Not far from the hustle and bustle of Oxford St, in Portland Place, something extraordinary is taking place. It began more than a decade and a half ago. While you and I are sleeping warmly in our beds, or happily going about our daily lives, a special group is enduring the elements to help bring the plight of others to the world’s attention.
On June 5, 2002, a group of meditators staged a peaceful protest opposite the Chinese embassy in London, United Kingdom. Their goal is to expose the Chinese regime’s persecution of Falun Gong (Falun Dafa) to the world—and this persistent group has never left since.
This 24/7 vigil has been ongoing for almost 16 years, which translates to more than 140,000 hours. The meditators run the protest in a relay fashion, with each one performing Falun Gong’s meditative exercises for several hours each day, before swapping over with another practitioner who takes on the next shift.
So, why are they able to be so persistent, and are their efforts paying off?
Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, is an ancient meditation system that was immensely popular in China during the 1990s. Many high-level officials in the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) had also taken it up due to the amazing health benefits. However, because of its huge following, then-CCP-leader Jiang Zemin became insanely jealous.
By early 1996, Zhuan Falun, Falun Gong’s main text, written by founder Mr. Li Hongzhi, was on the bestsellers list in Beijing. And by 1999, there were approximately 100 million Falun Gong practitioners in China, according to state-run media reports at the time.
On July 20, 1999, however, dictator Jiang began a violent persecution to “eliminate” the peaceful practice.
An excerpt from a publication that is banned in China today, the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, reads:
“During the Central Committee’s working conference, in which the suppression of Falun Gong was ordered, Jiang Zemin claimed, ‘I just don’t believe that the CCP can’t beat Falun Gong.’ In planning the strategy of the suppression, three policies were put in place: ‘to ruin [Falun Gong practitioners’] reputations, bankrupt [them] financially, and destroy [them] physically.’ A suppression campaign subsequently went into full operation.”
Countless practitioners were illegally arrested and thrown into prisons, books were burned, and a nationwide smear campaign was set into motion. Thousands have been tortured to death for refusing to give up their faith, with many having their organs forcibly removed (to be sold) without anesthesia, resulting in the most agonizing death. To this day, the bloody persecution still goes on, albeit it’s not something tourists will be able to readily witness.
The peaceful meditators in Portland Place, London, are steadfast in their support of the practitioners in China who’re undergoing such brutal treatment, and so refuse to stop their protest until the persecution in China ceases.
An individual who featured in a documentary about the 24/7 vigil Candlelight Across the Street is quoted as saying: “If mankind’s fundamental qualities ‘truthfulness, compassion and forbearance’ are undermined, then it will hurt all of us.”
“Part of the reason my father is so determined is so that this generation of people could have a good future,” added another.
Sometimes the temperature in London falls below freezing point, with rain, sleet, and snow. Dozens of Falun Dafa practitioners participate in the vigil, which is usually for three or four hours at a time, but often longer. The night shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., can be daunting, as French photographer Phil Le Gal discovered when he spent 24 hours with them, taking photos and learning why they are so steadfast.
“That showed me the determination of the protesters, and the weather condition they are facing everyday, every year; from very cold and wet condition,” Le Gal said.
In the movie, the story of Amy is truly heartbreaking. She was denied a loving home with her parents, as both were arrested and thrown into prison.
At the time of the arrest, Amy had arrived home from school one day, and suddenly a stranger put a hand over her mouth and whispered: “Be quiet. We are here to arrest your mother.”
Her father is still serving his more-than-15-year sentence.
Growing up without the loving care of her parents gave her a certain resilience, as one can see in the film. She joined the vigil as part of her effort to help rescue her father and other practitioners from being illegally imprisoned.
Her father once told her from behind bars, “The things I’m doing right now is so that your generation will live in a better place in the future.”
Yudong Gao is another practitioner in the film. She once had to spend three days and nights at the vigil due to a snowstorm halting the trains, which prevented other practitioners from taking their shifts. As a coordinator, she took it upon herself to cover the shifts. On the fourth morning, she asked to use a nearby washbasin at the Royal Architects’ Association to wash her hair and tidy up. Then she went straight to work. Workmates exclaimed she must have been on a holiday, as she was literally glowing.
Yudong does like meditating in the rain. “Some people enjoy taking a walk in the rain. They think it’s romantic. When I meditate in the rain, actually I feel a sense of transcendence that cultivators feel,” she said, admitting that constant rain for days on end is a little hard to bear, with clothes that are continually wet.
One of the first meditators to begin the relay was Luo Yuan, senior computer network instructor at Middlesex University. For at least 10 years, he has always taken the Saturday night shift. He admits the cold is one of the hardest things to endure; sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you are wearing, it makes no difference.
Tour guide Xiaolong Lin also takes a night shift. “Especially in winter, you shiver when you open the door. But in China, the practitioners are suffering persecution in prison. Compared with that, this is really nothing,” he said. “And if you don’t come, someone else has to cover the shift,” he added.
During the past 16 years, the vigil has received unwavering support from many passersby; some leave messages of support, while others bring food and drinks to the practitioners, even flowers. Thousands have signed the petitions to end the persecution and stop the organ harvesting. These petitions are placed for passersby to sign at the vigil site.
Watch the documentary below: