What is Falun Gong?
Asian cultures have a long history of developing and practicing exercises such as Tai Chi and Qigong for health and spiritual achievement. Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a type of traditional Chinese spiritual discipline that consists of a meditation, four gentle exercises, and the core values of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. It has no membership, is offered without charge, and although it originated in China, is now found in many different countries.
Why is it persecuted by the Chinese regime?
Falun Gong gained popularity quickly when it was introduced to the public in China in the early 90s. By 1998, upwards of 70 million people were practicing it in China. This surpassed the membership of the Communist Party at the time, a fact that drew the ire of then-Party leader Jiang Zemin. Although Falun Gong has no political agenda, Jiang felt it posed an ideological threat to the Party’s control and wanted to make a show of power using an easy target. In 1999, he ordered a newly-formed security agency, the 610 Office, to eradicate Falun Gong. His instructions were to “Ruin their reputations, bankrupt them financially, destroy them physically.” Since 1999, human rights groups have estimated tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to detention and many have been killed by forced organ harvesting or other cruel means.
Go here to learn more about the persecution of Falun Gong in China. http://faluninfo.net/why-persecution/
How did director Leon Lee come to know the story and find Sun Yi?
During production on his previous documentary about human rights in China, director Leon Lee became interested in the story of a Chinese political prisoner who made international headlines when his SOS note was found in Oregon.
First, he contacted Julie Keith, the American woman who found the note, then put the word out through his personal network of activists and dissidents in China that he was looking for the letter-writer. Three years later, when Lee finally connected with the note’s author, the soft-spoken engineer named Sun Yi was already working on an autobiographical book.
Sun Yi had heard of Lee’s previous films and was eager to reach a wider audience with his story, so they decided to team up and make a documentary.
How did the filmmaking process work?
Leon Lee is considered a Chinese dissident for his human rights work and would not be welcome in China to film, so Sun Yi suggested that he learn to use a camera himself. Lee helped Sun Yi source the equipment he would need and coached him over Skype. Filming was mostly done covertly by Sun Yi and his friends on a DSLR and iPhone. His friends requested to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
To get the footage back to Lee, Sun Yi would compress the video files and upload them to an encrypted site for him to review and give story feedback. Every few months, Sun Yi would send the footage to Canada on an encrypted drive through delivery methods that can’t be disclosed. When the drive would arrive, Lee would send an encrypted text to Sun Yi confirming delivery, then Sun Yi would send the password. This protected against the footage being intercepted by Chinese authorities. The decryption method was such that the entire contents of the drive would be wiped if all the decryption information was not entered correctly. This made retrieval very stressful. Luckily, all went well and no footage was lost during this process.
What inspired the animation?
Sun Yi was an avid reader of traditional Chinese graphic novels from a young age, and often practiced drawing in the book margins to hone his skills. He kept a sketchbook detailing some of the darkest moments he experienced in the Masanjia Labor Camp. Director Leon Lee was amazed when he saw Sun Yi’s drawings, and decided to create animated sequences based on them for the film. They provide a visual and emotional account of Sun Yi’s memories of Masanjia, something that could never be captured on film but is so important to share.
Who is Jiang Tianyong, Sun Yi’s lawyer, and what happened to him?
Jiang Tianyong is an internationally recognized Chinese human rights lawyer who has provided legal defense for wrongly imprisoned activists, Tibetans, Christians and Falun Gong practitioners in China. He has been detained several times by the Chinese government for persisting in his work. As seen in the film, he was instrumental in ensuring Sun Yi’s release from Masanjia labor camp. Jiang Tianyong suddenly disappeared in November 2016. It was soon discovered he had been abducted by police and was being held in custody in an undisclosed location. In November 2017, he was found guilty of “incitement” by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court and was sentenced to two years in jail. Experts have condemned the verdict and expressed concern that his “confession” may have been coerced through the use of torture. He is currently serving out his sentence, but according to insiders, he’s being force-fed an unknown medication and his health is declining. Amnesty International has advocated for his release and is working hard to get him much-needed medical attention in prison.