While visiting the Yale University Campus and being interviewed by an American television news reporter, my wife and I were asked: "Do you know that President Bush and his wife are also in New Haven today to celebrate her daughter's graduation from Yale? Your daughter and the president's daughter graduated from the same university on the same day, how do you feel?" I recall my answer: "It does not matter whether you are a Chinese or an American, no matter whether you are a President or a common citizen, I guess at this moment, all parents feel the same at heart." After a long trip from China to New Haven, while seeing our smiling daughter accept her diploma from the dean of her school, my wife and I shed tears of joy, full of pride for our child and appreciation for the University. Surely I did not expect that an absurd and ridiculous law suit was waiting for us.
We had blissful weather on June the 14th. My daughter was in another state looking for a job, and my wife and I planned to walk to a hill nearby her New Haven apartment to collect some mulberries. Unexpectedly, we received a summons from the federal court in Connecticut.
Although I had heard a lot about the frivolous civil lawsuits being filed against Chinese citizens by the Falun Gong (FLG) under obscure U.S. laws, I was still appalled that they actually filed a lawsuit against me, a man who does not hold a high title, a father who was traveling for personal reasons to visit his daughter in the United States and a science writer who for two decades has shown nothing but a tremendous zeal to explain science, health issues and technology to a television audience. I was surprised that FLG had clandestinely traced my whereabouts and launched such a sudden attack. And their actions heated up. Then they held a press conference to announce that they had submitted a citizen's complaint to the U.S. Attorney, requesting the institution of criminal proceedings against me. In an effort to threaten and intimidate me, their attorney went so far as to compare their lawsuit against me to the conviction and life sentences handed down by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda against three Rwandans who had signaled a genocidal attack on Rwandan local television and radio. There was much publicity on the Internet; media controlled by the Falun Gong, including Dajiyuan, Minghuiwang and New Tang Dynasty Television published or broadcast more than 40 stories and comments about the case, labeling me as "Media hatchet man", "Hatred Inciter", "Torture Instigator", "A preacher of genocide" " An executioner with pen", and "A man with hands full of blood of Falun Gong". These stories were translated into scores of languages and spread all over the world.
My initial response was to ignore these allegations. But after I read more and more of these stories, I became interested in knowing whether and how they could subject me, as they predicted, " to be sentenced to life in prison" in the United States.
What are the basic facts and evidence against me then? It is a five-year-old television documentary entitled Li Hongzhi, the Man and his Deed produced by the television program Light of Science, China's version of the PBS show "Nova" which I helped create and have directed through Wuhan television (equivalent to a PBS affiliate), since the mid-1990s. Interestingly enough, the program that Light of Science made was never broadcast, but even the one ultimately aired by Chinese Central Television (CCTV), which broadcasts Light of Science daily, is something that would not be unusual on "60 Minutes," "20/20," or "Dateline." Here's what happened:
Light of Science first heard the name of Falun Gong when its members surrounded Zhongnanhai, the central government's compound, on April 25, 1999. Shortly thereafter, our reporters received signed letters from the early partners, colleagues and neighbors of Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong "spiritual master", who has claimed supernatural powers and divine status. Out of a sense of professional obligation as science journalists, we sent a three-man crew to Changchun to find those letter writers and to interview them. Then we did some rough editing of the footages and made a 30-minute interview-only film without narration.
However, at that time the Falun Gong was still a sensitive issue in China, and we were also not satisfied with the quality of the film, so we did not air the program. On July 22nd, 1999, the Chinese government banned the Falun Gong. CCTV then broadcast a documentary that was called Lihongzhi, the Man and his Deed. While this was a CCTV production, it bore the same name of as the Light of Science production. In its production, CCTV used some of the interview footages we shot in Changchun. Other than the interview footage, neither "Light of Science," nor I had anything to do with the end product. The great irony of plaintiffs' accusation is that the FLG, and presumably the plaintiffs, claim the CCTV production as "Zhao's" film in all their official media after their suit was filed against me.
When I came back from the US, I watched the CCTV film once again. The story simply tried to say that "Li Hongzhi is a man, not a god; he is a charlatan but not a good man". The film showed care and concern for Falun Gong practitioners. There is not a single word in the film that can be associated with the "crimes" as charged by the Falun Gong; it is even more absurd to blame the interview footages of Light of Science of which CCTV used some for its production. As an online commentary said, the best way to know if the CCTV production is guilty is to let people from all over the world watch it and deliver their own verdict. I can not agree more.
As far as for myself, I am willing to act as an example of the Falun Gong indictees. I would like the world to know what a "devil-like" criminal such as myself accused by Falun Gong is really like. As a science writer, I have kept at my work for years with diligence and devotion. There is no way I can brag about my works, but each and every piece I write is meant to bring people together with a better understanding of science and technology. I have looked back upon thousands of pages of articles and scripts I have written over the past two decades, one cannot find a single word inciting hatred, instigating torture or genocide. Falun Gong is simply fabricating lies that cheat the world and frame a good person.
But to think about it another way, Falun Gong has not found the "wrong person" to accuse. Light of Science and Falun Gong are meant to confront each other one day. Someone who is dedicated to science and rationality simply has to speak up when a trumpeter and grain clerk from Changchun suddenly pronounces himself the supreme god in the universe who can become invisible, move and rest objects and with the power of his will, control others' minds. The same can be said when he claims that each Falun Gong practitioner received from him personally a "wheel of law" installed in her or her abdomen as a miniature of the universe which absorbs energy running clockwise and emits energy running counterclockwise, or when he declares that Falun Gong can save the sinned from the earth (which was a simply dustbin and cesspit already destroyed several times in history), or when Li Hongzhi can send its Dharmakayas (law body) to protect his followers from evil and danger, and when tens of thousands of people simply grovel and worship at his feet and even young children recite his works as their first lesson of life. When we hear these types of claims, as objective science writers we know by instinct that we have to respond.
I can calmly face the lawsuit from Falun Gong also because I know deeply in my heart that science does have enemies. Today is not an era of Bruno, Copernicus or Galileo. But when we chant "fight for science", we should know it is not an empty slogan, a fight always has its target. As a winner of the Primo Rovis Award, a National Advanced Science Popularization Worker, and many other international television awards, science has bestowed upon me many honors and high glory. I know also it is for the same reason that I received these plaudits that I was accused by the Falun Gong. Accolade and censure are just like the two sides of one coin. I can never accept the honor given by science and then complain about the "ordeal" I have to suffer for it. To the contrary, I am supremely proud to accept the challenge.
I am also a standing member of the Chinese Anti-Cult Association, an organization of accomplished and established scholars and scientists. If the Falun Gong really think that their "strategy" of wanton lawsuits can silence the intellectuals in China from criticizing Li's efforts to blind the conscience and corrupting the people, they have underestimated the morality and fortitude of Chinese intellectuals as a group.
The only regret of those who write about science issues in China is that we have not done enough in face of such a group that stands as an aggregate of superstition and pseudoscience. At a time when China suddenly has an overflow of "masters" and "magical power sects", we have wasted too much time on lamenting over the prevalence of superstition and pseudoscience in our country and the difficult work we science workers were facing. As science writers, we feel professional guilt for letting down our nation and country. The frivolous lawsuits of Falun Gong we are facing today are the results of our own nonfeasance in the past.
When I was informed about the accusation against me, the 2004 Beijing International Science Film Festival staff (in which I had a primary role) was busy receiving candidate films. My friends from all over the world sent their messages to express their sympathy and support. Their unambiguous stand and insightful analysis are simply unforgettable. At the time, I could not help but remembering Carl Sagan's words: "Have we come to a dark age haunted by demons and are we going to be trapped in a web of fallacies?" I still keep Carl's letters inside my drawer and his books on my desktop. The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan is a candle left by him to light the world. Today, more and more science television workers have extended their hands to help. These warm friendship have convinced me that I am in among a group of people fighting for the human progress; I believe that an international consensus will also emerge to fight cults and pseudoscience.
The most astonishing thing about the accusation against me is its intended denial of a Chinese journalist's freedom of journalism and a science writer's freedom of speech. And all these happened in the United States, a country that respects "the Freedom of Speech" with highest esteem. When President Nixon's Watergate Scandal was disclosed, when President Clinton's misconduct was exposed, when President Bush and his supporters felt upset about Fahrenheit 911 winning awards, there was no question that critical questions could be asked. I do not understand how then, the U.S. Courts could say that critical comments directed at Li Hongzhi from northeastern China is not a questionable claim. I do not believe that the United States will abolish the First Amendment in order to allow Falun Gong to prosecute me. I also do not believe that the Statue of Liberty will someday be dressed in a yellow gown, with legs crossed and a wheel circling inside her, chanting Li's words.
I know little about the American judicial system, but my lack of knowledge does not keep me from respecting the system. As an intellectual, I will be paying interest and attention to learn from the American system as a salutary reference for our own Chinese legal framework. Actually, I could not imagine having such a close adventurous contact with the American law. I may know little about the old legal clauses but I believe that those codes were not designed to help Falun Gong's prosecution. The core of the law is justice. Any loopholes should not be abused by those villains to create disturbance. The Law, how many have made wrongs in thy name? But I should and would never underrate the wisdom and rationality of the American judiciary.
I have been to the United States 10 times. The most unforgettable experience was in 1990 when I was invited by the United States Information Agency as an international visitor to tour the country for a month. From Washington DC to Cape Canaveral, from Hawaii to the residence of Martin Luther King, I was received with warmth and friendship. Since then, Wuhan TV has been in cooperative arrangements with American television companies. Two months after the 9/11 attacks, I attended the World Congress of Science Producers in Washington DC to express my indignation against terrorism. During that trip, I gave a speech on China's science television. In 2003, invited by the United States State Department, a film crew from Light of Science went to the US to shoot a science documentary named The Story of GMO Technology. Everything I (and my Light of Science colleagues) has done has been meant to increase mutual understanding between two great countries and peoples. We try to disseminate science information and we endeavor to promote peace and friendship.
Yet today, the list of scientists and journalists listed as targets by the Falun Gong's "World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong" keeps growing. As one netizen pointed out, "Falun Gong only has to put its supporters on a red list and all the rest should be automatically on the black one." They tried to threaten, harass and intimidate, in hope of making trips by Chinese to the US unpleasant to say the least. They are simply setting up blockage on the road of friendship between the two peoples.
I have had deep discussions with my American friends. Without doubt, different countries have different social systems and cultural backgrounds. But all human societies have common values. We all oppose burglary, drug trafficking, hijacking, bribery, and of course we reject cults. These values are the foundation of the international peace and development undertaking and the global anti-terrorism alliance. Harboring prejudice, those who take China's ulcer as treasure will only bring disasters to themselves.
I am now especially worried about my daughter living alone on the other side of the ocean. I flew ten thousand miles to the US to congratulate my daughter's graduation but ended in disrupting her peaceful life and bringing her infinite harassment and terror. My daughter's understanding and support are irreplaceable.
I have been a fan of Mark Twain's works since I was young, and knew a beautiful place called Hartford. I couldn't imagine that I would one day visit this city to respond a court subpoena, and have no time and mood to visit the residence of Mark Twain. But I believe, I will go to Hartford again when this frivolous lawsuit is behind me. By that time, my friends and I will surely laugh over this episode which may left some trace in the corner of the American judiciary history.
(www.zeropaid.com, April 3, 2005)