faith was outlawed, the Falun Gong have considered their plight to be (quite rightly) a case of flagrant injustice. That is, the banning, and subsequent escalation to violence and killing, contravened China\u2019s constitution on multiple fronts as well as international covenants signed by China. Freedom of religious belief, at least on paper, is ensured in China. It was not until October that China\u2019s legislature enacted laws that would legitimate the group\u2019s suppression\u2014never mind that they were being applied retroactively. The practice had broken no laws with its quiet, placid gatherings in China\u2019s parks, nor even with its mass gathering to petition the central government near Zhongnanhai, the central leadership compound, in April of 1999 after several of its practitioners were physically assaulted by Tianjin city police. (In fact, it had been Tianjin authorities who directed them to the central petitioning office in Beijing.) This is a conviction that runs deep, for it is shaped on a spiritual level. Many quickly realized the persecution was directed at not so much what they did, as what they believed\u2014at who they were. The stakes were altogether different. What was on the line was not so much loss of rights, but of self, or soul. One practitioner from China, Zhao Ming, has described this sense, saying, \u201cMy personal experience shows that the persecution of Falun Gong is completely targeting our belief.\u201d Zhao was tortured in a Beijing labor camp, where he was held for two years. \u201c is completely persecution of our spiritual belief. We didn\u2019t do anything illegal \u2026 torture is used to \u2018transform\u2019 people into machine-like puppets without a conscience, who can be used as instruments to harm others.\u201d Indeed, if the whole basis of the Falun Gong is to become morally outstanding and healthy persons, one wonders what exactly China\u2019s rulers wish to \u201ctransform\u201d them into instead. But brainwashing is not easily enacted in this case, of course. For so many of the Falun Gong, the practice proved a wellspring of inspiration and goodness. For some it was a source of renewed health and vigor. For others it was a philosophy with deep resonances, a new lens through which to see and navigate life, at once empowering and ennobling. It also gave meaning to suffering, much as in the Buddhist faith; most came to see it as suffused with spiritual value. Thus, two things naturally followed with the onset of persecution. First, it was not something people were about to drop overnight. And secondly, they were willing to suffer for their faith. The persecution was not just an affront on politically-granted rights: it was a form of violence to humanity, or even to the cosmos. The process of self-cultivation, as they call it (see page 53), is a path of effacing self as much as anything, of putting others first, even at the expense of one\u2019s own welfare, when need be. The Party, in a word, had picked on something bigger than even its own size. But conviction has also had a second layer for China\u2019s Falun Gong amidst all this, one that is more outwardly directed. This latter conviction is born of a sense of compassion, of outward concern, nurtured by the practice. Recall that the process of self-cultivation (see page 57) is a path of effacing self as anything, of putting others first, even at the expense of one\u2019s own welfare, if need be. In this case, though, it is not so much fellow Falun Gong that the adherent is concerned over (though this is certainly the case as well), but the average fellow citizen. Other citizens are caught up in the ordeal, and equally victims, the Falun Gong feel. That is, insofar as the individual has been misled by the Party\u2019s crusade against the Falun Gong, and learned, from it, to hate. When practitioners of the Falun Gong speak of such persons as having been \u201cpoisoned\u201d by Party propaganda, they refer to a form of harm and contamination to the soul. And as the Falun Gong teaches to love one\u2019s neighbor as oneself, few are the adherents not compelled to extend a helping hand to these persons. One member likened it to helping a sick child who, when infected, is compromised and at risk but oblivious to it. I have seen a number of persons speak similarly of such folk, the \u201cother victims,\u201d with tears in their eyes. History supports Falun Gong\u2019s perspective here, for how else could one view, say, the youths of Germany who, through a daily diet of anti-semitic rants, learned over time to hate the Jew and even take part in his slaughter. Though probably most of China\u2019s Falun Gong have never heard of Martin Luther King Jr., daily they would seem to testify to his pronouncement: \u201cAt the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.\u201d FROM BANNERS TO BANDWIDTH A Chinese policeman (right) approaches Falun Gong practitioners on Tiananmen Square as they hold a banner that reads "Truthfulness Compassion Forbearance" Of this conviction has arisen an incredible tale of unlikely, and unsung, acts of tremendous courage. And acts from those we might least expect\u2014the elderly, the young, the broken\u2014to be a force for change in China. What began as a simple call for a breathing space has grown into a massive rights effort involving a stunning array of participants and means. Few in the West have a sense for the history now in the making. At first the Falun Gong\u2019s efforts were informed by a belief, perhaps at times na\u00efve, that the persecution was in effect a colossal misunderstanding. That is, that the Communist Party leadership had somehow got it wrong; they didn\u2019t understand what Falun Gong was about, really. How else could this have happened, many recall asking, when the group, which has no political ambitions, strove only to be the best of citizens and neighbors? Thus it was off to the capital of Beijing and other provincial centers to petition authorities. Since the dawn of the Chinese empire a system whereby citizens can \u201cpetition\u201d the ruler has been in place, allowing ordinary citizens a means to express grievances and seek redress. As many as 10 million petitions were filed in one recent year, reports Human Rights Watch, and at any given time some 10,000 such persons (\u201cpetitioners\u201d as they\u2019re called) might throng Beijing\u2019s streets. It was a natural first recourse thus when the ban was announced on July 22, 1999. And indeed, just a few months prior, on April 25, a happy resolution seemed to have come about when several thousand Falun Gong petitioned the central government; then-Premier Zhu Rongji had personally met with representatives of the group and given assurances. What adherents could little have imagined, however, was just how disinterested authorities were in hearing Falun Gong\u2019s concerns. Untold thousands found themselves arrested for trying to petition, though it is a state-appointed right. Within a short time it was learned all petition offices had orders to arrest any Falun Gong who came through their doors. Jiang Zemin, who ordered the suppression, was said to have burned barrels of letters sent to him by beleaguered members of the group. Soon violence came into the picture, with increasing frequency and degree. Witnesses reported beatings in public. Deaths came to light. And the news media clearly had but one agenda\u2014one that was set by the Party. By the end of the campaign\u2019s first month the People\u2019s Daily, the voice of the Party, had carried a staggering 347 articles denouncing the Falun Gong. Propaganda marathons piped into homes throughout the nation around the clock through state-run television, branding Falun Gong a menace to society. And merely seven days into the campaign, authorities boasted of having confiscated more than 2 million \u201cillegal\u201d Falun Gong books; some cities even witnessed book burning rallies, courtesy of the Public Security Bureau. Now the group had not only a group of thick-skulled authorities to try to enlighten\u2014the entire citizenry now stood to be confused. Adherents thus took their petitions public as it were. Prominent symbolic spaces like Tiananmen Square became the site of contestation. Farmers, businesspeople, nurses, scientists, and even young kids could be seen unfurling yellow banners. Meant to educate, as much as anything, the message often declared \u201cFalun Gong is Good!\u201d or \u201cRestore Falun Dafa\u2019s Name.\u201d Party authorities proved no more amenable, predictably, to these acts. Typically the demonstrator would meet with fists and feet from Chinese police, followed by interrogation and then jailing or three years in a labor camp. The toll was heavy, and palpably felt. With the year 2002 a changing of the guard took place, so to speak, followed by a new era of efforts that were more sophisticated and realistic, if not more determined. It was that year that a group of 50 some Western followers of Falun Gong traveled to Tiananmen and declared, again with yellow banner, simply \u201cTruthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance.\u201d By that time few Chinese followers were traveling to Tiananmen anymore, for various reasons, and even fewer would thereafter. It was the mark of a new era, though one in which Tiananmen would factor very little, oddly enough. Now the efforts would spread out to every city, street, alley and home. By March of the same year, Falun Gong adherents in the northeastern city of Changchun (the practice\u2019s birthplace, notably) managed to tap into the lines of a major cable network and replace normal programming with an informational video about Falun Gong. The feature ran on eight different channels and lasted fully forty-five minutes. For thousands of city residents it was the first time in three years they were privy to independent depictions of the practice and its plight; simply trying to read about Falun Gong online could land one in jail. So shaken was the government\u2014local as well as central\u2014that marshal law was ordered in Changchun and a manhunt begun. Orders were to \u201cshoot to kill\u201d and \u201cshoot on sight\u201d any seen attempting another tapping. Those involved in the episode were tracked down eventually, tortured, and killed. Reports of similar feats of engineering soon came in from other provinces, such as Sichuan and Liaoning, with parallel Party reactions. The stakes on both sides had raised exponentially. Around this time as well underground print shops, called \u201cmaterials sites\u201d by those involved, began mushrooming throughout the country. These were China\u2019s closest answer to grassroots media in an informational landscape monopolized by the Party-state. Humble and roughly hewn, the sites were often tucked away in the corner of a Falun Gong adherent\u2019s home. At their most basic, they would involve a printer of some sort; some, perhaps, a copier and possibly a computer. Here, in cramped quarters, the determined would assemble an array of homemade media\u2014typically flyers, pamphlets, and VCDs. Then, usually under the cover of night, teams of practitioners (or sometimes lone individuals) would set out across a given locale to distribute the goods. By the break of dawn flyers could be seen resting in bicycle baskets and posted on city walls; VCDs slipped under front doors; or pamphlets tucked under wiperblades or perhaps in a mailbox. By March 2002 the Washington Post had reported that thousands of VCDs were appearing in major cities. Meanwhile, one woman who has since escaped from China, Wang Yuzhi, describes in her memoir Chuanyue Shengsi (Crossing the Boundary of Life and Death) that as early as mid-2001, she had in one three-day span printed several hundred thousand flyers, which others in Heilongjiang province then distributed. For others, as with Wang, all expenses come out of their own pockets. With time, the materials sites have grown only more robust, as has distribution. Several cities now report regular, non-Falun Gong citizens getting into the act of printing and distributing these materials. Banners still unfold in support of the Falun Gong in China, but in a far less geographically focused manner than in the first two years. Whereas before Tiananmen was where all good banners went to serve, in recent years they have multiplied and spread to a creative array of places and spaces. On any given morning one might awake to see banners hung from bridges, apartment balconies, trees, telephone poles, and even the walls of the local police station. It\u2019s not just affirmative slogans that hang of late, however. Posters exposing persons, or entities, responsible for persecution now plaster targeted locales when problems come to light. Falun Gong practitioners will often canvass a given area after learning of rights abuses, often torture, at the hands of a certain police officer or official. The idea is to \u201cexpose locally,\u201d as it\u2019s called, and the effect is often immediate and palpable. An abusive prison guard might awake one day to see flyers posted on the walls of his building detailing his acts of evil at the local detention center; neighbors will likely have received the flyer, as will have relatives, co-workers, and a host of others. In a country where \u201csaving face\u201d reigns supreme, experience is showing that thugs can be \u201cshamed straight,\u201d so to speak. Such exposure gains added weight, however, when put online and brought to the attention of the outside world. While it\u2019s no simple feat to get such information out of China, volumes of it still manage to get through. A formidable part of the package is the \u201cFawanghuihui.org\u201d (\u201cVast Net of Justice\u201d) website, which at any given time might offer profiles of as many as 51,000 \u201cevildoers.\u201d A typical entry includes the authority\u2019s name, work unit, gender, position, and phone number. The last part\u2014a phone number\u2014is critical, and ties in to another grassroots effort of incredible proportions: phone calls. With petitioning offices sealed for the Falun Gong, and no recourse through the courts, adherents have had to become a legal system unto themselves. If websites such as Fawanghuihui.org and Minghui.org serve as virtual courts, phone calls to perpetrators are certainly one of the sentences. Across China and from countries around the world, adherents have been placing volumes of calls\u2014staggering in quantity\u2014to those most directly responsible for the group\u2019s suffering. But what\u2019s the hope? Not so much \u201cshaming straight\u201d in this case. Rather, it goes back to the convictions shared by practitioners of Falun Gong. Principal among them is that every human being, no matter how base his actions, contains within the seeds of goodness, and on this account, is to be cherished. Reaching out is seen as an act of compassion; the perpetrator is harming himself, ultimately, as he harms others. Many describe their telephone conversations as attempts to \u201cawaken\u201d the \u201cgood\u201d side of the perpetrator, to stir his or her conscience. Some authorities have declared openly over the phone: \u201cI will never harm your people again\u2014I was wrong.\u201d Victories in life come in many forms. Given that there is no public space allowed to China\u2019s Falun Gong, be it physical or social, victories such as these are shared in virtual spaces, such as the Internet. No entity is of greater importance here than the Minghui.org website. Now in its eighth year, the site bridges communities both within China and around the world, and much more. It produces a range of publications ready for printing and distributing in China, even offering brief videos to burn to CD, with a choice of various, discreet labels. There one can find even the nuts and bolts of successful nonviolent protest: one of the web pages diagrams the parts and assembly of a banner-slingshot (for lack of a better term) by which one can hurl and unfurl a banner high above in treetops or over telephone wires\u2014well out of harm\u2019s reach. The site\u2019s daily online publication, meanwhile, has become a veritable goldmine of information and inspiration. Reports of persecution in China document torture and identify victims in need of help; accounts of activities around the world provide hope and awareness; forums provide a venue for the exchange of ideas; personal essays narrate individuals\u2019 growth in the practice and fortitude in the face of oppression; and of course, \u201csolemn declarations\u201d allow those who have been broken by torture and brainwashing to begin anew. On any given day the site might receive communications from several hundred individuals. This is not, of course, as easy as it sounds: Minghui.org and all of its kin are banned by the Chinese regime, and a mere visit to their webpages from inside China\u2014should you manage to elude internet blocks\u2014could mean a trip to prison. Again, a coordinated international effort proves critical. Falun Gong practitioners in the West have since the earliest days of the persecution worked painstakingly to develop and deploy Internet technologies that break through the regime\u2019s censorship, and achieved astounding success. Consider this: In 2005, websites unblocked by Falun Gong\u2019s software received on average over 30 million hits per day from Chinese users. Websites such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have become available to Chinese through these technologies, as have the uncensored versions of search engines such as Google. No other group of Internet activists has managed to come remotely close to this degree of success. And again, this despite almost everything being self-funded and done on a voluntary basis. Indeed, \u201ca small body of determined spirits\u201d can, if \u201cfired by an unquenchable faith in their mission\u201d alter the very course of history. Gandhi knew firsthand. Internet support is just one of several helping hands from abroad, however. Falun Gong practitioners in the West have matched the sacrifices of their mainland China counterparts in their own ways, you might say. For example, while some in China were calling jails and labor camps to talk with abusive guards, those outside of China were making such calls as well. By 2005, an estimated 30\u201340 million had been made. Phone lines were given a workout by means of the fax as well, with overseas adherents sending an average of 300,000 faxes to China every month. So too has the larger body mailed informational VCDs and assorted publications into China. Other efforts from the overseas community have included heavy use of Internet chatrooms as well as the broadcasting of both radio and satellite television programming into China. All, again, done without any financial compensation and on a voluntary, spare-time basis. Such is the power of conviction. LEAVING THE PARTY After nearly a decade of brutality, humiliation, and privation on account of their spiritual beliefs, China\u2019s Falun Gong have come to see the workings of the persecution apparatus in vivid relief. A sharpened assessment has come about with time, one far less optimistic, you might say. Whereas originally certain key figures behind the awful mess could be identified (e.g., Jiang Zemin, Luo Gan, and Li Lanqing), and clearly many officials disagreed with the hamhanded measures (e.g., Zhu Rongji), with time that distinction became ever less clear; strong-arm tactics and repeated purges gradually weeded out dissent from the Party\u2019s ranks, solidifying the apparatus. To disagree was to risk one\u2019s career. Those most vigorous in carrying out the suppression rose quickly through the ranks, with incentives being tied to obedience at every level of the system. The very Communist Party system itself, it became clear, was the problem. \u201cIt was rotten beyond repair,\u201d says Erping Zhang, a spokesperson for the Falun Gong based in New York. \u201cTo change or try to fix any one part, for instance the courts, is meaningless, when everything from the media to the educational system to the labor camps is controlled by the Party and made to serve the Party. The problem is systemic beyond belief.\u201d Zhao Ming, who was tortured in Beijing\u2019s Tuanhe Labor Camp, echoes Zhang\u2019s interpretation. \u201cThey have been doing this all through the history of the People\u2019s Republic of China. During the \u2018Cultural Revolution\u2019 they destroyed and wiped out all Chinese traditional beliefs, including Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. No Westerner can understand this. I would say you can\u2019t fathom their actions with a normal mind.\u201d For many, the intensity of the cruelty and hatred they saw foisted upon them by the Party fomented, as for Zhang and Zhao, a reexamination. Was it just Falun Gong? Or had the Party done this before, and in other forms? The answer was spelled out in a nine-part critique of the Communist Party, titled \u201cNine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party\u201d or \u201cJiu-ping\u201d (\u201cNine Commentaries\u201d) for short after the Chinese name. The series was published by a Chinese newspaper named Dajiyuan (The Epoch Times), to which a number of Falun Gong persons contribute time. Within just one month of its release (November 2004), veritable shockwaves had been sent throughout the halls of China\u2019s rulers and throughout the land. By that time Meng Weizai, the former director of China\u2019s Bureau of Art and Literature, along with Huang Xiaoming, an Olympic medalist, had declared they were quitting the Party. A flood of resignations soon began that received the strongest inadvertent verification in the form of official denials from the likes of the state-run Xinhua news agency. Other Party actions, otherwise baffling, soon followed, such as mandatory study sessions and campaigns to increase \u201cParty discipline\u201d and to \u201cpreserve the cutting-edge nature\u201d of the Party. Was the leadership nervous? Interest in the Commentaries was only piqued by this. In a short time what were originally 100\u2013200 daily withdrawals from the Party had swelled to thousands; on the day of this writing a total of 33,613 quit, while for June 2007 the tally was 958,587. (It should be noted that \u201cquitting\u201d refers to the Party itself and its two affiliate organizations\u2014the Youth League and Young Pioneers, which many join in China with \u201cblood oaths\u201d at a young age.) But why such a dramatic response, and from so many? Stephen Gregory, an editor at The Epoch Times, offers this: \u201cAfter 55 years of lies and terror, the people of China now have the chance to know their true history. For the first time, they can share with one another the tremendous losses they have suffered under the Chinese Communist Party. For the first time, they can step back from the Communist nightmare and consider the beauty and significance of the ancient civilization that the Communist Party has worked so hard to destroy.\u201d Gregory\u2019s remarks suggest two important points, then. First, that for many, the Commentaries and the chance to break from the Party is almost cathartic, a cleansing of the soul, and an occasion for healing and reconciliation with self and past. Second, it is also a reclaiming\u2014a reclaiming of Chinese culture and history, both of which have been captive to the whims and caprice of the Party for nearly six decades. Communism, as the Commentaries make poignantly clear, is the product of 19th century European thought, not traditional China. The Commentaries in this light might be said to represent an act of unpoliticizing, rather than the reverse. That is, they seek to disentangle the specter of Communism from all things Chinese that it has grafted itself onto and politicized in the vilest of ways\u2014picture Confucius being branded a \u201ccounter-revolutionary\u201d or kids being made to smash Buddhist statues for their being \u201cfeudal superstition.\u201d Similarly, for the Falun Gong, it is the ultimate act of unpoliticizing insofar as the Commentaries are a personal invitation to renewal and recovery of self\u2014a self free of Party politics, free of arbitrary abuse, free of terrible cruelty. It is the ultimate in nonviolent resistance: resistance, or change, at the level of the soul. IMPACT If banners aren\u2019t necessarily a good gauge of things, public statements from the people, by contrast, are. A growing chorus of voices from throughout China suggest that all of the Falun Gong\u2019s efforts are having an impact, and an enormous one, at that. As early as 2000 China\u2019s prominent figures had begun to cite the example of the Falun Gong\u2019s nonviolent efforts. According to a September Reuters report, the Chinese poet Huang Beiling had \u201ccalled on the country\u2019s intellectuals to follow the example of Falun Gong meditators by fighting government oppression through widespread civil disobedience.\u201d The article quoted Huang saying, \u201cThey have been doing this peacefully. When they\u2019re beaten, they don\u2019t hit back. The intellectual community should do the same thing.\u201d Liu Binyan, often called \u201cChina\u2019s conscience\u201d and the country\u2019s most important journalist in the last 50 years, described the Falun Gong as having \u201cunprecedented courage,\u201d explaining that, \u201cthese people have insisted on exercising their rights even though they know perfectly well that they will be arrested and some could even face the death penalty. This kind of attitude is unprecedented in the 50-year history of the PRC.\u201d That attitude, and the efforts by China\u2019s Falun Gong to convey it to others, is fostering an admiration not seen in the early years. This past New Years, for example, hundreds of season\u2019s greetings to Mr. Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong\u2019s teacher, were published online, but this time with a twist. Namely, they came not from Falun Gong adherents, but from supporters and observers who found inspiration in Falun Gong\u2019s conduct. Mr. Hu Ping, a leading Chinese intellectual and author, described Falun Gong\u2019s cable-splicing as a \u201cstunning feat,\u201d and described the main figure, Liu Chengjun, as a \u201cFalun Gong hero\u201d and \u201ca martyr in the fight for freedom of speech.\u201d The impact of the Commentaries has been particularly visible. Take for instance the call put forth more recently by Gao Zhisheng, a Christian and one of China\u2019s most prominent attorneys. \u201cAs for how to bring about nonviolent change, I would say that the Falun Gong have succeeded at finding a means to change that will not lead to the shedding of one drop of blood. That approach is, to persuade people to quit the wicked Party\u2014a party that has done every form of evil imaginable in this world. My suggestion is to quit the Party and be closer to God!\u201d Gao, for the record, has referred to his own quitting of the Party as \u201cthe proudest day of my life.\u201d Recent years have witnessed a number of defectors from China, each with a tale involving Falun Gong and a change of heart. Chen Yonglin for instance, who was Consul for Political Affairs of the Consulate-General of China in Sydney, grew sick of his job there, which consisted largely of spying (unlawfully) on local Falun Gong devotees. One repentant defector (to Canada), Han Guangsheng, was Chief of the Shenyang Justice Bureau, and oversaw camps where Falun Gong were tortured. Another who defected to Australia, Hao Fengjun, had been a police officer in China\u2019s notorious 6-10 operation\u2014charged with eradicating the group. Each has come forth out of a mix of conviction and regret, knowing full well the risks of going public. All three of them have stated that it was reading the Commentaries that inspired their break. While Party authorities have tried to downplay the impact of the Commentaries, the move is born of fear, not confidence. Consider this: A 2005 study by the OpenNet Initiative\u2014a collaborative project between institutes at the University of Toronto, Harvard, and Cambridge\u2014discovered that 90% of tested Chinese websites containing references to the \u201cNine Commentaries\u201d (Jiu-ping) were blocked in China\u2014one of the three highest ratios found in the study. Perhaps most dramatic of all turnarounds has been that of the masses of Chinese people who were coerced into mistreating Falun Gong. Chinese citizens\u2014regular, non-Falun Gong citizens\u2014are themselves writing \u201csolemn declaration\u201d statements, like those discussed in this article earlier, for publication on Minghui.org. Piece after piece describes having been intimidated, coerced, and threatened into opposing Falun Gong. In one moving account, a man surnamed Feng described how state-run propaganda television shows demonizing Falun Gong left him terrified. So scared was he of the Falun Gong book in his house at the time, he decided to burn it. Shortly afterwards he became gravely ill. A chance encounter with a friend landed one of the Minghui.org\u2019s publications in his lap, which Falun Gong adherents in China had printed out after accessing the site through anti-web-jamming technology. It was then that he realized the television shows programmed him to hate, as had state-run newspapers. \u201cFalun Gong shouldn\u2019t be persecuted,\u201d Feng thus declared in his statement, and vowed to change himself for the better; he began silently reciting \u201cTruth, Compassion, Tolerance\u201d\u2014Falun Gong\u2019s guiding virtues\u2014to himself, only to discover, a few days later, that \u201call my ailments were gone!\u201d Feng ends his letter by asking forgiveness. To date more than 55,000 public statements like Feng\u2019s have been published online, with several hundred more being submitted each week. Even those who haven\u2019t mended their ways have given tacit affirmation to this growing momentum. History, they would seem to know, is not on their side. Chen Yonglin has indicated, for example, that many Party officials of high rank have begun anxiously sending family members abroad. Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong, major figures in the genocide\u2019s orchestration, have tried to gain certification of immigration status in Australia, Chen says\u2014for themselves. \u201cWe\u2019re going to see the Party\u2019s collapse in the near future,\u201d Chen confidently says. Another unlikely nod came in 2005 when several sources inside China told of unlikely orders given within the state security apparatus. The plan this time? To begin destroying documents related to the anti-Falun Gong campaign. The move was described as \u201ccover up work\u201d in advance of an anticipated reversal on Falun Gong policy. Or perhaps a larger reversal: of political rule. According to sources in China, on March 25, 2006, Heilongjiang province\u2019s Party headquarters issued a circular ordering all classified documents issued by the Party\u2019s central or provincial offices destroyed. This time, it was not just a matter of Falun Gong, but of communist operations more broadly. Has the course of history already changed, then? Hu Ping\u2019s assessment, again, seems prescient. Writing in 2004, Hu weighed in declaring that, \u201cFalun Gong cannot be defeated. The Communist government of China is one of the most powerful and dictatorial political regimes in the world; for five years it has mobilized the entire nation as one machine to destroy Falun Gong, but it hasn\u2019t succeeded. Falun Gong has sustained its integrity during this unprecedented and horrendous trial.\u201d \u201cEven the slightly informed have no doubt that the suppression will end in total failure. The vitality of Falun Gong cannot be underestimated, and its prospects for the future are bright.\u201d But how does that bode for China? Need change be threatening? Hu\u2019s assessment is reassuring: \u201cFalun Gong is going to play a major role in the revival of moral values in China.\u201d For all of us in the West who use toothpaste, or have pets to feed, that alone is reason to celebrate. Levi Browde is Executive Director of the Falun Dafa Information Center. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.