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Taiwan/US: John/Jane/Sharon/Yaning

Friday, June 29, 2007

No cause for celebration

No cause for celebration
--Falun Gong practitioners object to planned Chinese Olympic Rose Parade float
By Joe Piasecki / Pasadena Weekly

Broadcast to millions of people around the globe at the start of each year, Pasadena's annual Tournament of Roses Parade is anything but your average street party.

Featuring the likes of President Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, baseball great Hank Aaron and entertainment icons such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Carol Burnett as grand marshals over its 12-decade history, the parade is a far-reaching statement about the American way of life — and all from little old Pasadena.

That's why some local Chinese Americans are outraged by the recent announcement that next year's parade will include a float representing the People's Republic of China, believing the inclusion of an authoritarian regime charged with human rights abuses is sending the wrong message out to the world.

The float, sponsored by local business interests, is designed to salute the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing as part of the upcoming parade's theme “Passport to the World's Celebrations.”

But to Jianzhong (John) Li, a Caltech laboratory technical aide who sought asylum from the Chinese government after 1989's Tiananmen Square violence, the upcoming Olympics are no cause for celebration.

Li is one of more than three dozen regular members of Caltech's Falun Gong club, dedicated to the exercise- and meditation-based spiritual movement outlawed by the Chinese government in 1999.

Since that time, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained without public trial and sent to labor camps, where some of them suffer government-sanctioned torture, according to Amnesty International's Web site.

Last year, the Falun Gong-owned newspaper Epoch Times carried a story that the government was killing practitioners to harvest their organs, a claim journalist Wenyi Wang famously shouted at Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit last year to the White House.

“The Chinese are using the Rose Parade to show the world that a country, without caring about human rights, can achieve so much. It reminds me of the Olympic Games in 1936, which gave Hitler an opportunity to demonstrate for the world how efficient Nazi Germany was,” said Li, who started practicing Falun Gong in 1996 as a Caltech PhD student and chairman of the school's Chinese Student Association.

Those strong feelings are shared by Yaning (Jenny) Liu, a former Pasadena resident who is trying to free her mother from a labor and re-education camp in Beijing, where she is currently held without benefit of a public trial for practicing Falun Gong.

During a telephone call to her parents' home in mid-December, Liu learned that 64-year-old Shuying Li had been taken from her home by government agents, who seized books about Falun Gong as evidence against her. Authorities prevented Liu's father from visiting his wife or appealing on her behalf, merely sending him notice that Li would serve at least 30 months in the work camp.

Despite some human rights reforms, the Chinese government has increased repression of activists and restrictions on domestic journalists in the run-up to hosting the Olympics, according to an April report by Amnesty International.

“This is very sad,” said Liu of the upcoming Rose Parade float. “We're dealing with a government that persecutes its own people.”

Tournament of Roses President CL Keedy, a longtime Pasadena resident and owner of a tax service franchise, said he did not expect such reactions.

“Our intention is not to offend anyone or any group. The Olympics is a world celebration of athletic endeavors, so it fits with this year's theme of the Rose Parade. The Olympics is the issue, not the politics,” said Keedy, who added that the parade will feature floats and marching bands from at least nine other countries.

Keedy also said that although the Beijing Olympics Committee did give their approval for the float, it is not directly funded by the People's Republic of China.

This isn't the only time that the Rose Parade has been the focus of international controversy. Back in 1992, the Tournament chose Cristobal Colon, a Spanish duke and a descendant of Christopher Columbus, to serve as grand marshal of the event, the theme of which was “Voyages of Discovery” to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to the New World.

But not everyone viewed that anniversary the same way. Native American and other civil rights groups denounced Columbus and his crew as rapists and pillagers and protested the selection of Colon.

The Tournament of Roses eventually selected a co-grand marshal, then-Independent Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell, to share the honors of leading the parade and presiding over the annual Rose Bowl college football game.

China's float is sponsored by both the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations and the locally based Avery Dennison Corp., which has done business in China for more than a decade.

Pasadena, Keedy also pointed out, already has a sister city in China. Xicheng, an administrative district of the Beijing municipality, became one of five Pasadena sister cities in 1999, a status that has led to annual cultural exchanges between the two cities, said Alan Lamson, chair of the China Subcommittee of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee.

“We suggested it would be a good move to celebrate the Beijing Olympics. A delegation came in late December 2004 to scope out the parade,” said Lamson, who taught English at Pasadena City College for more than 30 years.

Although concerns about China's human rights record entered into the initial sister cities discussion and do crop up from time to time, he said, “Our position is that it's much better to get to know someone, even if you disagree with them... to hear their point of view and to get them to see your point of view. That's been more beneficial than to say, ‘Sorry, we don't want to have a relationship with you.'”

Xicheng borders Tiananmen Square as well as the Forbidden City and is located to the north of the Daxing district, where Liu believes her mother is believed to be held.

Despite reforms to its death penalty system and rules governing foreign journalists, the coming Olympics have been met with “moves to expand detention without trial and ‘house arrest' of activists and by a tightening of controls over domestic media and the Internet,” said Amnesty International Deputy Asia Pacific Director Catherine Baber in an April 30 press release.

In December, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to the Beijing Olympic committee calling for an end to mass arrests and increased speech restrictions. “Human rights violations have taken place even in direct relation to the organization of the games,” it reads, alleging that some 300,000 Beijing residents have been evicted from their homes during redevelopment efforts.

“If we want to invite the Chinese government to have a float in Pasadena, we should raise the issue of a family member of a [former] Pasadena resident in a labor camp because of the Olympics,” said Wen Chen, an employee of Caltech and member of its Falun Gong Club.

On Monday, 15 other members of the club gathered on campus to voice their disappointment in the Tournament of Roses' decision.

Although she hopes the Olympics will eventually force China to change, Chen fears the games are designed “to fool Chinese people that their government is welcomed by international society and doesn't have to change, and [to] cover up the eyes of Western countries.”

Last week, United Press International reported results of a UPI/Zogby poll that found although more than 46 percent of Americans surveyed feel China will not make human rights reforms due to the Olympics, nearly 80 percent also said that the US should not protest the summer games.

Such widespread disinterest in China's human rights record, particularly involving Falun Gong practitioners, has raised a few questions for Caltech's Li about his new home, America.

“For a long time our society has blindfolded ourselves regarding human rights issues in China because there is so much money to play the public relations game. Here everything is for sale now, and that's what has ruined our moral values,” he said.

posted by Yaning Liu @ 2:01 PM   


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