“One World, One Dream” is the motto for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. But for dozens of Falun Gong practitioners protesting the Olympics on Friday, the motto might as well be “One World, One Dream, One Large Human Rights Problem.”
The protest, which was organized and led by the Yale Falun Gong Club, took place on Cross Campus, although few undergraduates were in attendance. Protesters’ speeches, some of which were in Chinese, criticized the Chinese government’s human rights record and Yale’s close relationship with the country.
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Some human rights organizations allege that the Chinese Communist Party has imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners in order to limit political and religious expression. China’s actions toward Falun Gong practitioners make Yale’s close relationship with the country unconscionable, said Edwin Everhart ’09, who spoke at the protest. Everhart said the University has built ties with China for financial gain.
There are an estimated 100 million Falun Gong practitioners in China. The country declared the religion illegal in 1999.
This past summer, 100 Yale students, administrators and faculty visited China at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, who had visited Yale in the spring of 2006. Yale also maintains a joint undergraduate program with Peking University.
“Yale has a goal of making its graduates have influence, power, money,” Everhart said. “If graduates have it, the University has it. You don’t get that by standing up to human rights violations.”
Everhart compared Hu Jintao’s 2006 trip to Yale to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent speech at Columbia University, when the university’s President Lee Bollinger was openly critical of Iran and its politics.
“That we’ll have the president of China come and say we’ll cooperate in the future — that’s irresponsible,” said Everhart.
But one student who attended the rally said Yale’s relationship with the country gives students, faculty and administrators the opportunity to work to improve human rights conditions in China.
“The protest makes Yale students aware so we can use our influence to make a difference in these conflicts,” Melissa Wu ’11 said.
Beijing resident Helen Gao ’11 said a Falun Gong protest like this one would be forbidden in China and University President Richard Levin’s objectivity in his public comments on China shows that Yale is an institution open to discussion.
Focusing the protest on the Olympics, which is an international humanitarian event, will put the conflict over China’s human rights record into historical context, said Ted Lin, a Falun Gong practitioner and Chinese immigrant who lives in Glastonbury. Lin said the approach worked during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and 1988 Olympics in South Korea.
Lin helped to coordinate the event with the New Haven chapter of the Human Rights Torch Relay — a worldwide torch-carrying campaign intended to publicize China’s human rights records. The Olympics present a unique chance to bring China’s abuses to the rest of the world’s attention, Lin said.
“This is a big opportunity for a bright future for China and the world,” he said.
Kenny Kato ’11, who joined the crowd of protesters once he saw the posters filled with morbid images of tortured Falun Gong practitioners, said evaluating both sides of the debate over China’s human rights record is an obligation for students on Yale’s campus.
“I think this kind of activity is part of what a Yale education should be,” he said.
The Human Rights Torch Relay will pass through New Haven next April.