Many Falun Gong practitioners say immigrating to the United States from China represented an escape from persecution at the hands of a repressive and totalitarian government.
But now some claim the old politics has followed them to their new home and has resulted in their exclusion from one of San Francisco’s biggest celebrations: the annual Chinese New Year Parade.
The absence of Falun Gong practitioners, which is a spiritual movement that weds exercise and meditation to a conservative morality, has touched off a debate in the local Chinese community and prompted the group to stage protests at City Hall. Parade organizers said the exclusion is not political — Falun Gong simply couldn’t follow rules about distribution of political literature during past parades.
Since the parade is partially funded by a $77,000 public arts grant, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, has signed an agreement not to discriminate against any participants based on religion, sexual orientation or other factors. And for that reason, parade participants are also supposed to be nonpolitical.
“We were told we’re not welcome here,” said Huy Lu, a Falun Gong practitioner. “The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is closely linked to the Chinese consulate and the parade is broadcast to thousands of Chinese around the country and seen by some in the Chinese mainland. When other people see the Falun Gong on TV, they will see they we are just practicing meditation and wonder why the Chinese government is persecuting us.”
The Communist government in China has labeled Falun Gong an “evil cult” and began a crackdown on the group in 1999. Amnesty International reports tens of thousands of practitioners have been detained in China and some have been tortured and murdered. Amnesty believes the crackdown is politically motivated because the Chinese government sees the popular group as a threat to its one-party rule. Falun Gong — or Falun Dafa as it is also known — has spread rapidly in China since its founding in 1992. Its beliefs are similar to Taoism or Buddhism.
Falun Gong was also initially excluded from last year’s parade, but was allowed to participate at the last minute after they showed up at the parade site. Members of the group said parade organizers refused to let them be filmed.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce declined to comment, but it has stated in letters to the Human Rights Commission that it has not elected to include Falun Gong because it violated basic rules against distributing political literature when it was included in the 2004 parade.
“From their application [in 2004], there should have been only 60 marchers, all dressed in traditional Chinese costumes,” wrote Chinese Chamber of Commerce President Wayne Hu. “Falun Dafa brought more than 60 marchers and handed out leaflets along the parade route in violation of our instructions.”
Falun Gong filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission after last year’s event claiming discrimination. Falun Gong members said they have been barred from other events in San Francisco and across the nation.