The Daily Texan: Artist hopes to raise awareness

Painter tells of China's abuse of Falun Gong practitioners
Artist and Falun Gong activist Zhang Cuiying works on a painting during an exhibit of her watercolors Wednesday in the Union. Cuiying was imprisoned for her practice of Falun Gong, and is now an advocate for the human rights of persecuted practitioners.
Artist Zhang Cuiying completed her two-day exhibition Wednesday at the Texas Union, where she displayed over 50 traditional Chinese watercolors to raise awareness about the brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

The Falun Dafa Students Association is the reason Cuiying came to the University. Danielle Wang, a civil engineering junior who was born in China, was a driving force behind the invitation.

Introduced in 1992, Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is an ancient form of qigong, the practice of refining the body and mind through exercise and meditation.

In 1996, Cuiying suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis that inhibited her from painting. A year later, she was introduced to Falun Gong and her arthritis disappeared completely. She attributes it to the exercise and meditation.

"It was so painful, I couldn't paint, and painting is my life," Cuiying said through a translator. "Soon after I started practicing Falun Gong, [the arthritis] went away. I could paint again."

After supporting Falun Gong for seven years, the Chinese government instituted a massive crack down on the practice. Cuiying, compelled by her success with arthritis, returned to her native China from her home in Australia to tell government officials about her experience and the benefits of Falun Gong.

She was jailed for her efforts.

"I felt it was so wrong, and that's why I wanted to tell my story, why 100 million people practice [Falun Gong], but I was jailed for eight months," Cuiying said.

While in prison, Cuiying said she was severely abused.

"I slept on the concrete floor in front of the toilet, and it was very smelly. They asked my cell mates to monitor me, and when I tried to practice, they beat me and shackled my feet," Cuiying said. "One time I did not give up, and they put me in the same cell as the men."

Cuiying said she and the other prisoners were awakened at 3 a.m. and forced to work until 11 a.m. with one short lunch break.

"Every day we were forced to make something to sell to other countries," Cuiying said.

The Chinese government is envious of Falun Gong because practitioners outnumber Communist Party members, Cuiying said.

"[The Communist Party] has an 80-year history, and we've only been doing this for seven years. They're very jealous of the situation," Cuiying said. "They did not feel comfortable with the number of people practicing Falun Gong."

Because she was beaten everyday, Cuiying said her cell mates wrote letters to her husband in Australia who did not know of her whereabouts. He persuaded the Australian government to pressure China, and Cuiying was released.

Danielle Wang's father has served three years of a 16-year sentence for practicing Falun Gong. Cuiying and Wang hope enough people contact President Bush so that he will pressure Chinese President Jiang Zemin to release Wang's father and end the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. Zemin is to visit Bush next week.

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