NEW YORK—As speakers stepped up to the podium and shared their journeys of self-improvement, many in the audience quietly wiped away tears.Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Dafa, addresses over 10,000 practitioners of the spiritual discipline at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York City, on May 17, 2019. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)
Many felt inspired to become better versions of themselves.
“It’s so moving to see someone who is prepared to be so vulnerable,” said Mark Hutchison, an entrepreneur from Perth, Australia.
Hutchison and more than 10,000 other practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Dafa convened at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on May 17 for a day-long conference.
Attendees came from all over the world, as evidenced by the variety of languages for simultaneous translation of the speeches, including Chinese, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, and Italian.
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a traditional Chinese self-improvement discipline whose practitioners live according to the moral principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. They also do five sets of meditative exercises.
Since then, it has spread to millions of adherents in more than 70 countries.
The conference was also a celebration of the 27 years since Falun Dafa’s introduction.
An audience of over 10,000 attend the Falun Dafa conference at Barclays Center, New York City, on May 17, 2019. (Edward Dye/The Epoch Times)
Hutchison said that after learning Falun Dafa, he became a calmer person and gained a deeper understanding of one’s purpose in life. “We fill our lives with so much busy-ness…but why are we human?”
Meanwhile, Nicole McCaw, 34, a real estate agent from Deer Park, New York, said that Falun Dafa has taught her to be truly fulfilled in her role as a mother. She has an eight-year-old son.
But through studying Falun Dafa, she realized that hearing the facts and “determining a balanced solution” is better than arguing non-stop. She hopes to continue improving on this when working with others.
Falun Dafa reached enormous popularity in China, with 70 million to 100 million adherents by 1999, according to Western news outlets, citing official estimates.
The then-paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Jiang Zemin, feared that the practice’s traditional moral teachings would prove more attractive to the Chinese people than the Party’s atheistic ideology.
On July 20, 1999, Jiang launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate the practice. Adherents were rounded up and thrown into prison, labor camps, brainwashing centers, and other facilities, where they were often tortured in an effort to force them into giving up their faith.
In addition, large numbers are believed to have been murdered through the pillaging of their organs. Since The Epoch Times broke the story of forced organ harvesting in China in 2006, independent researchers and journalists have investigated and confirmed allegations that the Chinese regime is extracting organs from living prisoners of conscience, mainly Falun Dafa practitioners, for use in the country’s organ transplant system. Researchers have called this a “cold genocide.”As an integral part of this campaign of persecution, the CCP’s propaganda apparatus launched a campaign to vilify the practice and its adherents.
Many of the speakers spoke about their efforts in raising awareness about the persecution in China, and the difficulties they experienced while doing so.
One young woman currently living in Tokyo, Japan talked about her experiences telling visiting mainland Chinese tourists about the persecution of Falun Dafa.
Many had believed the propaganda by the Chinese regime and held negative feelings toward Falun Dafa, sometimes yelling or cursing at her and other Falun Dafa volunteers who tried to speak with the tourists.
But the young woman realized that she should be kind and patient toward them despite their hatred. After telling them about how the Chinese regime disseminated hateful propaganda about Falun Dafa, many tourists changed their attitudes.
Rob Gray, Falun Dafa practitioner from the United Kingdom, speaks at the Falun Dafa conference in Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York City, on May 17, 2019. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)
Rob Gray from the United Kingdom talked about his efforts to appeal to government officials about the issue of forced organ harvesting from Falun Dafa practitioners in China.
Gray spoke about his efforts to raise awareness about this issue in both the UK Parliament and the European Union, and how he persevered in the difficult, tiring task of coordinating outreach efforts due to his belief that more people needed to hear about these atrocities, which are still occurring in China today.
Founder of Falun Dafa Makes Appearance
Mr. Li Hongzhi came to speak at the conference.
In Chinese, Mr. Li is often referred to as “shifu,” a term of respect for a great teacher. Upon his appearance on stage, Mr. Li was greeted by a standing ovation.
Mr. Li spoke for about two hours, discussing challenges Falun Gong practitioners face in their efforts to raise awareness about the persecution. After his address, which was delivered without the use of notes, he answered questions from the audience.
For William Wang, 42, this was his first time attending a major Falun Dafa conference since immigrating from Beijing to the United States in 2018.
William Wang, originally from Beijing, at the Barclays Center Falun Dafa conference on May 17, 2019. (Nicole Hao/The Epoch Times)
Hearing Mr. Li speak in person stirred deep feelings of gratitude and wonder in Wang.. “In the first 15 minutes, I didn’t even realize that it’s real that I can listen to Shifu in person,” Wang said.
Wang said he was also very excited to meet with so many Falun Dafa practitioners and listen to their speeches.
Nicole Hao contributed to this report.