Made [illegal] in China

This past weekend, the University of Pittsburgh showed Sandstorm, an influential movie about the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, to the students and residents of the Pittsburgh area as part of Pitt’s International Week.

Sandstorm is a tale about the events occurring in modern China, where people passionate about their beliefs are being persecuted. The story is about a police officer who has witnessed these acts. He has flashbacks as he tries to discern the line between good and evil. It is a movie about compassion and persecution and it serves as a wake up call to the reality of what goes on behind closed doors to our blind eyes.

Sandstorm, though a fictional drama, describes first-hand accounts of the persecution that is occurring in China. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have been documenting these crimes against humanity.

Falun Gong is a spiritual and religious movement that incorporates Taoist and Buddhist principles, healing techniques, and Qigong, a practice that exercises the body, mind, and soul. Falun Gong is also seen as a way of life. The practice of Falun Gong falls into two categories: First, it is a moral philosophy of improving the self; second, it is a set of five “qi” exercises including movements and lotus postures that are done to Chinese music. Qi is interpreted as the “breath,” the life force behind everything and the fundamental element behind all creation. Qi is the energy that all things in existence — including our human bodies — give off.

The Chinese government declared the practice of Falun Gong illegal in mainland China in 1999. In April of that year, 10,000 people gathered at the headquarters of the People’s Republic of China’s government. Although this dispersed on a peaceful note, it caught the attention of many influential leaders. The fact that there was an organized protest at the headquarters of the Communist Party — despite how peaceful it was — scared leaders such as China’s former president Jiang Zemin. This newfound jealousy and fear of organized protest caused the disturbing prosecution of Falun Gong. As of July 2006, there have been 2878 reported cases of Falun Gong practitioners that have passed away while in the hands of the Chinese police and government. There have been more then 30,000 cases of persecution. There are reports that hundreds of thousands of practitioners have been detained, and over 100,000 have been sentenced to labor camps. Furthermore, there is evidence documented regarding the torture and abuse of those imprisoned.

Sandstorm is a movie that the Chinese government does not want you to see. Despite the dramatic increase in economic growth China has experienced in the past decade, China’s human rights behavior has not improved. China has tried to prevent Sandstorm’s viewing; Chinese embassies and consuls in many countries have demanded that the movie not be shown as scheduled at several film festivals.

In September of 2004, during the Houston Film Commission, the Chinese consul in Houston demanded that Sandstorm not be shown. In November, during a San Francisco showing, the Chinese consul there also tried to sway the festival not to show the movie. In both cases, Sandstorm was shown anyway. Sandstorm won Best Feature Film in both festivals and has gone on to win 29 film festival awards, including the Humanitarian Film Award at the Long Island International Film Expo and the Grand Jury prize at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival.

Annie Gui Qing, a student at Pitt, said, “I can’t describe the feelings of unjust that filled me during the film. I want more people to see this movie; I want more people to care about the not-so-beautiful things in our world.”