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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Red Flags on the Green

April 29, 2008

by Thomas MacMillan
New Haven Independent
April 28, 2008

The worldwide debate over human rights and the coming Olympics arrived
in New Haven, as a pro-China rally and a parade of protesters met in a
shouting, flag-saturated, musical confrontation in the middle of the Green.

A coalition including local Tibetans and practitioners of Falun Gong
gathered around a temporary stage in the southwest corner of the Green
on Saturday afternoon for an event organized by the Global Human Rights
Torch Relay, an international campaign against human rights abuses
perpetrated by the Chinese government. Speakers and musicians addressed
the crowd, many of whom held signs condemning the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP). The event included a short parade circling through downtown
New Haven.

Meanwhile, on the northeast corner of the Green on the permanent stage,
a rally organized by the local Chinese population, with matching Beijing
Olympics T-shirts and abundant flags, was voicing its support for China
and celebrating the coming Olympic games.

The two groups met as the Human Rights Torch parade, accompanied by a
marching band, traveled down Temple Street, through the middle of the
Green. The pro-China rally rushed to the edge of the street to chant and
wave flags as the Human Rights Torch parade passed by. The two groups
were separated by a line of New Haven police and barricades.

The Protest

The Human Rights Torch Relay was organized as a symbolic alternative to
the Olympic torch relay now underway. Like the Olympic torch, the Human
Rights Torch has been traveling around the world, coordinated with
events designed to bring attention to violations of human rights in
China. The campaign was started by the Coalition to Investigate the
Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG).

Practitioners of Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual movement (also known
as Falun Dafa) that has been outlawed in China, claim that they are the
victims of torture and abuse in China. Addressing the crowd on Saturday
afternoon, John Jaw of the Falun Dafa Association of New England said
that there have been 3,000 documented deaths of Falun Gong practitioners
in China but that “we believe the actual number is many times that.” He
also said that “there are thousands incarcerated, working 12 to 14 hours
a day, making products for the government.”

Dr. Wenyi Wang of Physicians for Human Rights, said that Falun Gong
prisoners have been victims of systems of forced organ harvesting for
“international transplant tourists,” people who come to China for
inexpensive organ transplant operations.

Brandon Wang, of the Boston chapter of CIPFG, wanted to make it clear
that their argument is with the CCP, not the people of China. “This is
an evil nation,” he said.

New Haven downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark (pictured above), who helped
obtain the parade permit for the event, spoke briefly to the crowd. She
decried human rights abuses everywhere, including those perpetrated in
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Other speakers presented information about the persecution of Christians
in China and Chinese support for genocide in Darfur. Local Tibetans
(pictured), including Lama Tsondru Sangpo, took the stage to chant
Buddhist prayers of compassion.

The Party

While the Tibetans were singing their prayers of peace, the pro-China
party on the other side of the Green was enjoying a Wushu (martial arts)
display set to the sounds of dramatic recorded music: thundering drums
and proud trumpets. The Wushu demonstration was followed by a triumphant
soft rock song, with the lyrics “Hand in hand we stand, across the
land.” as the Chinese ralliers marched around their half of the Green
trailing Chinese flags and carrying signs with slogans like “Olympics,
Not Olympolitics.”

In a marked contrast with the mixed group of human rights demonstrators,
the pro-China rally was composed almost entirely of Chinese people, many
with white Beijing Olympics T-shirts and little Chinese flag stickers on
their cheeks. The organizers addressed the crowd in Chinese from the stage.

“We want to show our excitement about the Olympics and send a message of
welcome,” said Jie Chen, a Yale grad student in the economics program
and the official spokesperson of the rally. When asked if the event was
planned in response to the Human Rights Torch Relay, Chen said, “to some
extent yes, but we’re not trying to do anything against anybody.”

Chen said that she doesn’t agree with the politics of the protesters. “I
think Tibet is part of China. So do most people here,” she said,
gesturing around at the hundreds of Chinese people around her. As for
the Falun Gong, “they’re not showing the whole picture.” Chen said that
there have been media distortions of the Falun Gong situation.

“How Can They Do That?”

At 3 p.m., the Human Rights Torch Relay began a march through downtown.
Led by three-torch bearing “goddesses” and accompanied by the Divine
Land marching band, the group paraded up Chapel and York and down Elm
Street. Adults distributed fliers and children handed out paper flowers.

As they rounded the corner of Elm and Temple, the China rally ran to
meet them, waving flags and chanting “China! China!” The human rights
parade chanted back, “Shame on the CCP!” and the band belted out a
rousing song. Police on foot and on motorcycles kept the groups apart.

Lama Tsondru, toting a large photograph of the Dalai Lama, said later
that he spent the parade offering Boddhichitta prayers of compassion.
His daughter, Dekyi Bhutia said that she had been doing the same, until
she rounded the corner and saw the pro-China rally. “I got so angry,”
she said, “you see that they’re denying everything and eventually I
stopped praying and started chanting.” Bhutia, a student at Southern
Connecticut State, said that she was angry to see students waving
Chinese flags. “I’m angry that they know everything that is going on,”
she said. “How can they do that?”

As the Human Rights Torch Relay was wrapping up, Suan Kuo, one of the
organizers of the event, said that many Chinese student groups in the US
have a “direct link to the CCP,” and that “they finance their
lifestyle.” He said that nationalist groups act on behalf of the Chinese
government. “The CCP is never out in front, they have the students do
their dirty work.”

Back on the other side of the Green, the pro-China rally was finishing
up as well, with a sing-along of popular Chinese songs, including one
called “The Real Hero” and another about the Chinese flag.

Asked whether the rally was funded by the Chinese government, Jie Chen
said no, it was a completely voluntary effort. Asked about the
organizing body behind the rally, Jie Chen said that the rally was
organized by a committee, but that she couldn’t remember its name.
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