As a boy, he didn’t go home like the other kids after school. He’d complete his homework on the street, and faithfully accompany his mother in silent demonstration for countless hours, days, even nights. Ben Chen is his name, and his experience growing up on a busy London sidewalk is but part of the arduous journey he has embarked on. Never did he realize that he’d one day became a world-class dancer with Shen Yun Performing Arts, a New York-based classical Chinese dance and music company.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient mind-body cultivation practice based upon the principles—Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance.
With an estimated 70 million to 100 million adherents in China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) perceived Falun Gong’s presence as a threat to its authoritarian rule, and launched a brutal persecution to eradicate the practice on July 20, 1999.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, millions of Falun Gong adherents have since been arrested and detained.
“Over the past 18 years, numerous Falun Gong practitioners have lost their homes, jobs, even their lives,” says Erping Zhang, a Falun Gong spokesperson, The Epoch Times reported. “Worse still, there is the horrific crime of organ harvesting against these prisoners of conscience.”
To inform the public about the persecution and to dispel the slanderous propaganda churned out by the CCP’s global media apparatuses, Falun Gong practitioners worldwide gave it their all.
They hold parades, candlelight vigils, hand out flyers on the streets, and have set up websites and newspapers all for this purpose.
“The key for us was to get the word out, to tell the Chinese people and the international community alike what was going on—this, at a time when the whole world was fed lies about us by the Chinese Communist Party’s overwhelming propaganda machine,” wrote Ben Chen, in a blog post published on the official Shen Yun website.
As Chen portrayed the role of a persecuted Falun Gong practitioner, he could feel “the joy of dancing for others.”
He realized their story is also “in a way, my own…”
Before Chen joined Shen Yun, to get the word out about the truth, both he and his mother would regularly attend a peaceful 24/7 sit-in, or appeal, held on the sidewalk facing the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place, London.
The sit-in began on June 5, 2002, when Chen was just an 11-year-old boy. For several months, he sat on that sidewalk with his mom, Gao Yudong, and many others, meditating, and had spent many nights sleeping in a roadside tent.
On weekdays, he woke up at 7 a.m. and brushed his teeth at the nearby McDonald’s. After putting on his school uniform, he took the London underground for about half an hour, then traveled another 20 minutes by bus to get to school.
In the afternoon, he was back in Portland Place, doing his homework on the pathway.
Once, Chen asked his mom, “Mom, how long do we have to be here for?”
“Until the persecution ends,” Gao replied.
Oftentimes, many people, including Chen’s grandpa, wondered, “Would their efforts paid [sic] off?”
“One should be rewarded for one’s efforts. But you work so hard without getting paid,” Chen’s grandpa wrote in an email to his parents.
In reply to his grandpa’s email, Chen wrote: “I always believe that hardship can temper one’s character, enrich his experiences, and improve his morality. This is similar to the principles of cultivation. Of course we are not seeking suffering. But amidst life’s difficulties when other people mistreat me, even while being persecuted, I cannot give up. I have to walk my path with determination.”
“My parents were busy, because the persecution has been going on, and it still continues. Many people don’t know that. Human life is so precious. That’s why mom and dad may work day and night,” he continued.
“You said effort ought to be rewarded. This is certainly true. So many years have passed. No matter it was with our family’s situation, or with the way my parents raised me, we may not see the reward at the time. Instead, they will be shown many years later. Dad and mom’s efforts were not in vain.”
“Confucius taught justice and destiny,” he concluded. “Regardless of the outcome, we have all succeeded, because in terms of morality and conscience, we will always be in an invincible position.”
Years later, Chen disappeared from the sidewalk. In 2008, he flew thousands of miles to New York to study at Fei Tian Academy of the Arts, where he mastered the bearing, form, and technical skill of classical Chinese dance.
Since 2011, he has been a dancer in the Shen Yun Performing Arts’ world tours and has embarked on a journey to share the true essence of Chinese culture on stage to tell the world what’s happening to Falun Gong practitioners in China.
While Chen was overseas, his mother steadfastly continued her efforts at the 24/7 sit-in.
Despite being cursed at by passersby who were oblivious to the persecution, she has insisted on sitting there peacefully, day after day, year after year.
Every year in May, Chen returns to London to visit his parents. Whenever he is back, he will make a trip to Portland Place.
“When I sit there and sit down to meditate and do the exercises, just by myself, I feel really really peaceful. It just reminds me of everything we’re doing, and why we’re doing it,” said Chen in the documentary “Candlelight Across the Street.”
That day, when Chen was performing the ending piece, “The Divine Renaissance Begins,” he felt like he was back outside the Chinese Embassy once again.
“So can you picture his excitement, as the curtain flies up for the last time, revealing a scene and a story from today’s China? Can you imagine his joys and sorrows, as teenage nostalgia and a decade of perseverance in wind and rain come flooding back to him in a moment on stage?” Chen wrote.
“But then on stage, the sound of the buses disappeared. It turned into the music from the orchestra pit,” he said.
“And it wasn’t just the few pedestrians walking passed. [sic] It was a full house, full of audience members there ready to listen to what we have to say through our performance.”
Suddenly, Chen felt he wasn’t dancing for himself anymore. He was dancing for the millions of practitioners “still suffering indescribable torture, detention, and oppression in China,” for his mom sitting on the sidewalk outside the Chinese Embassy, and for the numerous “grandmas and grandpas with their flyers,” who’ve been painstakingly exposing the persecution on the streets. He dances also for “the even greater millions worldwide who share the belief—that goodness will prevail.”