Refugees settling in Philadelphia

Refugees seek new beginnings in the City of Brotherly Love.

By Aaron Kase & F. H. Rubino
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 14 | Posted Mar. 2, 2010

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Practice what you preach

By F. H. Rubino feedback@philadelphiaweekly.com

There’s a yarn that devotees of Falun Gong—the tai chi-like spiritual movement that swept across China during the 1990s before the Communists banned it—tell about a woman being lashed by a labor camp guard. Her clothing reduced to ribbons, so the tale goes, she tore off a shred and wiped her exhausted, sweating tormentor’s brow with it. Moved by her selflessness, he collapsed crying. The story of Jingfang Yang, a Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) practitioner who fled China for Cherry Hill, N.J., last February, isn’t that dramatic, but as she sits in an interpreter’s South Philly living room and relives her ordeal, you’re reminded that paranoia is a scary thing.

Yang is one of an estimated 200 Falun Gong enthusiasts who regularly practice in and around Philadelphia, most visibly outside the Liberty Bell Pavilion at Fifth and Market every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon. She’s also scheduled to speak at a March 20 “Quit the Party” rally near the Chinatown Friendship Gate (10th and Arch) that’ll celebrate what local practitioners assert is the defection from the Communist Chinese Party of some 70 million who, like Yang, have had it with totalitarianism.

On this snowy Friday, however, Yang, who sports a pageboy cut and looks younger than her 60 years, is recalling days when staying alive warranted an internal celebration. She remembers the indignity of being handcuffed to a hotel-room chair for 32 days following her October 2002 arrest, one that precipitated a three-year labor camp sentence. She’d already served a year in a detention center. Describing daily life in the camps, Yang says she and other detainees, lumped with convicted murderers, robbers and drug offenders, toiled 16 hours a day making chopsticks and light bulbs. They slept on cold cement floors. Often they were shackled to one another, sometimes for more than a week. The most defiant suffered beatings, although no one escaped physical abuse altogether. They lived on spoiled rice and cabbage. “It didn’t matter how old a person was,” she says. “They mistreated everyone.”

Yang says she once saw a young woman strapped to a bed and stretched tortuously “for days and days.” The woman ultimately died. Yang she says she knows of six or seven others from her native Anhui Province who perished. All for refusing to renounce a tranquil regimen that many swear does wonders for mind and body. Yang, who lives with her mother (her daughter and granddaughter still live in China), says she has been free of a laundry list of health problems since taking up Falun Gong in 1993. “I feel so wonderful, so energetic,” she says.

 

Falun Gong, characterized by practitioners as a variation of the ancient Chinese art of qigong (which many liken to yoga), became popular in China after “Master” Li Hongzhi authored a 1996 bestseller extolling its virtues. Besides meditating and practicing five nonstressful exercises, the faithful strive to improve their morality, emphasizing truth, compassion and tolerance. By the late ’90s, 70 million to 100 million Chinese were practicing, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center in New York, faluninfo.net. But in 1999, China’s government labeled Falun Gong a cult threatening national stability, and outlawed it. Some suspect the action stemmed from leaders’ fears that as the Chinese increasingly embraced Falun Gong, many might reject Communism, which eschews spirituality.

Falun Dafa Information Center spokespersons say they’ve documented the killing of more than 3,000 Falun Gong practitioners in China, although they believe the true figure approaches 30,000. They further allege the government has sold slain practitioners’ vital organs abroad. Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty International in London says that although Amnesty doesn’t confirm (or dispute) those figures, the human-rights watchdog has long been convinced the persecution is real.

“There’s no question from Amnesty’s perspective that Falun Gong is one of the most severely persecuted groups in China,” she says, “and that this persecution has been going on for 10 years and consists of arbitrarily detaining people, imprisoning them.”

Francis adds that the Chinese Communists “almost never” respond to Amnesty about human-rights allegations, and haven’t responded to inquiries concerning Falun Gong.

Although China hasn’t responded to Amnesty International, the webpage of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America features a link, “Outlawing Falun Gong Cult.”

When you click on it, a menu of headlines including, Falun Gong: An Evil Cult, and A Look at Cult Leader’s Malicious Fallacies appears. Each links to narrative accusing Falun Gong practitioners of criminality or characterizing Honzhi as a wacky cult head.

Practitioners hate the cult label, explains local psychiatrist Jingduan Yang, a Philadelphia Falun Dafa Association spokesperson and the 48-year-old brother of Jingfang Yang, because it’s a wildly inaccurate yet effective means of marginalizing Falun Gong.

“Everything about Falun Gong is the opposite of a cult,” says Yang, who attends practice sessions every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “Cults isolate their members and take their property and money. Falun Gong is the opposite. The challenge is to practice truth, compassion and tolerance while living in everyday society.”

Jingfang Yang loathes the cult characterization almost as much as she deplores Communism. Still, she says she’s avoided bitterness.

“I’m not angry ... I just feel so sorry for the people still practicing there. They are suffering.” ■

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 14 of 14
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1. Phil said... on Mar 3, 2010 at 04:55PM

“I encourage everyone to learn about this topic. Helpful websites are:

Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org
Friends of Falun Gong: www.fofg.org”

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2. Linda said... on Mar 3, 2010 at 05:36PM

“Mr Kamara should use the elders in his community to keep watch,on their children and elders. They could become useful as the safety officers.Crime is rampent as well as drugs in this city and the higher ups and the people we pay to protect us are part of the problem. I have met a few Liberian people when I was driving the bus for the city. I found them to be people I would be proud to be with anytime.”

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3. Chris said... on Mar 4, 2010 at 03:08PM

“Please remove the photo of a gun in relation with this article. It really sends the wrong message. I'm not the type to get upset about stuff like this, but that photo is really inappropriate.”

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4. Ray said... on Mar 5, 2010 at 09:38AM

“I too am offended by the gun photo. What's the point? That refugees usually have rifles? That we ought to fear them? That violent criminals are invading our our country? I associate RUDE generalizations and stigmas with this image.”

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5. Jone said... on Mar 6, 2010 at 03:30PM

“Quit CCP at once!”

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6. Qing said... on Mar 8, 2010 at 10:48AM

“I'm a Chinese immigrant and I am familiar with the persecution of Falun Gong in China and I'm glad that some have found Philadelphia, the brotherly love, as the refugee place. It is important for media to cover the continuous brutality against these innocent, kind people and the hopeful movement of renouncing the CCP membership. After reading “Nine Commentaries on Communist Party” (http://ninecommentaries.com/), I now come to realize more deeply the true character of the CCP and like almost 70 million now, I too have renounced my membership.

It is by reading the Nine Commentaries that I understand now the over 60 plus years of social and political chaos by the CCP to destroy my culture, my life, for their forceful control . By quitting the Party, I now really appreciate and understand more deeply the sacrifices of many in this country for me to be living in the shadows of the Liberty Bell free from this regime.”

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7. Qi Zhou said... on Mar 9, 2010 at 09:29AM

“Thank you for your coverage of the story of Jingfang Yang, very touching. This almost 11-year tragic persecution of Falun Gong has affected so many in China and here in Philadelphia.

It’s interesting that your article mentioned the “quit the Chinese Communist Party ” rally. It’s a trend in China that many media agencies have missed in capturing. This is one of the most amazing things in China now and outside. Through quitting the Chinese Communist Party and its affiliated associations, we simply renounce the Chinese Communist Party for our own spiritual freedom, without seeking any political agenda. It is in this way I believe that positive changes will happen in China. With about 50,000 Chinese quitting from Chinese Communist Party every day, and nearly 70M have quit from Chinese Communist Party by now! A true awakening. Would like to see more coverage in the future.

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8. Deep said... on Mar 9, 2010 at 05:24PM

“I agree with the other posters, the picture of the Kalishnakov is not only inappropriate, but also inaccurate. Rather than threatening Philly, these immigrants are actually saving the city. A more appropriate picture would be one of the numerous African restaurants and shops that are opening up all over the city. These immigrants are bringing neighborhoods that were left for dead back to life. Philly is a better city because of these immigrants.”

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9. Xian said... on Mar 9, 2010 at 08:52PM

“Thanks a lot for letting us know the touching story. I came from China and I am aware of how bad Chinese Communist Party is in China.

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10. Zheng said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 11:35PM

“I'm quite familiar with Falun Gong practitioners that have been through our Philadelphia court system in seeking asylum and who have ultimately been embraced by the arms of The City of Brotherly Love. If not for this, they would have been forced to return to the ruthless grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with no future. The "Quit the Party" movement is important to report on. Through the Tuidang movement which translates as "withdraw from the party," I too have renounced my membership. The Tuidang movement began when the independent New York-based Chinese newspaper DaJiYuan published a series of editorials detailing the history of the Communist Party in China called Jiu-Ping or 9-Commentaries on the Communist Party. Growing up in China, this was history that was censured from us and all that was taught were the great strides by this communist regime. The historic details were shocking to me and my family members. Like so many, I will no longer be a member of this Party.”

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11. Architect Rod Herrera said... on May 4, 2010 at 05:30AM

“In Philadelphia. We are not welcoming anyone, we are going about our business without bother.These new immigrants are coming here and they are not taxing our system. They are doing the hard part themselves and have asked little from us. Most Asians, Africans and South Americans start working the first day they arrive, within months they manage to deal with the cold, the loneliness, the near starvation and the language. They contribute to this City more than we have measured. They are smart, respectful, industrious and achievers. Philadelphia is an Academic City with 18 Universities and an excellent HIgh Schools system with excellent teaching staff. What made some schools bad, were local residents, drunk European trash that never improved. The new immigrants have actually restored to academic excellence most of the "bad" schools. At Drexel, Temple, & St. Joe's they lead the way-we are lucky they chose us rather than some other City.. Welcome friends and thanks you”

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12. frankee buku saylae jr said... on Sep 5, 2011 at 02:28PM

“the above mentioned is my name and i can't explain all. some people in liberian call themselves Anti-politicians are training guys in huge quantity for the upcoming elections and o am gradually becoming afraid and want escape this land by all cause beacuse my friends hate me because of my family orientation. i will be willing for an interaction if neccessary. my pravate number is 23176081482”

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13. Anonymous said... on Dec 23, 2011 at 10:55AM

“Center for New Americans at JEVS provide a rang of free services to all refugees! Visit this website and you may get some help toward employment.
http://www.jevshumanservices.org/programs/center-for-new-americans.html”

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14. sellie gbosah said... on Feb 21, 2013 at 07:22PM

“the problem here is that parent have to stop they children from taken drug..”

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