Michelle Zhang started to practice Falun Gong after her sister's disappearance. Here, she is doing a Falun Gong exercise in the documentary "State Organs." (RooYee Films)
A film exposing forced organ harvesting in China, featuring disturbing testimonials of torture and other human rights violations, took Southern Californians on a stirring and emotional journey over the weekend.
Director Raymond Zhang’s 75-minute documentary “State Organs” premiered at Laemmle Glendale Theatre in California on Jan. 26. The movie centers around the stories of two practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong who disappeared shortly after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a brutal persecution campaign against the practice in July 1999, with their family members going through great lengths to search for them.
“When I watched the movie, I recalled the memory of when I was in jail. ... They brought me to the hospital to check [my organs], they showed a lot of interest in my lungs,” said Hong Li, a woman who attended the premiere and shared her own experience of persecution under the CCP.
Ms. Li, a resident of San Dimas in Los Angeles County who emigrated from China in 2012, said that just like the main characters in the film, she was also illegally arrested in 2008 and tortured in prison for practicing Falun Gong. She was released after 3 1/2 years, but police continued to monitor her, until she was able to flee to the United States, where she now freely practices her faith.
A scene of Falun Gong practitioners performing a meditative exercise from the documentary film "State Organs." (Courtesy of Rooyee Films)
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice, which features moral teachings and meditative exercises, was first introduced to the public in China in 1992 and grew to have an estimated 70 million practitioners by the late 1990s, according to official estimates. In 1999, the CCP began an extensive persecution of the practice, fearing that the regime’s power would be affected by the group’s large following. Since then, millions of Falun Gong adherents have been detained, often facing torture and death, according to human rights groups.
On July 21, 1999, just one day after the CCP began its persecution, Yun Zhang lost her husband after his arrest by authorities. He was detained at a local police station for protesting the persecution and was later tortured to death in Wangcun Labor Camp at the age of 28, as reported on Minghui.org
, a website that documents the persecution of Falun Gong.
The film tells the story of Ms. Zhang’s disappearance after she wrote letters of appeal to various government offices following her husband’s death. She was reportedly threatened by police, put under surveillance, and last seen by her family in February 2002.
Ms. Zhang’s sister Michelle Zhang recounts reported sightings of Yun, who may have been held at a detention center in Qingdao City. Over the years, their father visited provincial prisons in search of his missing daughter, only to be stonewalled by authorities who denied the rumored sightings.
Another interviewee, Dr. Will Huang, tells the story of the disappearance of his brother, Shawn Huang, in April 2003. Shawn left on a mission to broadcast the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong by tapping into a local television station, and he was never heard from again.
A poster of the new documentary film "State Organs," which depicts the Chinese Communist Party's crimes of forced organ harvesting and persecution of adherents of Falun Gong. (Courtesy of Rooyee Films)
The film also recounts the story of an anonymous whistleblower—a police officer assigned to a medical extraction team—who bore witness to a conscious 17-year-old boy pleading for his life as his eyeball was extracted during an organ procurement operation, a scene that forever scarred the informant. A former nursing student shared her own experiences, where she did the same to many other patients as a matter of routine, as medical professionals in China reportedly grew accustomed to extracting organs from live prisoners of conscience.
Experts interviewed in the film, including international human rights lawyer Clive Ansley, discuss China’s organ transplantation system, which saw only 78 liver transplants performed from 1991 to 1998. That number skyrocketed the following year, with 14,085 transplants performed between 1999 and 2006, according to reports from the CCP.
An independent tribunal held in London found in 2019 that the CCP had been using prisoners of conscience as a living organ bank to fuel its lucrative transplantation industry, with an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 transplants conducted every year.
Robert Liu, a Los Angeles resident who was arrested twice in China between 2011 and 2014 for practicing Falun Gong, told The Epoch Times after watching the film that he also had had his organs checked for their health while in prison.
He said that while in China, he had a friend who was close with one of the doctors at a hospital in Sujiatun district, in the city of Shenyang in northeastern China, who claimed that many doctors at the hospital would hear screaming from the hospital’s basement, “but never dared to say anything” about it.
“They all know what’s really happening, the doctor said to my friend. My other friend just disappeared after he was arrested as well,” he said.
Another attendee of the premiere told The Epoch Times that he found the documentary shocking but not surprising, as he has family in Ukraine who have also been victims of persecution and wars.
“It was very well done, very emotional. Hearing the spiritual aspect of it also resonates with me,” said the Los Angeles resident and grade school math teacher, who withheld his name out of fear for the safety of his relatives.
During a Q&A session after the film, Dr. Dana Churchill, a member of the nonprofit Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, said the gruesome practice is still happening today and on a large scale.
“I was going over the old numbers, and there are just so many transplants going on,“ he said of his recent research. ”There are over 800 transplant hospitals in China, and I don’t know if there are that many transplant hospitals around the world.”
Another audience member asked director Raymond Zhang if only those jailed for their Falun Gong faith were subject to forced organ harvesting. He said that while Falun Gong practitioners were among the first victims, the CCP has since expanded its barbaric practice to target other political prisoners.
“I believe they first did it with Falun Gong practitioners, and later on they carried on this organ transplant abuse almost all over China wherever they could find the so-called ‘donors,’” he said.
To gather all the information needed for the documentary, he said it took about six years and approximately 100 hours of interviews with about 30 interviewees.
Mr. Zhang said that according to evidence, illegal organ harvesting and the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners are still taking place today, which is why he believes the film is so important.
“I think we still have the opportunity to change this. If every one of us can stand up and say something or share information about what we see and what we hear today with our families, friends, and classmates, then I think we can make a difference. That’s why we’re here,” he said.
“State Organs” won the awards for best direction and best musical score at the 2023 Leo Awards and was also nominated for best feature length documentary, best screenwriting, best picture editing, and best sound.