2004_11_margaret_jiang.jpgVital Stats
I'm currently a Ph.D. student in Iowa state university. I just finished my thesis, so I'm almost a graduate. I just came to New York a couple of days ago. I was here last in September.

New Yorkers see Falun Gong activists on the street everyday, yet most people don't even know what Falun Gong is, or why you're demonstrating. What should we know about the people sitting on the sidewalk?
The first thing we want people to know is that Falun Gong is being persecuted in China. Falun Gong is a very peaceful, meditative practice, good for people's health, but in China it's not allowed to be practiced, and people are arrested and tortured for it. These are big human rights violations and we want people here aware of this wrong persecution so they can help us to stop it sooner.

What can people even do to help the cause?
You can tell people around you. Raise public awareness. You can write to the president, write to your senator and congressperson and tell them to take action and to support us. Actually, they all know of the persecution, but they need to know the people know. The media is important. We hope to get more media coverage of this persecution. The whole system, the stories—it's been going on already for five years but you don't see a lot of it.

Why is a peaceful practice being persecuted?
In China the government, especially the previous chin president, Jiang Zemin, he was a dictator, and he only cares about his own power and he wants to control the whole country, everything. He doesn’t want people to have freedom, to have their own choice. Such a big number of practitioners may be a threat to his power, and that's the thing he cares most about.

How did Falun Gong wind up as a regular presence on the streets of New York?
Falun Gong is also called Falun Dafa; it's not an organization, it's just the practice. In New York, there's a volunteer center. They organize the activities, here, locally in Manhattan. Some practitioners have formed a committee as volunteers to organize activities, but we're not an organization. There is a Falun Gong registered non-profit organization, only because it's easier to hold activities, but the structure – there's no membership. People just freely come and go.

How many people are involved in New York City?
I don't have exact numbers, but there are 4,000 to 5,000 people in Manhattan this week for a conference. People from all around the world are here.

And elsewhere around the country?
I think in almost every state and a lot of big cities there are Falun Gong volunteers. Some people are passing out flyers, information, newspapers. The torture exhibition that you see on the street, we also do that in Minneapolis, Chicago, big cities.

What's the point of meditating among pedestrian traffic? What does that express or communicate?
We want to show people what Falun Gong really is. That meditation is part of the Falun Gong exercise. It gives people a sense of what it is. You can feel the peace environment, the atmosphere a Falun Gong practitioner created. The whole practice is really peaceful; it makes you feel calm and relaxed. It's such contrast with the cruel persecution in China.

How do New Yorkers compare with others in their reaction to sidewalk demonstration?
I think New York people are busier. They walk faster. Sometimes they don't look at other people and they don't say hi, they're on cell phones. They have more stress, are under more pressure.

Do you think New Yorkers could probably use some Falun Gong-style meditation?
Falun Gong could bring more benefits to people, especially in New York.

How effective have the demonstrations been? Do people become aware and involved, or generally ignore you?
Right now if I pass flyers on the street, many people tell me they've already gotten it, they've read it, and some people stop and say "I've already sent a petition" – there's a petition we're going to send to the government. To congressmen, senators. And also they ask, "What can we do next?" and I tell them how to spread the word and so forth. We've gotten a very supportive response.

This persecution of Falun Gong in China is a very serious issue. It's not just affecting Chinese people, it's affecting a lot of people around the world. Falun Gong has been practiced in over 60 countries, including America. The Chinese government is not only persecuting Falun Gong just in China; they try to export persecution around the world. They're even suppressing practitioners outside, even here in the United States.

How could they stop anything here?
They have different ways. One important thing is they can use diplomatic means or economic means. Sometimes a Falun Gong practitioner applies a proclamation from cities – from Minneapolis or San Francisco. If the mayors issue a proclamation to Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong, they will receive a letter from the Chinese consulate or embassy officials that try to defame Falun Gong, and sometimes with a threat that will imply that you act, as a mayor, to withdraw their proclamation. If you don’t do that, you will lose profits or benefits with China, economic ties, and so forth. And certain mayors withdraw the proclamations.

Economic means can really make a big difference. China is growing. A lot of people think China has a big market and they want to do business with them. That's one thing the Chinese government can really utilize to suppress Falun Gong overseas and also to get a foreign government, a western government to not say too much about the persecution.

Have you been back to China?
If I go back – I will get in trouble. An American citizen, he practiced Falun Gong, and when he went back to China last year in February, he was arrested and sentenced to prison for three years. Our government wasn't able to help. We have appealed for his release, and tried to get help from the government, but he's still in prison now.

My parents are in China. I can call them, and they can still come to America. They haven't gotten in big trouble because they are not practitioners. But if you are, well . . .

What would you like tell President Bush about the plight of Falun Gong?
The one thing I'd say if I could talk to President Bush is I'd ask him to press China more. I'd ask him to really talk to Chinese government and tell them to stop the persecution. I think he can do more. I'm glad he's been reelected as president, but I think he can do more and should do more.

For more information about Falun Gong, please visit Falundafa.org. For news and information regarding its persecution, please check Faluninfo.net. For info about Falun Gong in New York City, pleasevisit falun-ny.net.

Interview conducted by Josh Abraham.