Taking it to the streets: Plano woman spends nearly $200,000 to put message on buses

The Dallas Morning News/November 17, 2001
By Esther Wu

The ads on the sides of city buses have become a part of the urban landscape - posters touting television shows, the Ice Capades, or a new laundry additive.

But one ad is causing some people to do a double take. At first glance it looks like a promotion for allergy medication. A woman sits in a meadow of flowers meditating. Next to her are the words: Truth, Compassion, Tolerance, and, finally, Falun Dafa. Then it hits you. This is an advertisement about that group of people being persecuted in China.

"Well, that's not quite all," said Yucy Luu, a Plano computer company owner who has spent nearly $200,000 of her own money on the DART ads in the last 15 months.

"But that is part of the message I want to get across. If just one person sees the ad, and if it raises their consciousness about Falun Dafa, then it will have been worth any amount of money."

Falun Dafa is the spiritual component of Falun Gong, a movement the Chinese government outlawed two years ago as a politically dangerous sect.

Its followers, however, say it is a practice that combines meditation with exercises to improve the body, mind and spirit. Practitioners, as they prefer to be called, also follow the teachings of its founder, Li Hongzhi, who advocates a simple life guided by the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance.

Ms. Luu estimates that there are more than 30 million adherents worldwide. The Chinese government has reportedly jailed thousands and pressed them to denounce the practice. Practitioners say the Chinese government has killed at least 250 of their peers and tortured countless others.

"We need to let others know about the persecution that is taking place in China, and we need to let people know that Falun Dafa is not evil, as the Chinese government has said it is," Ms. Luu said.

Ms. Luu said she was fortunate to be able to finance her one-woman ad campaign.

She took a Falun Dafa poster to Obie Media and told them she wanted to get her message out on the DART buses.

"This is highly unusual," said general manager Greg Duval, whose company handles the advertising contracts for some 40 transit companies nationwide. "Our business usually focuses on retail or consumer goods and services. It is very rare for an individual to make [an advertising] buy like this.

"We've received a handful of calls about the ads - mostly requests for more information," said Mr. Duval. "We just refer the callers to the group's website that's on the ad."

The first ad appeared in August 2000, and the last ones will be removed by Nov. 30. Ms. Luu started out with a contract for 10 bus ads and gradually added more until there were 30 buses sporting Falun Dafa ads on their sides or backs.

Judy Henneberger, assistant chaplain at Southern Methodist University and coordinator of religious life on campus, has seen the ads around town.

"Because of my work, I'm familiar with diverse groups and religions. I know about Falun Dafa, so it didn't raise any questions in my mind. But you certainly couldn't help but notice the ads."

That's music to Ms. Luu's ears.

The Plano resident has been a Falun Dafa practitioner since 1996.

After attending a 1999 national conference in Washington, D.C., about the persecution of Falun Dafa followers in China, Ms. Luu decided to start an advertising campaign to "tell the truth about Falun Dafa."

She kicked off her campaign by buying full-page ads in the local Chinese-language newspapers.

But that wasn't enough, Ms. Luu said. "I needed a way to reach more people - American people."

She said the idea for the bus ads came to her as she was driving through town and saw a bus with an eye-catching ad.

"I knew those buses would go to parts of the city I couldn't," she said.

The ads are based on a poster distributed by the Falun Dafa information center.

The ads list the national website for Falun Dafa, www.falun.org, so Ms. Luu has no way of gauging how effective the ads have been. But she said the numbers don't matter - "people do."

She has been paying an average of $15,000 a month for the ads, but the cost didn't faze her.

"My husband, Teddy, told me I had a certain amount of money I could spend any way I wanted. But he approves. Teddy was the one who introduced me to the movement. He saw an ad about a Falun Gong meeting in Houston and he decided to go.

"We had been going to a Buddhist temple, but Teddy was looking for something more, something more meaningful. Falun Dafa seemed to have the answers for him."

Falun Dafa, which is also called Falun Gong, incorporates both meditation and physical exercise. The movement discourages practitioners from focusing on personal wealth or material things. Instead, practitioners are encouraged to do good, think of others and live a pure life.

"After I began doing the exercises, my health improved. I had ulcers and could not eat anything," Ms. Luu said. "I had a lot of stomach problems. After Falun Gong, everything cleared up, I knew this was what we had been looking for, this was the true way.

"Now I have the responsibility to help others ... to save others. If they just see the ad, then perhaps that would open their minds about Falun Dafa. If they see the ad, perhaps they will ask questions and learn about it. Practitioners live by the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. If we live by these principles, we will cultivate our minds and achieve inner peace. Society will be a better place to live."

The Luus say they have three very personal reasons for making the world a better place - their daughters, Melinda, 14; Stephanie, 9; and Kimberly, 6.

Ms. Luu said her family has never put a lot of emphasis on monetary wealth. Even as the couple's computer business faltered, she remained committed to financing the ad campaign.

"We have set aside a certain amount of money to do this ... and I can't turn back," she said. "As for my girls, well, they have everything they need. They will not suffer [because of the ad campaign]."

Melinda said she thinks it's great that her mom is so committed to this cause. In a typical teen-age fashion, the Plano student said she doesn't go around discussing her family or their involvement with the movement.

"But I did tell one friend, and she thinks it's neat," Melinda said.

The Luus immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1988. After Teddy earned a degree in computer science, the couple opened Superior Micro Distributors, a company that assembles and distributes computers throughout the United States. At the height of their business, the couple grossed $2 million in sales in one year.

Now, like many high-tech companies, Superior is doing little business these days, Ms. Luu said. That leaves her more time to devote to Falun Dafa, she said.

She uses her empty offices to hold exercise and meditation classes, and she recently joined other practitioners who distributed 70,000 fliers at the State Fair of Texas.

"Mrs. Luu is quite unique," said Yong Wang, who recently moved to Dallas from Beijing. "Everyone appreciates her wonderful generosity. But the practitioner who only has $100 and gives $10 is as important as the person who gives $100,000. The amount is not what's important."

Dakun Sun, another local practitioner, explained that Falun Dafa is not an organized group.

"There are no membership dues. No one takes roll at classes. It is all voluntary. Everyone comes and goes as they please. In fact, if people try to give us money, we don't take it. There are many others, like Ms. Luu, who contribute in their own way. Some may pay for the printing of brochures, someone else may pay for a room for us to meet, still others will spend the time to talk about Falun Dafa. We don't take up collections. It is all voluntary, and no one keeps track of who gives what."

Ms. Luu said she knows it is difficult for "outsiders" to understand their devotion to the movement. It is derived from the centuries-old Chinese tradition of Xulian, an ancient practice of cultivating one's mind and body as a means of keeping fit and healing oneself. Through time, the practice became known as Qigong - Qi meaning universal life or energy and Gong meaning exercise in Chinese.

Qigong, which is pronounced chee-gong, traditionally had been handed down secretly from master to pupil. In 1992, Master Li began teaching a form of Qigong that was called Falun Gong publicly in China.

Falun Gong refers to five sets of exercises that involve lotus positions and hand movements. Falun Dafa is the cultivation or improvement of one's heart and mind through the study of the universal principles of truth, benevolence and forbearance. Many believe that the spiritual movement incorporates Buddhist and Taoist principles.

Mr. Sun estimates there are about 20 to 30 practitioners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who meet regularly. "And I'd say there are about another 200 local people who only come for the exercise or who may drop in from time to time," Mr. Sun said.

So why the push to get the word out about Falun Dafa? Mr. Sun agreed that some might view the ad campaign as a gross contrast to the movement's disdain for commercialization and material wealth.

"But you see, the end product of the ads is pure," Mr. Sun explained. "We want to tell more people about Falun Dafa so that they can find salvation."

Ms. Luu said she knows there is much debate about Falun Dafa.

"I just want to open their eyes and see the possibilities. That is why I put in the national website on the ads. I want them to read the information and see for themselves what we are about."

And though the last ad will be removed in two weeks, Ms. Luu is already looking ahead.

"I've just bought radio time at the local radio stations," she said. "I'm starting out at the Chinese station and at the Vietnamese station. The Vietnamese people need to know about Falun Dafa, too."

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