ANIMATED DOCUMENTARY | 86 MINUTES | 2022
In March 2002, a state TV signal in China gets hacked by members of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. Their goal is to counter the government narrative about their practice.
In the aftermath, police raids sweep Changchun City, and comic book illustrator Daxiong (Justice League, Star Wars), a Falun Gong practitioner, is forced to flee. He arrives in North America, blaming the hijacking for worsening an already violent repression. But his views are challenged when he meets the lone surviving participant to have escaped China, now living in Seoul, South Korea.
Combining present-day footage with 3D animation inspired by Daxiong’s art, Eternal Spring (長春) retraces the event on its 20th anniversary, and brings to life an unprecedented story of defiance told through harrowing eyewitness accounts of persecution and incredible artistry. Eternal Spring is an exhilarating tale of determination to speak up for political and religious freedoms, no matter the cost.
A Peabody Award-winning filmmaker and four-time Canadian Screen Award nominee, Jason’s work spans documentary, docuseries, virtual reality, narrative games, and animation. His directorial debut in a documentary feature, ASK NO QUESTIONS, premiered in competition at Slamdance in 2020. ETERNAL SPRING is Jason’s follow-up feature film.
An acclaimed comic artist from China, Daxiong has illustrated the likes of Star Wars comics for Dark Horse and DC’s Justice League of America. He fled his hometown of Changchun in Northeast China in the aftermath of a dramatic heist of the state TV airwaves. Daxiong sets out to retrace the events of the hijacking through his artwork, and meets the lone hijacker to have escaped China.
An engineer and devotee of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, Liang Zhenxing’s soft-spoken demeanour belies his steely resolve to defy the government’s ban on his faith—and counter the official narrative. But when Liang decides leaflets and banners are no match for the state media behemoth maligning Falun Gong, he hatches a bold plot to take over the TV airwaves.
A hulking grain worker from a rural county outside Changchun, Liu Chungjun is a former ruffian who was inspired to change his ways by Falun Gong’s tenets of truth, compassion, and tolerance. Big Truck is an imposing figure with a strong sense of loyalty, and not even prison walls are going to keep him for helping Liang pull off his heist.
please check below for the screenings at the nearby cities
The Nefiltravanae Kino in Minsk
Cleveland International Film Festival WITH FILMMAKER
The Asian-Pacific Film Festival of CSUDH WITH post-screening Q&A session with FILMMAKER
Ciné Utopia | Kinepolis Luxembourg
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What is Falun Gong?
The characters in ETERNAL SPRING belong to a group known as Falun Gong. A spiritual practice in the Buddhist tradition, Falun Gong combines slow-moving exercises, meditation, and moral teachings centered on tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. It quickly grew in popularity after its public introduction in 1992 by Changchun City local Li Hongzhi. By 1999, estimates put the number of adherents in the tens of millions, at which point Communist authorities banned the practice and commenced a repression campaign against those who persisted in it. More information on Falun Gong can be found at faluninfo.net.
Are the human rights abuses depicted in the film still taking place?
Unfortunately, yes. While the abuses against Falun Gong were more frequently in the news in the early days of the government’s repression of the group (for example, in a 2001 Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles by the Wall Street Journal’s Ian Johnson), the detention and abuses against those who persist in Falun Gong continues today. In fact, arrests and surveillance targeting Falun Gong believers reportedly increased in the recent lead-up to the 2022 Winter Games. What’s more, the tactics used against Falun Gong adherents—including large scale detention and coerced abandonment of religious beliefs—can also be found in the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Northwest China.
For more detailed information about the persecution of Falun Gong, please see this report by Freedom House: Falun Gong: Religious Freedom in China (2017). Amnesty International also released a report in 2013 that described the treatment of Falun Gong in some detail. You can find more in the resources section, below.
Where can I find more information about what happened to the TV hijackers?
In the immediate aftermath of the TV hijacking, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy told the Associated Press that “as many as 2,000 people were believed to have been detained” in response. Amnesty International issued a call for urgent action ten days after the March 5 2002 hacking, noting that those taken into custody in the “security crackdown” then underway in Changchun City were at “serious risk of torture or ill-treatment.”
Within three weeks, Falun Gong sources described police raids extending to neighbouring cities and numbering an estimated 5000 arrests in total, including several reported torture deaths in police custody. A US Congressional-Executive Committee database of political prisoners in China listed the incarceration of a number of the TV hijacking participants following their arrests, while a UN report on freedom of expression detailed the torture death of one individual depicted briefly in Eternal Spring, Dr. Liu Haibo.
Audience members have asked about the current status of the surviving members of the TV hijacking who remain in China. Those no longer in prison are unfortunately difficult to contact. Some have been re-arrested for their beliefs or are under house arrest. Mr. Sun Changjun, for example, was re-arrested in April of 2021 despite having been released from a 17-year term in prison sentence just one year earlier. His re-arrest sparked protests outside of Chinese consulates internationally.
I’ve heard Falun Gong supports conspiracy theories or holds intolerant or right-wing beliefs. Is this true?
The filmmakers are familiar with this narrative about Falun Gong, but do not find it a fair generatlization of a large and diverse religious community. None of the subjects interviewed in the film express such views (nor do the filmmakers), and to infer that all people in a faith community hold the same views, which are defined in a hostile manner by people who have mostly spent very limited time in the community, is toxic and xenophobic.
There is important context here. Falun Gong adherents in China have been subjected to an often-brutal persecution for their beliefs at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party for more than two decades. As this repression was frequently ignored in Western media, in 2004 founding Falun Gong practioners exiled in the United States started a community newspaper, The Epoch Times, with the initial goal of shining a light on human rights atrocities in China. It did, and has earned significant readership and goodwill amongst Falun Gong practioners for this reason.
The newspaper has also evolved to be unabashedly anti-Communist and conservative. In recent years it has attracted a large audience on the political right in the United States and other countries, including supporters of former president Donald Trump. Of course, people are free to take issues with opinions expressed in a newspaper. But we take issue with the guilt-by-association approach of attempting to brand an entire religious community based on the views or politics that one disagrees with.
In response to some of the characterizations that have been repeated, there are countless individuals in the Falun Gong community who do not regard themselves as “right wing.” Falun Gong doesn’t espouse any belief in QAnon (it appears nowhere in Falun Gong’s teachings); the Epoch Times newspaper also disputes claims that it has engaged in promoting the conspiracy. Falun Gong does not prohibit vaccination. It does not condone discrimination toward anyone regarding sexual orientation. Falun Gong’s attitudes on sexuality are conservative, in line with a Buddhist ethic of abandoning desires and attachments, but this is personal and not something that is to be imposed on others. On the contrary, practitioners welcome everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation as expressed by the community on FalunInfo.net.
ETERNAL SPRING is not a documentary about the beliefs and positions of some Falun Gong adherents within the fraught politics of contemporary America. At the same time, efforts to portray Falun Gong’s beliefs in a disparaging and overly reductive way risks breeding inaccurate stereotypes and encouraging apathy to ongoing human suffering. The issue is explored in greater depth in this article.
I want to learn more about these topics, what are some good resources?
Miconceptions and apathy about Falun Gong:
Why Did Liberal Elites Ignore a 21st-Century Genocide? – Caylan Ford, Arc Digital
Falun Gong and moral panic – ABC Religion & Ethics (ABC News. 2020. “Falun Gong and Moral Panic – ABC Religion & Ethics,” August 6, 2020.)
Cold Genocide: Falun Gong in China (Cheung, Maria; Trey, Torsten; Matas, David; and An, Richard (2018) “Cold Genocide: Falun Gong in China,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 12: Iss. 1: 38-62.)
Misconceptions About Falun Gong (Falun Dafa Info Center – a collection of responses from the Falun Gong community to claims put forward about their practice and beliefs)
The persecution of Falun Gong in China:
US Congressional-Executive Committee on China Political Prisoner Database (2012).This database lists the timeframe in which a number of the TV hijacking participants, including Liang Zhenxing, Zhou Runjun, Lei Ming, and others were first held at Siping Prison, which aligns with witness testimony recorded for our film.
United Nations Commission on Human Rights: Report on Civil and Political Rights, Including Questions of Freedom of Expression (2005). This report details the torture of Mr. Liu Haibo (who appears briefly in our film), substantiating his abuses at Fenjin labour camp, and also his subsequent death in police custody in March 2002. Falun Gong appears over 100 times in the report.
Human Rights Without Frontiers – China: Falun Gong (2019). A report on Falun Gong report on the imprisonment of Falun Gong practitioners for their beliefs, including several cases at Jilin Prison.
HRWF: Freedom of Religion or Belief & Blasphemy Prisoners Database: World Report 2016.This report mentions cases of Falun Gong imprisonment for their beliefs at Jilin Prison.
Amnesty International report on the abolishment of re-education through labour in China (2013). This report makes brief mention of Fenjin labour camp, where a number of our film subjects had been held. It is aside from this an insightful report detailing the mistreatment of Falun Gong adherents in China for their practice.
More Eternal Spring
COMIC BOOK app (iOS)Get it on the App Store
A four-issue digital comic book series featuring a new take on stories from the Eternal Spring film, complete with narration, sound and music. Dive into a riveting and heart-wrenching comic series featuring persecution, loss, and courageous resistance in China with art from acclaimed illustrator Daxiong.
COLOR ARTIST app (iOS)
Be part of the creative team behind Eternal Spring as you color hand-drawn background illustrations, view exclusive animation, and dive deep into a perilous heist. Designed to work with Apple Pencil.
ETERNAL SPRING VR
Explore the personal POV of “Mr. White” (Jin Xuezhe), one of the key characters in the Eternal Spring feature film, through the immersive power of virtual reality in this 12-minute interactive VR experience. Feel what it’s like when the government bans and denounces your spiritual beliefs, and then threatens you with arrest and abuse when you try to set the record straight.
Interactive experienceLaunch website
A scrolling web experience brings you deeper into a city transformed by the repression of a popular spiritual practice that was once introduced here. Featuring exclusive eyewitness interviews not found in the Eternal Spring film.