Falun Gong was founded by its leader Li Hongzhi in China in the early 1990s but very quickly spread to over 100 countries around the globe.
Falun Gong aspires to enable the practitioner to ascend spiritually through moral rectitude and the practice of a set of exercises and meditation. The three stated tenets of the belief are Truthfulness (真, Zhēn), Compassion (善, Shàn), and Forbearance (忍, Rěn).
However, the one place where Falun Gong is no longer able to be practised is…China. That’s because, as it grew quickly in popularity, it meant large gatherings of people, all performing what essentially looks like tai chai, and this is something that the government could not stand.
The communist party began cracking down on anyone practising Falun Gong, or those associated with those that practice it, or looked like they did, or would, or might, you get the idea.
In Eternal Spring we follow Daxiong, one of the men forced to flee China, specifically Changchun City, because he practised Falun Gong. Daxiong now lives with his family in Canada and is a world renowned artist.
He draws his past life and those of the group who, in March of 2002, ‘hijacked’ the state TV in Changchun to broadcast a short video about the truth of Falun Gong, to get the message out that, despite what the communist party was saying, Falun Gong was not ‘bad’, it was not ‘corrupting’, it was spiritual.
We meet some of the group involved in the ‘hijacking’ as they managed to either escape or were eventually set free by the communist party. One, after a number of years, was released to South Korea after months of pleading from his family.
Daxiong, and director Jason Loftus (“Ask No Questions”), together with their very talented set of animators, take Daxiong’s drawings and storyboards and turn them into the most beautiful animations you’ve seen on a documentary.
We see Changchun City as Daxiong remembers it in his youth and as those he meets remember it too. We learn about the plan to ‘hijack’ the tv station, meet each of the people involved, learn about their backgrounds, their motivations.
All of this beauty sits hard against the brutality that follows as the police round up Falun Gong’s practitioners, many die in police custody, many more are beaten and tortured.
These tragic and barbaric acts are hard to hear about. Even some of those that were imprisoned and later released, many after being forced to sign confessions under duress that they won’t practice Falun Gong any further, later died from their injuries.
Eternal Spring is a beautiful documentary, beautifully animated which sits hard against the tragedy of what we learn about: more religious persecution from the communist party that sits uneasily alongside those we may have heard more of in the West, most recently the Uyghur’s.