“This Is the Best in the World” – Stories of Falun Gong Practitioners

 As part of a week of World Falun Dafa Day celebrations in New York City, hundreds of people gathered in Central Park on May 10 to do the exercises together. Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) is mind-body practice—in addition to practicing 5 gentle exercises, practitioners attempt to live their lives according to 3 core principles: Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. Some people at Central Park on Saturday morning were asked: “Why do you practice Falun Gong?”

As part of a week of World Falun Dafa Day celebrations in New York City, hundreds of people gathered in Central Park on May 10 to do the exercises together. Falun Dafa (also known as Falun Gong) is mind-body practice—in addition to practicing 5 gentle exercises, practitioners attempt to live their lives according to 3 core principles: Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. Some people at Central Park on Saturday morning were asked: “Why do you practice Falun Gong?”

Tom McGrath, 61, IT Senior Manager, New Jersey

“Because I feel it provides me answers for things I’ve always been looking for. I started understanding things that I never understood before. I really felt like Falun Dafa really brings me to what I want and what I need as far as spiritual enlightenment and growth goes. I used to have a bed temper, but since practicing, that is gone. I take things much easier now. I really try to develop a more compassionate view towards people, towards everyone. As I develop more compassion, other things just melt away and I just don’t have that anger anymore.”

Chidra Devnani, 55, Housemaker, India

“I looked for various things in my life and meanwhile I started suffering also, with arthritis and back pain. [When] I came upon Falun Dafa, I just thought that my back ache would get cured. But when I started reading Zhuan Falun [main book of Falun Dafa], all my questions were answered and I felt that this was the right path. When I was suffering from back ache, the doctors told me it is not curable, ‘You won’t get back again your health.’ But [after] practicing Falun Dafa, it was just one week and I was fine—I didn’t get back pain again. I was a person who would get irritated a lot. I was pretty angry person. Because of my pain, my mind was always disturbed. When I started practicing Falun Dafa I noticed the change that I wasn’t getting angry.”

Derong Zhang (L), 50, Flower Arrangement Teacher, Flushing, Queens

(translated by her son) “Before I practiced Falun Gong my body was unhealthy. Eighty percent of my body was burned in a gas explosion. My sister introduced Falun Gong to me and told me that practicing Falun Gong makes you healthy. A doctor said I needed plastic surgery, but after I practiced Falun Gong my skin healed in a few days. Before I practiced Falun Gong I was very selfish. Now I’m more sympathetic to other people. Everything I do is for other people, rather than for myself.”

Anne Sun, 38, Software Developer, New Jersey

“At first I didn’t know what Falun Gong was, but when I did the exercises following the pictures in the book, I felt very strong energy. I felt it was amazing. And very quickly my chronic illnesses were healed by practicing Falun Gong. That’s how I started. I followed the Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance and then I became brighter and followed the way to become happy and relaxed.”

Scott Li, 31, Finance Analyst, Elmhurst, Queens

“I practice because I was interested in spiritual truth and qigong and I continue to practice because I find the principles good. I feel more clear-minded and see life in a different view. More energy, less stress. [My family and friends] noticed I’m more laid back, I guess.”

A Letter to President Donald Trump from Artist Jinyu Li

A Letter to President Donald Trump from Artist Jinyu Li

Greetings Honorable President Donald Trump,

My name is Ms. Jinyu Li.  I am an artist and a member of AAFOH (Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting).  I am proud that you are our 45th President of the United States.  My friends and I are very moved by your efforts to make America great again.  We fully support you, and we believe you will be a great President.  I will tell all the people I know that. I drew a portrait of you in oil painting, I hope you will like it. 

The United States was once very glorious in humankind’s history.  The founding of the United States tells the world that the United States is a defender of justice and an example of freedom and democracy.  Therefore, at the critical moment of humankind, whether to maintain justice to support goodness and stop evil will become the foundation of whether the United States can rejuvenate the prestige of the present world.  The whole world is looking at the United States. God is also looking at the United States and its people.

I hope you are aware of the crime of organ harvesting in China.  In June 2016, Congress passed H.Res.343 - Expressing concern regarding persistent and credible reports of systematic, state-sanctioned organ harvesting from non-consenting prisoners of conscience in the People's Republic of China, including from large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.  Now, more than 50 cases (types of lawsuits) from over 30 countries have been filed against the former dictator-president of China, Jiang Zemin in the name of torture, mass genocide and crimes against humanity.  More than 200,000 people have filed criminal cases against Jiang Zemin.  Crimes against Falun Gong are egregious evils human history has never seen before.  Jiang Zemin and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deceives the world with lies, corrupt the world with materialism, and threatens the world with violence.  All nations and peoples of the world should stop the CCP’s behavior and bring Jiang Zemin to justice.  God will not allow such inhumane evil to continue to spread throughout the world.  

Organ harvesting in China is conducted by the Chinese government and its military.  This system has been in operation for at least 17 years, killing at least one million people, most of whom are Falun Gong practitioners.  The evidence is irrefutable.  Please visit the website WOIPFG: http: //www.upholdjustice.org/

At present this evil still occurs every day, live organ harvesting in China has never stopped.  I feel heart broken, and I believe you feel the same way.  People in China with views, beliefs, and opinions that are different from the CCP often get disappeared, being held in secret underground concentration camps, and unknowingly waiting to be organ harvested.  Victims’ bodies are then incinerated.  No one knows where they are or how their relatives feel.  Today, the CCP murders people in China; who can guarantee that tomorrow, they will not kill other people?  If in the future, our descendants ask us, “what have you done to defend justice and help save these people?”  “What did the US government do to stop the persecution of Falun Gong during the era of President Trump’s administration?”  I hope, by that time, we can say that we have done our best to stop this brutal atrocity and made a difference.

Falun Gong has since spread to more than 100 countries and has received more than 3,000 awards from various countries around the world.  In fact, before the persecution started in 1999, Falun Gong also received awards from various governmental departments in China.  

The CCP is demonic in nature.  One technique the CCP uses to suppress Falun Gong is the self-immolation.  The Chinese public security department hired several people who did not practice Falun Gong, so that they could self-immolate at Tiananmen Square while Chinese policemen armed with fire extinguishers put out the flames.  The Chinese media was onsite to prepare excellent video and photo footage.  The CCP began to spread rumors through its fake news to defame Falun Gong and deceive the whole world.  The CCP successfully incited hatred of Falun Gong among the masses in China and the world.  At that time, dictator-president Jiang Zemin had ordered: to eliminate Falun Gong in three months, defame their reputation, cause their financial collapse, and harm them physically.  No means are too excessive and any deaths are counted as a suicide.  The persecution against Falun Gong has been going on for almost 18 years.  The CCP rules China with lies and violence.  Its citizens are brainwashed from cradle to grave.  While ruling China for over 60 years, destroying five thousand years of Chinese culture and civilization, killing more than 80 million of its own people, and secretly fought against the U.S. in both Korea and Vietnam. 

China has its own five thousand years of culture and tradition.  The communist party is a foreign cult originating from Europe’s 19th century.  The people who know about the history of the CCP know that the CCP has always used lies and violence and are untrustworthy.  I have a book for you titled "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party" which explains China's 60 years of modern history in order to understand the characteristics of this Chinese regime.  The CCP has manipulated the Chinese people's thinking, way of life, and destroyed morality.  From the spiritual and material life, the Chinese people have been completely controlled by the CCP.  I hope that China can return to its five thousand years of traditional culture.  This culture will enable the Chinese people to return to their rational and human nature under a normal state of living.

When you meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, I hope this is an opportunity to establish American prestige, save lives and change the status of human rights in China.  I hope that you will ask President Xi to fulfill his own promises.  If he believes in the rule of law, then arrest Jiang Zemin.  If he believes in the freedom of faith, then stop the arrests (abductions) and persecution of Falun Gong.  If he cherishes traditional Chinese culture, then welcome U.S. based Shen Yun Performing Arts to perform in China.

I hope that you remind Xi Jinping, to immediately stop persecuting Falun Gong, and stop the live organ harvesting.  Five thousand years of traditional culture and civilization will make China into a free country.  This will also affect the world.  The people of the world will thank the United States for helping China to become a better place, they will thank you, President Trump.  The United States will become the world's greatest country.  You will be called the great president of the world.  God will also give you and your family the best blessings and the best wishes.

 

 

Sincerely,

Jinyu Li

The following links, are helpful to understand the CCP in various work.

  1. Harvested alive in English
  2. Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party and free download of the Book <Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party>  
  3. Agenda: Grinding America Down
  4. The U.S. Congressional-Executive Committee on China (CECC)'s 2016 Annual Report shows a thoroughly poor human rights record of the Chinese regime. 
     

Heaven’s Tears and Eternal Sunshine: Artists Take a Stand Against Forced Organ Harvesting

Artist Li Jinyu, with her artwork at the exhibition by AAFOH (Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting) in New York on May 10, 2016. The exhibition features artwork about human rights abuse in China as well as Falun Gong practitioners speaking out against injustice in China. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—Before 1997, artist Li Jinyu was  traveling to Tibet, Canada, and other places, looking for the meaning of life.

In her paintings, she would depict ethnic themes and traditional Chinese cultural subjects, as well as current happenings showing the conflict between man and the environment. And even though her subjects were mostly Eastern, her painting style was Western—oil painting.

When she became a Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) practitioner in 1997, she felt she found what she was looking for.

“As I understand, the mission of an artist is recording the most important things in history, so I think that Falun Dafa is the most important issue in contemporary history and for such a great thing, I have to use realism to paint that because it is so strong; it’s very true, very honest,” said Li recently, in New York. She was standing in a tiny gallery hosting a bare-bones art exhibition, surrounded by works depicting a contemporary injustice. 

In 1999, the meditation practice she found that had brought light to her life was banned in its country of origin; its practitioners turned outlaws overnight. She and other artists have felt the need to document this.

Each painting she did had many stories behind it, she said. “So many of my friends were persecuted and even died.”

“Mom where are you?” by Li Jinyu at an exhibition presented by AAFOH (Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting) in New York on May 10, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

Li and eight other artists from Europe, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and the United States are part of a newly formed alliance, Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting (AAFOH), which took shape in November last year. Through the alliance, the artists seek to bring international awareness to what remains China’s most heinous state-sanctioned crime of using Falun Gong practitioners’ bodies for profit.

As a call to other artists to join the alliance and to publicize the issue, AAFOH held its inaugural one-day show and press conference in New York on May 10. The exhibition included oil paintings, traditional Chinese paintings, visual dimensional animation, and computer-generated art. 

His Body Was Still Warm

Jiang Li who was a guest speaker at the art exhibition by AAFOH. Li’s father died in a forced labor camp in China after being persecuted by communist authorities for practicing the spiritual discipline Falun Gong. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

A guest speaker at the event was Jiang Li from Chongqing in China, who recounted, through an interpreter, the harrowing experience of how her father was killed for his organs.

After being forcefully taken from his home on May 14, 2008, Jiang’s father was sent to a forced labor camp for one year. On Jan. 28, 2009, the labor camp told the Jiang family to go to the morgue to see Mr. Jiang body for the last time.

“When we got to the morgue, we were only allowed to be there for five minutes and only allowed to see my father’s head,” said Ms. Jiang.

Her father was in a freezer drawer. When Ms. Jiang’s sister touched her father’s face, she was surprised to feel that his face was warm. Her brother who was there as well, pulled open the drawer and they felt that their father’s body was warm all over. Suspecting that their father was still alive, they attempted to do CPR but the guard forcefully pushed the drawer back in before they could do anything, saying: “Anyway, we have the death certificate from the hospital.”

The siblings were kicked out of the morgue that day, and again the following day.

“On March 27, 2009, the Chinese communist authorities clearly told us that my father’s organs had been taken and made into specimens,” said Jiang.

9,500 Doctors, 865 Hospitals

Also speaking at the event was Wang Zhiyuan, spokesperson for the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), which has been investigating the issue for the last 10 years.

People attend an art exhibition by AAFOH (Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting) in New York on May 10, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

According to Wang, the WOIPFG discovered that over 9,500 doctors from 865 hospitals were involved in organ harvesting. Among them, 96 military and local hospitals conducted 2,000 to 3,000 operations per year.

“If each of them conducted 2,000 transplants per year, then in total they would have done 192,000 transplants. For ten years, that would be 1.92 million,” said Wang.

Considering that, by the Chinese regime’s own statistics, there were over 70 million people who were practicing Falun Dafa before the persecution began in 1999, this is indeed a possibility.

People attend an art exhibition by AAFOH (Artists Against Forced Organ Harvesting) in New York on May 10, 2016. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

The WOIPFG’s findings are supported by the report “BLOODY HARVEST – Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China” that was published on July 6, 2006, and updated and formally published subsequently.

Written by former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour and human rights attorney David Matas, the 140-page report details the findings of their independent investigation of organ harvesting from Falun Gong detainees. 

It shows the well-oiled system of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners—a system that was overtly publicized at one time through websites in both Chinese and English, in order to attract international patients in urgent need of organ transplants.

One such website documented in the Kilgour, Matas report is the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Centre Website en.zoukiishoku.com (Shenyang City).

The following excerpt from the Kilgour, Matas report about the website encapsulates the blatant advertorial nature of the organ transplant business:

This website as of May 17, 2006 indicated in the English version … that the centre was established in 2003 at the First Affiliated Hospital of China Medical University ‘…specifically for foreign friends. Most of the patients are from all over the world.’ The opening sentence of the site introduction declares that ‘Viscera providers can be found immediately!’

Another page includes this statement:

…the number of kidney transplant operations is at least 5,000 every year all over the country. So many transplantation operations are owing to the support of the Chinese government. The supreme people’s court, police, judiciary, department of health and civil administration have enacted a law together to make sure that organ donations are supported by the government. This is unique in the world.

The report by Kilgour and Matas includes one of the most chilling Q&A’s one is likely to ever read.  Take this excerpt from the Chinese transplant website’s ‘question and answer’ section:

Before the living kidney transplantation, we will ensure the donor’s renal function…So it is more safe than in other countries, where the organ is not from a living donor.

Q: Are the organs for the pancreas transplant(ed) from brain death (sic) (dead) patients?

A: Our organs do not come from brain death victims because the state of the organ may not be good.

Art and Tragedy

The artists in the alliance are well aware of the evidence and the statistics pertaining to the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Chinese regime.

Li, a Canadian citizen, has experienced this first hand, when her husband was in a labor camp but was eventually rescued by the Canadian government.

Another artist in the exhibition, Zhang Cuiying, is a Chinese-Australian artist and citizen who was illegally detained in China for eight months during which time she endured torture, beatings, and brainwashing classes in order to make her renounce Falun Gong. She was rescued through the Australian government and returned to Australia where she continues to paint and raise awareness about the ongoing persecution. 

“When I was tortured, there were many Falun Gong practitioners in the same labor camp. I was lucky to have the Australian government to rescue me, but there are so many people with no one to speak for them. I want to use my paintings to appeal for them,” wrote Zhang in the statement that she sent to the event along with her paintings.

The artists hope their art can complete the picture for people who are either unaware, or untouched, by the genocide that is covertly happening in China at this unprecedented time in history, when China is the country most courted by nations around the world for economic benefit. 

It is not all tragedy. Among the works is a painting to symbolize a brighter future.

One of Zhang Cuiying’s paintings is a self portrait of her meditating on lotus leaves surrounded by lotus flowers in full bloom—a reminder of the beauty and tranquility of Falun Dafa, the reason why so many have died rather than give up their belief, and a symbol of that which will overcome the tragedy: hope.

Originally published on Epoch Times.

Pooja Mor: My Life as a Model

International runway debutant Pooja Mor chats with Ria Jaiswal about her past, her present and her ever bright future.

Anastasia Lin: a Falun Gong practitioner seeking the Miss World crown – in China

 Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada 2015. (AnastasiaLin.com)

Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada 2015. (AnastasiaLin.com)

Under different circumstances, Anastasia Lin would be a shoo-in for Miss World. A vocal human rights activist with prominent cheekbones, the Canadian candidate for the crown is also an accomplished piano player, a Chinese calligrapher, and an actress with more than 20 credits in film and television.

But this year’s contest takes place in Lin’s native China, which poses a threat for the finalist and her family as Lin practises the spiritual faith of Falun Gong.

Tens of millions in China practice Falun Gong, which combines moral philosophy, meditation and qigong exercises, and emerged out of ideas prevalent in alternative Chinese medicine.

Falun Gong believers have been detained and killed in Chinese labour camps in their thousands, according to activists. The religion was branded an “evil cult” and outlawed in 1999, following a silent demonstration by thousands of Falun Gong practitioners outside Communist party headquarters, who were protesting attacks on its members. Since then, nearly 4,000 practitioners of Falun Gong have reportedly died as a result of detention in camps, though human rights researchers believe the number to be much higher.

Lin, an outspoken advocate on human rights and religious persecution, had refrained from publicly disclosing her faith. But having gained a wider platform thanks to winning the Canadian crown, Lin revealed her faith practice to the Guardian, hoping it would help stop the demonization of the Falun Gong faith and give voice to other Chinese people who are persecuted for their beliefs.

“If I don’t, the oppression will never stop,” Lin said.

 Anastasia Lin is crowned Miss World Canada 2015. Lin has revealed to the Guardian that she is a practitioner of Falun Gong. Photograph: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Anastasia Lin is crowned Miss World Canada 2015. Lin has revealed to the Guardian that she is a practitioner of Falun Gong. Photograph: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Though she has kept her faith out of the public eye, she has been anoutspoken advocate for other minority religious groups persecuted in China, such as Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists and Christians.

But it is for her outspoken advocacy work that she says the Chinese ministry of state security is trying to silence her by intimidating her father.

Lin has set foot in China only once since moving to Canada in 2003, but she says her father, who still lives in Hunan province, has been visited by security agents at least once. According to Lin, he is not affiliated with Falun Gong or any religious group.

Just a few days after winning the Miss World Canada crown on 16 May, Lin began receiving text messages from her father asking her to stop her advocacy work. She had highlighted her human rights work in a video and speech at the pageant.

“Do you know the security forces actually came to see me,” Lin said, recounting a text from her father. She said he warned her that if she continued to do her human rights work, she would risked turning her family against each other. “When I asked him more details, he just pleaded that I allow him to live peacefully by not bringing up rights abuses in China again.”

Since then, his business has suffered. “Now people are too scared to be associated with him,” said Lin, who has featured in Canadian films critical of the Chinese regime since the age of 18.

She doesn’t know if agents have visited him again as she said he refuses to talk about it during their brief phone calls. “Nowadays, he always mentions how great the Chinese president is,” she adds. “I think he believes that his phone is being tapped.”

Lin’s case is a classic example of how Xi Jinping’s regime tries to bring Chinese expatriates to heel through the harassment of loved ones left behind, explains Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Chinese activists’ parents and siblings are sometimes prosecuted on false allegations while others simply disappear. It amounts to psychological torture,” Richardson said.

 &nbsp;Police detain a Falun Gong protester in Tiananmen Square as a crowd watches in Beijing, in 2000. Photograph: Chien-Min Chung/AP

 Police detain a Falun Gong protester in Tiananmen Square as a crowd watches in Beijing, in 2000. Photograph: Chien-Min Chung/AP

But Lin continued her activist work, by writing a Washington Post op-ed in June and by testifying to the US Congress in July about religious persecution in China.

By coming out now as a practitioner of Falun Gong, Lin has become its highest-profile follower in the western hemisphere.

“It’s not an organised religion,” she said. “The teachings – established by qigong master Li Hongzi in 1992 – are about finding our authentic self. And this is what I’m trying to do by speaking up. If I don’t, the oppression will never stop.”

China arrests Christians who opposed removals of crosses

 

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Lin’s experience comes amid harsher treatments of religious minorities and human rights lawyers, explains Sophie Richardson. “The Chinese state has become increasingly paranoid and authoritarian since Xi Jinping took power in 2013,” she says. Chinese Christians have been a notable target of late. Authorities have removed crosses from more than 1,200 churches since early 2014 and the country’s security forces this week launched a roundup of church activists who oppose the crosses’ removals.

Lin has also felt ostracised by segments of the Canadian Chinese community, despite her Miss World Canada win and the backing of the Canadian government for her activism. She said she stopped being invited to events by community leaders tied to the Chinese embassy and consulate since her crowning. And to those community events that she is invited to, she is “monitored” by the Chinese consulate.

“They send officials to all social events,” says the actress, who also believes that her phone is tapped.

Whether China will allow her to compete in the Miss World final in Sanya, on Hainan Island, is uncertain, as many Falun Gong practitioners have been denied entry to the country in recent years.

“My aim is not to put an anti-China slogan on the stage,” she insists. “After all, it’s a beauty pageant. But I feel that my presence in that country alone would give people hope. The regime would show itself worthy of hosting the [2022 winter Olympic] Games by allowing me to enter China freely.”

Originally published on The Guardians.

Spirited Style

Gabriel Georgiou, a Greek-Australian, highly sought-after hair stylist, went from Hollywood to Bollywood, with a stop in between in the land of the spirit.

 
It was a very, very loud voice that said to me: ‘We have come to take you—you have lost your way.’ I said ‘I know, I understand, I’m really sorry. I’ve just been caught up in it all, and I’ve lost myself. Give me another chance.
— Gabriel Georgiou

T ake it from Gabriel Georgiou, life as a top-flight hairstylist in Hollywood is as hot as you would imagine it to be: glamorous, intense, and jam-packed with celebrities. In the 1990’s, he made oodles of money and went to the spiciest parties. He worked on the likes of Cate Blanchett and Robert Downey Jr., to name a few, and his ‘dos sauntered down the red carpet and graced the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue. He had everything.

Almost everything. 

On the surface, Georgiou was wielding a talent that millions looked up to and few could match. But under the surface lived another Georgiou, the one who buried his nose in Buddhist and Taoist books as a teenager, the one who explored orthodox monasteries on Mt. Athos in his native Greece, the one who braved “so much weirdness and trickiness out there,” to find answers to his questions about “life, the universe, people, suffering.” 

“Too many questions,” he said in a recent interview with Taste of Life, “to which no one could give me the answers.” Georgiou would one day find his answers, but not before taking a few left turns down dark alleys. 

In the late 80s he answered the call of the bright lights and stepped into the hairstyling industry. He made his way to Hollywood and into the A-list events. Celebrities, art directors and producers noticed Georgiou’s natural talent and, soon, everyone from Drew Barrymore to Keanu Reeves to Jessica Alba wanted his styles. “I succeeded in becoming one of the very busy hair stylists in the industry,” Georgiou says. In his hands, blow-dryers and scissors worked magic. He coaxed manes into the most beautiful looks imaginable with the skill of a wizard. His pay cheques started piling up, he got himself a house in Los Angeles and all the trimmings of a jet-set lifestyle. But, according to Georgiou, something was missing.

 

Gabriel Georgiou worked his hair-styling magic on the covers and pages shown here of recent international fashion magazines.

“It was all superficiality. I was seeking fame, materialism, wealth. I was indulging myself.” He started doing drugs. “Yes, it was a recreational thing, but it was also to keep me able to deal with all the rubbish around me.” Buying each fancy new thing, hot cars, and attending Hollywood parties didn’t bring him happiness, he said. Happiness trailed farther and farther away.

His downward spiral is not a rare one: with one hand, drugs like meth comfortably filled the hole in his heart while, with the other, it stole him piece by piece. A turning point came during a fashion shoot on location in the British Virgin Islands when he was 32. 

“I nearly passed away. On big trips, I would quit drugs ‘cold turkey.’ That, plus the exhaustion, plus a lot of things—I was very, very ill at that point. I’d barely get up to do hair, and the make-up artist would take care of the rest. I was in bed for a few days, and at one point I felt I was going. I was going. I felt I was leaving. There was no fear; I knew I was just leaving the human world. There was this voice. It was three or four dimensions, I don’t know what to call it. It was a very, very loud voice that said to me: ‘We have come to take you—you have lost your way.’ I said ‘I know, I understand, I’m really sorry.’ I genuinely meant it from my heart. ‘I’m very sorry. I know I haven’t found what I’m looking for. I’ve just been caught up in it all, and I’ve lost myself. Give me another chance. Please, give me another chance.’ I sunk back into my body, my eyes opened and I was back. That’s when the change started, and I started trying to clean myself up.”

After that job, he purged everything. He gave away his designer clothes, fabulous furniture, the car. He quit his job and left Los Angeles. “Everyone was shocked at what I was doing. The so-called friends I had? Vanished.”

His family’s home in Brisbane, Australia, became a refuge. “I didn’t want to see another human being,” he says with a light laugh and no trace of self-consciousness. “All I wanted to do was spend time with my family, read books, eat and sleep. I was tired and exhausted and feeling this superficiality that I saw in everybody. I was truly questioning whether there were any good people left.” 

 
 

Luckily for him, there was at least one good person left and the two crossed paths. She was a makeup artist who listened to his story while they worked together on commercials in Australia, a gentle person who seemed at ease even under pressure. She told Gabriel that she practiced a meditation and spiritual discipline called Falun Dafa (or Falun Gong), and that if he ever wanted to learn, he could find her in the park on most Sunday mornings.

“What I really liked were the three principles of truth, compassion, forbearance—that resonated with me. And the fact that it was free really clicked, because I knew that something good is taught from the heart, and you don’t take money for it. And thirdly, the fact that it was mind and body.”

Once Georgiou took Falun Dafa seriously, his body experienced a sudden jolt. “The second week I tried the exercises. I never felt something so strong, getting rid of such negativity.”

“I said to the practitioners ‘give me the books right now—I need to know what this is, what I’m doing. I need to read everything.’ That was it. I’ve been practicing ever since,” says Georgiou, who quit smoking with almost no effort just five weeks later. With each passing day, he watched as other unhealthy habits and chronic unease fell away. 

“I used to have scoliosis which gave me a lot of suffering. During meditation, every time I finished and got up, my back would crack—all the cracks and placements happening. I’ve never had pain ever since. I used to have insomnia. That’s all vanished. I haven’t been to the doctor or taken an aspirin for 11 years.”

He continued to work on his inner self while the exercises worked on his body. He started living by truth, compassion and forbearance, the tenets of Falun Dafa. “My energy levels were sky high. Work became easier. I worked hard and positively—I was happy all the time. I took things lightly, and I laughed easily.” After being disillusioned with the fashion industry, it was Falun Dafa that made him want to enter it again. “Everyone sees a very big change. I’ve actually had someone say ‘I never liked you in the past, but you’re so different now,’ and we’ve become very good friends. I realised that I can be a positive influence in this world of fashion.”

At the Starbucks below the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver, I met Georgiou this spring during the Times of India Film Awards. Hours before the red carpet was rolled out, the entrance was packed with tense fans leaning over the railing, waiting for Bollywood’s biggest stars to walk through a wall of security guards and into the lobby. 

Our conversation was periodically halted while the crowd voiced their excitement in shrill waves. “I have to go in a few minutes,” he said, observing the star in the middle of this particular wave. A twinkle touched the corner of his eye. “She has the big performance tonight. I’m having trouble with my heat tools, I’ll have to start early.” 

Today, Georgiou is an international virtuoso once again, only now he wows Europe and India with his creations. Magazine covers and red carpets are again his canvas, but the stars’ names are Italian, Czech or Indian, and their followers can outnumber Brad and Angelina’s. Georgiou splits his time between Greece and Mumbai, India—the thumping heart of Bollywood—where he works. The new environment has brought new challenges, but he says the principles now dwelling in his heart help him handle anything. 

Simultaneously satisfying divas, directors, co-stylists, and his own sky-high standards means Georgiou finds himself in extremely high-pressure situations, knowing that stars’ reputations and tomorrow’s audiences are hanging on this afternoon’s brush strokes. 

In front of the Pan Pacific, before he whisks himself upstairs to prepare his star for her big moment, he gives me a kiss-kiss on each cheek. So European! As he presses into the wall of security guards and fans, I yell “Good luck! I hope everything goes smoothly!” He turns briefly and flashes me a beaming look of thanks that says ‘Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll be fine.’ Then he disappears into the flurry of cameras.

Photo by Mara Desipris / Steven Mena / Clockwise from top: Vogue Hellas: Photo by Costas Avgoulis; Vogue Australia: Photo by Karin Catt / Votre Beaute: Photo by Thanassis Krikis; Grazia: Photo by Suresh Natarajan; Vogue India: Photo by Prasad Naik

Originally published on Taste of Life magazine.

Free China: The Courage To Believe

 
 

Stories like these only exist in the distant past—or do they? A quiet, unassuming man or woman seems just like us, but when faced with evil, extraordinary abilities are revealed and a legend lives through the ages. In the film Free China: The Courage to Believe, true stories tell of heart-wrenching compromises and awe-inspiring strength of character, and its end is not yet written.

In the 1990’s, Dr. Charles Lee, originally from China, was living in the US as an American citizen and Jennifer Zeng lived in China, a proud mother and communist party member. Both began practicing Falun Gong, the ancient Chinese spiritual practice that adheres to truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. When, in 1999, the communist regime outlawed the practice and dragged loyal practitioners into labour camps, Zeng and Lee were thrust into excruciating darkness, and faced abhorrent choices. Now living outside China with their families, both have joined the peaceful efforts to bring human rights to their homeland. Free China sheds light on the current plight of the Chinese people and reminds us that heroes of yore are still made today.

Michael Perlman, who directed Free China, drew on his experience directing Tibet: Beyond Fear, an award-winning film that followed a Tibetan Buddhist monk and nun in their struggle for respect, freedom and inner peace amid violence.

Kean Wong, Free China’s executive producer and driving force, met Perlman by chance in Manhattan one evening in 2010. Wong was a television show host and producer for NTD Television, working to revive traditional Chinese culture and provide independent Chinese news coverage. Perlman, well-acquainted with Tibetans’ peaceful efforts for freedom, was mostly in the dark about China’s.

“We had this instant connection,” Wong recalls about meeting Perlman. “I said to him ‘If you want to help free Tibet, you need to first help free China.’ And Michael said ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been saying.’” Wong knew the perfect documentary subjects, Zeng and Lee, who continually and devotedly recount their stories to shed light on the atrocities behind today’s Great Wall. And what stories. The makings of a socially-immediate, award-winning film had been found. “We shook hands excitedly and said ‘Let’s make a film called Free China.’” Eighteen months later, their film swept the independent awards circuit.

Free China took home Best Feature Film at the IX International Short Film Festival in Peru, “Best of the Fest” International Freethought Film Festival in Denver, CO, Winner at American Insight’s Free Speech International Film Festival in Philadelphia, the top award for International Political and Cultural Documentaries at the L.A. Awareness Film Festival in West Hollywood, the top award for documentaries under 60 minutes at the 45th Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, became “Offical Selection” at a half dozen other festivals and was nominated for the “Best Soundtrack Album” at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards 2012.

“We’re all very honored and proud of our team’s efforts, in particular, Tony Chen, who composed an incredibly inspiring and moving score,” Wong said, and he’s clearly not the only one who thinks so. Free China’s nomination for “Best Soundtrack Album” at the Music in Media Awards placed it alongside big-budget films like Twilight and powerful production houses like Sony Classical. “We were up there against them with this little shoestring budget,” Wong says. It’s a relief to know that heart and conviction, not only budget, can bring motion pictures to the forefront.

Free China will be released online worldwide and opens in Canadian theaters in June, 2013. Visitwww.freechinamovie.com for more information.

How One Man's Journey To The Olympics Took A Soulful Turn

 Luge athlete Martins Rubenis of Latvia at the Winter Olympics, February, 2014

Luge athlete Martins Rubenis of Latvia at the Winter Olympics, February, 2014

On the luge medal podium at the Sochi Olympics this year, among the ranks of athletes from the world’s wealthiest nations, you might have noticed an outlier—Martins Rubenis of Latvia. While his competitors had the likes of BMW and Ferrari to thank for their sleds, which reach blistering speeds on the downhill ice tracks, Rubenis proudly accepted his bronze not only as a racer but also as a designer and engineer.

I caught up with Rubenis on a Celsius -12 degree day in December during the Luge World Cup in Whistler. Over mugs of hot chocolate at the Four Seasons, we relived the highlights, hurdles and spiritual insights on his journey.

A soul and a sled

During Rubenis’s 25-year career, he was a force to be reckoned with on any track. Beginning in 1998 at the World Junior Championships, he won gold and silver at multiple European and World competitions. Rubenis was the first member of Team Latvia to ever stand on a Winter Olympics podium, in 2006, Turin, Italy — a feat now being repeated more and more often by his country’s sliding athletes.

Rubenis fell in love with luge as a child. “What’s the first thing that comes to the mind of a little guy? You take a sled and you go off to the mountains and you have fun. And if somebody calls it a sport, then why not?” thirty-five-year-old Rubenis recalls, each word coming closer to a giggle than the last.

 Rubenis on the podium with fellow Olympic bronze medals winners of the luge team relay event in February, 2014.&nbsp;

Rubenis on the podium with fellow Olympic bronze medals winners of the luge team relay event in February, 2014. 

But the journey to Olympic glory is never easy, especially in a country whose culture and economy were left battered by Soviet occupation. While he was a teenager at boarding school trying to find his footing in life, Rubenis’s mother died of leukemia. “To lose a connection with parents or anyone you love,” he says, “somewhere deep inside, it makes something break.” With an independent spirit and the rock-solid support of his grandparents, he overcame thoughts of quitting and committed himself to the long, grueling practice and cross-training sessions. At the same time, he caught up with school and worked at nightclubs to make ends meet.

Crafting greatness

Around 1999, his sled needed upgrades but no one in Latvia could help him. If he was going to reach for gold, he would have to improve the sled himself.

Building model ships and motorcycles with his grandfather prepared Rubenis for that new role. “I started looking at my sled and trying to feel what should be changed. Since I don’t have any technical education, I try to feel how they work. It is more like an artistic approach than a technical approach,” Rubenis explains.

 Rubenis designed and crafted almost every part of the sled that carried him to victory at world competitions.

Rubenis designed and crafted almost every part of the sled that carried him to victory at world competitions.

“Many people think that luging is just lying in a sled and waiting until it brings you down; it is not like that. A sled is like a living organism, all moving and working together with the body of the athlete. The most important thing is to build the sled to be one with the body.”

 The meditation component of Falun Gong, along with its guiding principles, gave Rubenis a competitive advantage.

The meditation component of Falun Gong, along with its guiding principles, gave Rubenis a competitive advantage.

In the past, Rubenis would never share his parts or design knowledge with teammates. Luge is mostly an individual sport and teammates are rivals, too. But all that changed in 2005 when he began practicing “truthfulness, compassion, tolerance,” the tenets of Falun Gong, a self-cultivation practice which consists of tai-chi-like exercises and principles such as “no loss, no gain” and thinking of others first. He’s even seen his innovations on the G8 countries’ sleds at competitions around the world.

“After I took up the practice, I understood that if I share something, things come back in an even broader perspective. Knowledge is a kind of energy. When we share, we connect to the new knowledge; we give more space for new things to come. And you never know how big they will be.”

One with the way

Latvia’s former Sportsman of the Year says his sport is a lot like the ancient tradition of self-cultivation.

“When I get really stubborn about something in my life, when I just plow straight ahead, everything is very hard. It’s the same with sliding. If I just think ‘this is the only way to get down,’ sometimes I steer too much, but the curve doesn’t let me go that way. So I had to learn to feel the track and feel the way it brings me, learn how to appreciate the way it brings me, and also just try to keep on the way.”

Learning how to follow the natural course of life led to improvements in Rubenis’s physical state. “Even as I went to different doctors and people who might help me, relief was short-lived. I really couldn’t understand why. Now I understand that if my mind is right, my body follows. My hiding something and being so introverted was drilling and breaking me from the inside. I had to overcome that and change that.”

Top athletes must find ways to constantly improve their physical and mental performance. Rubenis was no exception. As early as 10 years old, he could sense that “the Eastern ways” held wisdom that could assist his performance but he was reluctant to take the initiative to try them. Years later, at the behest of his coach, he finally did and the results were immediate.

“I remember before, I was fighting against others to be better. When I started practicing Falun Gong, I realized that it had to have something to do with me. I had an ‘inner fight’ with myself, about improving myself, improving my performance and improving my approach to what I do.”

“It just instantly and naturally improved my performance. A few months later, in the winter of 2006, I won the bronze medal in luge at the Olympics.”

This winter, he stood atop the podium one last time in Sochi. He says he has now retired, but with his groundbreaking spirit, the world hasn’t heard the last of Martins Rubenis.

Originally published on Taste of Life magazine.

Why Is Taiwan Obsessed With This British Television Anchor?

 Ben Hedges in the streets of midtown Manhattan, near the offices where he produces videos featuring his sharp cultural commentary in rapid-fire Mandarin.&nbsp;

Ben Hedges in the streets of midtown Manhattan, near the offices where he produces videos featuring his sharp cultural commentary in rapid-fire Mandarin. 

How a fellow from Britain became one of the top three video personalities in Taiwan.

Hao Yibo, better known as Ben Hedges to his Caucasian friends and family, became an overnight Internet sensation in Asia when he made a brutal and hilarious YouTube satire of the Chinese TV drama “Empresses in the Palace,” about Qing Dynasty concubines. The combination of a white guy speaking fluent Mandarin while making erudite commentary on Chinese pop culture proved irresistible to the Chinese-speaking Internet.

It was a hop, skip, and a jump until young people began recognizing him in the streets of Taipei, asking for autographs. Hedges is now a bona fide celebrity in Taiwan, and to a lesser degree, Hong Kong. He is known in mainland China — but YouTube is blocked there, shrinking his potential audience by many orders of magnitude. (Taiwan has a population of 23 million; China, 1.4 billion.)

It is all the more astonishing to think that such sudden and extreme success happened almost accidentally, given that the Taiwanese audience was not his original target. 

“We started the show for mainlanders, exposing the dark side of mainland China and making fun of things that are kind of ridiculous,” he says. But when the Qing drama satire took off, they didn’t look back. 

“I got a text message saying ‘You’re famous,’” Hedges recalls. The video was posted on PTT, a social media platform in Taiwan run by university students. 

“If it gets over a certain amount of views, it baohongs,” he added, verbing a Chinese term. The word is composed of two parts, “explode” and “red.” It happens when something gains extreme popularity. “Our video was baohonging on PTT that day.”

 Hedges incorporates gifts from fans into his photoshoots: here he pours High Mountain tea from Taiwan in a set given by an admirer. Better known as Hao Yibo to his fans, Hedges became an Internet sensation almost overnight in Taiwan for his witty Chinese-language web commentaries.&nbsp;

Hedges incorporates gifts from fans into his photoshoots: here he pours High Mountain tea from Taiwan in a set given by an admirer. Better known as Hao Yibo to his fans, Hedges became an Internet sensation almost overnight in Taiwan for his witty Chinese-language web commentaries. 

Today, at work in his midtown Manhattan office, Hedges is wearing what appear to be white karate pants, a polo shirt, and Seinfeld sneakers — trademarks of the insouciant geekiness that has enamored him to millions of young people.

In Taiwan, for example, he began a speaking engagement at a mall with a kung fu demonstration. Apple Daily, one of the island nation’s most popular tabloids, has a video online quizzing him on obscure Chinese characters, and he rises to the challenge by writing them out, one after another. His dating advice to young people is the kind of thing your grandfather would say. “You can call me old fashioned,” Hedges says, smiling into the camera, before recommending that a young man act a bit more like a Jane Austen-era gentleman.  

Throughout 2013, after the initial success in March, Hedges’ videos have parodied corrupt Chinese communist officials, explored the antics of Chinese tourists, the influence of Bruce Lee, the ten ugliest buildings in China, and oddities about life in Taiwan — all with a witty script, playful graphics, and more often than not, an incisive message. Tens of thousands of views are a minimum, while the more popular videos get over one million. 

All this paved the way for his first trip to Taiwan in early 2014, where he held a number of public events. But before he even hit the streets, he was recognized on the plane by the stewardesses. “One of them said ‘Hello Mr. Hao, how are you?’ when I was on my way to my seat… I didn’t know to what degree I would be known. Before I even got there, I was being recognized. I thought, ‘This is going to be an interesting trip.’” Halfway through the flight, they invited him into the kitchen for a short party consisting of juice, airplane snacks, and numerous selfies with funny poses. 

Hedges’ 2014 Chinese book, I am Hao Yibo, gave fans a chance for a deeper exploration of what drives him — mostly overcoming adversity and believing in oneself to achieve one’s goals. “People come up to me and say ‘I’m more confident now because of your message. You’ve helped me.’” He regularly gets emails from grateful fans. 

Hedges was born in Hong Kong. He studied Chinese culture and language — including Mandarin, Cantonese, and the classical form — the equivalent of Middle English to what we use today — at the University of London. He spent a year in intensive language immersion in Taiwan over 2008 and 2009. Now a New Yorker, most mornings at 7 a.m. he participates in an advanced class of kung fu (the Shanxi-style Praying Mantis form); throughout the day he drinks Taiwan’s famous High Mountain tea, brewed in a set given by a fan; and in the evenings he does Falun Gong meditation. The practice is persecuted in the mainland, which likely informs his understated remark that “I don’t like the Chinese government’s human rights abuses,” made in an interview at a coffee shop with Taiwanese media.

 Hedges reaches millions of Chinese-speaking viewers through viral videos produced at a studio in midtown Manhattan.

Hedges reaches millions of Chinese-speaking viewers through viral videos produced at a studio in midtown Manhattan.

Success often builds on itself, and Hedges parlayed his newfound prominence in the Taiwanese world into a series of interviews with some of the most famous personalities in the country. These include Eddie Peng, a beloved actor; Tsai Yueh-Hsun and Shiou Chieh-Kai, director and actor in the popular police drama “Black & White”; Chinese-Canadian singer and Vancouver resident Qu Wanting; and A Xi, the fourth most popular online celebrity in Taiwan. (Hedges, it turns out, is third.)

Soon Hedges was starring in Taiwanese commercials. A collaboration with 7-Eleven, which is ubiquitous in Taiwanese cities, produced a video in late March about Hao Yibo’s secret powers of teleportation. The nearly six minute ad ends with him teleporting into a 7-Eleven to eat their “new traditional noodles with minced pork and soybean paste,” which actually look delicious. That clip has 500,000 hits online and, after being played on loop in 3,000 stores, have garnered many more views in the real world. (Go to tasteoflifemag.com/haoyibao to watch.)

Being a novelty — the white guy speaking Chinese — helps win over an audience, but not everyone who speaks Mandarin is an Internet personality. “There’s a certain novelty factor, but the novelty is backed up with a well researched script and show. You’ve got to have the whole package,” Hedges says.

Cultivating his fans, and paying respect to them, helps. When accosted on the street, he always pauses for a photo. A hand-painted paper fan he received from an admirer features on the front cover of his book. The small cup in which he brews tea every day often shows up in his videos. “One person drew me a picture, so I put it in one of the scenes in the 7-Eleven commercial.”

During his first trip to Taiwan, he was surprised when asked to summarise his philosophy in some “words of wisdom,” by the young filmographers at Taiwan Normal University. He recalls the scene with a smile. “I’m only 28. What do I know about this stuff? But I came up with a sentence: ‘The World is Big, Be Intrepid.’” which rhymes in Chinese. They got excited, started the camera rolling, and had him say it again. 

“Everyone was fussing over it, even though it’s something I just kind of made it up on the spot,” he said. “But when I thought about it, it does sum up a lot of the things I think.” So after the initial laughter, he says, the slogan became something he took in earnest. Poignant, given that the same dynamic would explain why his fans number so many.

Photography by Laura Cooksey.

Originally published on Taste of Life magazine.

Ethan Gutmann, Author of ‘The Slaughter,’ Speaks of His Interview With Dr. Ko Wen-je

  Ethan Gutmann in a video about his interview with the Taiwanese surgeon Dr. Ko Wen-je. (Ethan Gutmann)

Ethan Gutmann in a video about his interview with the Taiwanese surgeon Dr. Ko Wen-je. (Ethan Gutmann)

Ethan Gutmann is the author of two books about China, and a variety of long articles of reportage on the topic of organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in the PRC. His most recent book, The Slaughter, was published earlier this year—it focuses on the mass harvesting of organs of practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice. The core new information in the text comes from interviews conducted by Gutmann with survivors of torture, researchers, former security agents and police, surgeons, and others around the world, who illuminate one or another aspect of the abuse, which researchers say has taken place since around 2000.

One of Gutmann’s interview subjects was the well-known Taiwanese surgeon Dr. Ko Wen-je, who helped build Taiwan’s voluntary organ transplantation system. Gutmann’s book describes how Dr. Ko went to mainland China and, by accident, discovered that the organs of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience were used in transplants. He attempted to help mainland doctors come up with a system that would minimize this abuse, but it was not taken up. Dr. Ko now also happens to be mayor of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, after an electoral campaign fought bitterly by his opponents, of the incumbent Nationalist Party. Gutmann’s book was published in August; the mayoral election took place on Nov. 29. Prior to election day, Dr. Ko’s political opponents sought to attack the surgeon—in part by misrepresenting the content of Gutmann’s book, with an admixture of political invective, to claim that Dr. Ko was an organ broker. Dr. Ko’s lawyer at one point sent Gutmann legal correspondence requesting that Gutmann retract the passages in his book that relate to Dr. Ko’s statements.

Gutmann’s lawyer, Clive Ansley, responded by saying that the problem was not the content of the book, but the misrepresentation it had been given by Dr. Ko’s political opponents. The incident stopped there, until after the election. Recently, Gutmann released a video and lengthy question and answer—the questions having been posed by an English-language Taiwanese newspaper which later declined to run the interview, for unspecified reasons—clarifying his position on the contretemps, and making available documentary evidence demonstrating that Dr. Ko had reviewed Gutmann’s account of their exchange, and signed off on it. The question and answer was published along with a video in which Gutmann expands on his responses. The text as it appeared on Gutmann’s website follows.

 

Setting the Record Straight: The Dr. Ko Interview from Bjorvand on Vimeo.

How did your book end up as a centerpiece of the Taipei mayoral campaign?

Gutmann: In “The Slaughter,” Dr. Ko describes visiting a mainland hospital to look into the quality of organ transplants in China for his clinic’s Taiwanese patients. After he became aware that Falun Gong practitioners’ organs were being used to source the transplants, Ko quietly attempted to introduce more transparency into the organ donation system in China. He failed, but in my book, I described Dr. Ko as a man of “singular courage.”

Somehow, many in Taiwan skipped over that part. In October, with Dr. Ko Wen-je looking good in the polls, partisan elements seized on The Slaughter to accuse Dr. Ko of being an “organ broker.”

Exploiting inaccurate, out-of-context, translations of my writing, the issue dominated Taiwanese media coverage for nearly a week, culminating in a press conference where Dr. Ko denied the press charges and portrayed aspects of my book as inaccurate and unauthorized.

Yet Dr. Ko was responding to a claim that I never actually made in The Slaughter. As my lawyer, Clive Ansley, stated: “No English-speaking reader to date has understood for one moment that Dr. Ko was acting as an ‘organ broker'”.

Did Dr. Ko show any interest in purchasing human organs or actually getting involved in the Chinese organ trade?

Gutmann: Would an organ broker have given me an interview? Of course not. Dr. Ko was simply concerned with the welfare of his clinic’s patients.

How did Dr. Ko become part of your book in the first place?

Gutmann: In July 2008, my research assistant and I initiated an interview with Dr. Ko because we had heard that he might know something about organ harvesting in China. Dr. Ko began with a rather generic story: A clinic with aging patients who need organ transplants. A surgeon who visits mainland China to scout out the quality of the care. The surgeon inquires at a hospital about transplant procedures and prices. After getting to know the Mainland doctors, they respond that his clinic’s patients will receive the discounted Chinese price.

People bargain in China. That’s not news. So the interview wouldn’t have made it into my book except for one critical twist: the surgeon was told that the Taiwanese patients, should they come to this hospital, would receive particularly healthy organs. Why? Because the organ “donors” were Falun Gong–that is, prisoners of conscience.

This occurred in 2004-2005, before any allegations of systematic organ harvesting from Falun Gong had surfaced. So the scale was a mystery. But Dr. Ko sensed he had stumbled into something terrible: Mainland doctors, in at least one hospital, were killing Falun Gong for their organs.

Perhaps other Taiwanese doctors were given glimmers of that same discovery. What sets Dr. Ko apart is that he tried to do something about it, single-handedly creating a standardized medical form that would force mainland doctors to actually enter the organ “donors'” identity. Dr. Ko thought this might drive the practice of harvesting Falun Gong underground, although, as he told me ruefully, it would “only remove 95% of the problem.” Over the years, Dr. Ko tried to get Mainland doctors to adopt the form. They refused. So Dr. Ko did something else. He spoke to a journalist.

That’s you. How exactly did Dr. Ko’s interview end up in your book? What was the process?

Gutmann: The entire process was outlined in my book: by prior mutual agreement, the conversation was confidential. I did not record it. And my memory for dialogue is actually pretty good, but memory alone clearly wouldn’t justify the account that you see in the book.

Over the years, my researcher called Dr. Ko occasionally. I also called him to ask whether a central database of Falun Gong practitioners existed in China. Dr. Ko responded that harvesting operated in an informal eBay-style system. His English wasn’t smooth on the phone, but it was obvious to both of us that we were discussing the harvesting of Falun Gong.

In June 2013, I decided to try to get Dr. Ko’s permission to publish his account as an “anonymous Taiwan surgeon.” I seldom run my writing by an interview subject before publication, but because we did not record the interview, my researcher e-mailed Dr. Ko an advance draft–karaoke bar and all–and posed the following questions in Chinese:

“1. Under the circumstances that we don’t mention your name, specific situations, or any details, is it okay to write this content?

2. Is his draft of the story (below) according to reality? Is it factual? Because at the time we didn’t record and didn’t ask you too much about this direction, so there are some situations we are not too clear about, we just remember the general drift. Could you take a look and tell us where the story has inaccuracies? If it’s incorrect, how should it be correctly stated?”

Dr. Ko’s response: “the story seems Ok.”

In January 2014, we asked asked Dr. Ko to allow his real name to appear with the account in The Slaughter, to be published in August. Dr. Ko’s response was: “OK, for what I say I can be responsible.” He then provided, upon request, a high-resolution portrait of himself to be published in the book. In short, Dr. Ko had three clear opportunities to say: “Just a minute, let me take a look at that account again.” The emails show that no substantive differences between what Dr. Ko received and what was published in the book–even after my publisher’s rigorous editing.

Over 100 witnesses were interviewed for my book. Some actually risked their lives–and the lives of their families–for this investigation. Not one has objected to The Slaughter. If Dr. Ko had expressed even minor reservations, I would have struck the account.

Do you hold a grudge over any of this? Do you think Dr. Ko does? And what do you see as the way forward with Dr. Ko at this point?

Gutmann: My best wishes go out to Dr. Ko and the people who have worked to elect him. I continue to believe that Dr. Ko is an ethical man who—in agreeing to be named in my book—was doing his part to end a human rights atrocity. It is unfortunate that Dr. Ko felt the need to distance himself from his account in the heat of a political campaign.

Yet people say a lot of things in political campaigns. I don’t take remarks personally. And, as my researcher suggested, it’s entirely possible that Dr. Ko and I have different recollections of some aspects of our interview. So I will address Dr. Ko’s concerns in the preface to the Chinese edition of “The Slaughter” and I have no problem sticking an asterisk next to certain statements. Perhaps Dr. Ko negotiated in China on behalf of his clinic and not individual patients. Perhaps Dr. Ko and the surgeons never visited a karaoke bar. Perhaps Dr. Ko never made appointments for Taiwanese patients on the Mainland.

But none of this changes the fact that Dr. Ko signed off on my account of the interview. And none of it alters my thesis: that we were discussing organ harvesting from Falun Gong. Why else would Dr. Ko have discussed Falun Gong harvesting being temporarily halted for the Beijing Olympics? I played with Dr. Ko’s standardized medical form on his computer. Did Dr. Ko create the form to defend the rights of murderers and rapists? No, when Dr. Ko said the form would only remove 95% of the problem, he was referring to Falun Gong. There can be no asterisk on this point.

Yet I still wonder: why did Dr. Ko sign off on my account during his election campaign? Odder still, why didn’t he have a prepared response when the account surfaced? The simplest explanation is probably correct–Dr. Ko is an honest man who, particularly in January 2014, was still a political neophyte, unprepared for the cynical personal attacks that accompany political campaigns.

Yet I’m guilty of that same naiveté so I can hardly stand in judgment on this point. We learned our lessons the hard way, you might say.

In your view, what’s the way forward for Taiwan?

Gutmann: I’m sure it feels quite different to anyone who worked in the campaign, but as a human rights investigator, I see this as just one more skirmish in a very long war over forced organ harvesting. The Chinese Communist Party would have loved to see Dr. Ko and I rip each other apart. Instead, my attorney’s legal responses exonerated Dr. Ko. I remain hopeful that he will further advance the cause of saving innocent lives in China.

But let’s talk about political reality. The Taipei mayoral position may be a stepping stone to the Taiwan presidency. Well, can a Taiwanese president openly acknowledge the harvesting of political and religious dissidents in China? Can a witness even negotiate with the Party on Taiwan’s behalf? A candidate for mayor of Taipei, and potentially, the presidency, might want to keep that in mind.

Yet no matter how normal, level-headed, even justified, those words might sound, isn’t this a sort of cancer, this endlessly creeping rationalization for not offending Beijing? And isn’t there a whiff of hypocrisy in this entire affair?

Elements in Taiwanese society were eager to accuse Dr. Ko of being an “organ broker.” Yet Taiwanese citizens regularly go to the mainland for organs, even though the odds are that a Uyghur, a Tibetan, a House Christian or a Falun Gong practitioner will be killed so that a Taiwanese citizen will live. So unless Taiwan bans organ tourism outright, as Israel has, shouldn’t Taiwan itself be characterized as an “organ broker state”?

Taiwan cannot change China, but Taiwan can follow its own values. If anything good has come out of the Dr. Ko controversy it is this: Taiwan has stumbled into something terrible. And more than any other people in the world, the people of Taiwan are in a unique position to know the truth.

Originally published on Epoch Times.