Freedom to believe, freedom of thought

20 October 2013
Written by Sacha Kenny
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The story of Falun Gong, the spiritual movement embraced by millions and persecuted by China's Communist Party, is at the core of a critically acclaimed film set to make its NZ premiere


Living in New Zealand affords us many freedoms that mostly we simply take as given: freedom of speech, freedom of information and the freedom to practise a chosen religion without fear of prejudice.  We may read or hear about the violation of human rights in different parts of the world but few of us have had to face the reality of living in an oppressed, controlled society. However, for the followers of the eastern-based faith Falun Gong, oppression has become an ongoing struggle.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice that began in mainland China in the early 1990s. A return to the traditional eastern values of ancient Taoist and Buddhist principles, the practice combines exercise with a way of living based on truth, compassion and tolerance. With no active leadership to obey, no buildings to maintain and no fees to pay, people from all walks of life and from all over the world have become Falun Gong practitioners.

In China, Falun Gong became a true people’s movement. That was until 1999, when Falun Gong supporters outnumbered Communist Party members, a point the Chinese government saw as a direct threat to their control. This ‘direct threat’ then resulted in the forced imprisonment of many thousands of Falun Gong devotees and the deaths of many more for live organ harvesting.

Free China: The Courage to Believe is a multi-award winning, feature-length documentary set to make its New Zealand premiere at Wellington’s Paramount Theatre on November 7th. It aims to inform viewers of the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners within China.

I had heard of Falun Gong, having read bits of information regarding their plight over the years but in reality I knew very little about the faith or their struggle so I was intrigued when I was invited to watch an early showing of Free China.

The film centres on the personal journeys of two Chinese nationals, Jennifer Zeng a mother and former Communist Party member and Dr Charles Lee, a Chinese-American businessman, both of whom where imprisoned in Chinese re-education camps because of their Falun Gong faith.

Through interviews with Zeng and Lee, as well as with leading international human rights activists, the documentary sheds light on the Falun Gong movement, the Chinese government's suppression of free speech and its propaganda-driven uniformity of thought. Importantly, the film also highlights the harrowing and increasing business of live organ harvesting, primarily of imprisoned Falon Gong practitioners, for the benefit of wealthy Chinese and international buyers. 

Supported by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, Free China portrays a harrowing view of life in China for those who refuse to toe the Communist line and renounce their Falun Gong beliefs.

Zeng, now the international best-selling author of One woman’s fight for freedom: Witnessing History and Falun Gong, resides in Australia and is an active campaigner for the awareness of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. She is quoted as saying:

“The whole world has become so tightly interconnected with each other we just can’t afford to have one person out of five, in this world, not have freedom.” Jennifer Zeng

Directed by Michael Perlman, award-winning director of Tibet-Beyond Fear and produced by Kean Wong, a Chinese-Australian filmmaker, TV producer and host for New Tang Dynasty Television, Free China provides an insight into a world I personally knew very little about. It enlightened my ignorance of Falun Gong, an ignorance for which I also have to admit regarding live organ harvesting and the government-imposed internet censorship programme dubbed the "Great firewall of China". I was both moved to tears and captivated by this movie. It made me want to know more, gave me an awareness of a faith and people whose struggle I knew little about and opened my eyes to the suggested reality behind the ever-increasing prominence of 'made in China' labels.

 “…this film is about creating awareness of the dire situation in China regarding the persecution not only of tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners but Christians and Tibetans and anyone suffering human rights abuses in general.” Producer, Kean Wong.

New Zealand screening: 

  • booking:  |  Phone: 04 384 4080
  • Wellington premiere7th November at 6pm, Paramount Theatre, Courtenay Place
    After the screening there will be a special Q&A forum with the filmmakers and other special guests  including New York based Michael Perlman, Australian Kean Wong and main character, slave labour camp survivor and best selling author Jennifer Zeng.
  • Auckland screeningsRialto Cinema, Newmarktet
    Two screening per day from November 14 to 21st
  • Christchurch: private Screening at the Hoyts Cinema, Riccarton, 14th November

Click here
to listen to a BBC interview with the Hon. David Kilgour, former MP and US Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, discussing organ harvesting in China. Kilgour is interviewed in Free China as a key expert witness on organ harvesting in China. 


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