When Truth is on the Line

Unsilenced Movie Raises the Question, Will Good People Speak Out?

Unsilenced tells the story of four Tsinghua University students who were persecuted by the Chinese government because they tried to expose its lies about their faith. It is based on the true stories of many Falun Gong practitioners, and the main character, Wang Guoyu, is based on a person I know.

The story begins on the campus of Tsinghua University in Beijing in the late 1990s. Some young students were practicing Falun Gong on a spring afternoon, not knowing that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership had decided to outlaw their faith. The CCP believed there were more Falun Gong practitioners in China than members of the Party, and they would not tolerate any organization deemed a potential threat.

Ten years earlier, many Tsinghua University alumni had died in Tiananmen Square for daring to demand democracy. In one moving scene, Professor Zhang, Wang’s supervisor, tells Wang how his son was killed at Tiananmen Square. He loves Wang as he loved his son, and he wants Wang to lie and sign a document denouncing Falun Gong. “I regret every day,” he says through tears. “I should have tried harder to stop him. Even if I had to break his legs …” Professor Zhang wants Wang to keep silent for his own safety, but Wang refuses to lie. For that, he is expelled from the university. Professor Zhang remains quiet, even when Wang is expelled.

Eventually, Wang is imprisoned. “The truth?” Secretary Yang sneers, lecturing Wang that his effort was in vain. “Nobody cares about the truth.” After years in prison, the character on whom Wang is based eventually escaped China for the West.

I felt ashamed as soon as I realized what this film was about. I did nothing when the Chinese government persecuted Falun Gong practitioners. I considered Falun Gong a cult. Furthermore, I was working as a senior engineer for a company with a lot of business in China. I was willing to speak out for the persecuted Chinese Christians, but not for Falun Gong followers.

This story is a familiar one. It happened in Nazi Germany. It happened in Red Russia. And it is still happening in Communist China.

Many people, especially the young, are idealistic. They don’t fully understand the evil nature of a totalitarian government. They don’t understand that many good people choose silence when their security and families are on the line. But when good people remain silent, evil tyrants are allowed to expand their rule without opposition.

Martin Niemőller, a German Lutheran pastor, wrote this famous poem:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

Martin was an anti-communist and supported Hitler’s rise to power. When he realized that Hitler was an evil dictator, it was too late. Unfortunately, there were many good Germans like him.

Here is how the story went in China. When the CCP took power in 1949, they came first for the losing Nationalists. Landowners did not speak out. Then they came for the landowners. Christians did not speak out. Then they came for the Christians. Intellectuals did not speak out. Then they came for the intellectuals. Communists did not speak out. Then they came for the Communists. Mao murdered many times more Communists than his nationalist archrival Chiang Kai Shek.

“Democracy dies in darkness,” shouts the Washington Post. Yet, many American media organizations self-censor their reporting on the Chinese government. Many American companies keep silent because of the Chinese market, and many American politicians keep silent because of campaign donations. Few people care about the truth when bad things happen to other people.

But that is how evil wins. Nazi membership at its peak was only about 10 percent of the total German population. The CCP membership is currently under 10 percent of the total Chinese population. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” A totalitarian government counts on good people to keep silent.

Unsilenced was filmed in Taiwan. Even there, people are afraid of the Chinese government. Many crew members used aliases or remained anonymous. After director Leon Lee returned to Canada, he encountered problems with industry professionals who didn’t want to be associated with Falun Gong and this film. Several of his post-production crew members remained anonymous.

The CCP has tight control of all the media and even the Internet. Inside China, you cannot hear any dissenting voices. You have no access to Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, or Twitter. Peaceful protests by Falun Gong practitioners were portrayed by the Chinese media as riots. Anyone who dares to challenge the government’s narrative will disappear. I know several people who were illegally detained and tortured. A totalitarian government can do whatever it wants when good people are afraid.

But the four students featured in Unsilenced didn’t keep silent. They could have remained anonymous. But when the Chinese government fabricated incidents to demonize Falun Gong, they risked their lives to tell the truth to the Chinese people and the world.

Will we keep silent after watching this movie? I won’t. I will speak out for Falun Gong practitioners. I will speak out for Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan monks. I will keep exposing the evilness of the CCP. One person speaking out loosens one brick of its foundation until it collapses one day, just like the former Soviet Union.

Unsilenced is now showing in theaters. Click here  for theater information.

Further Resources:

grew up during China's Cultural Revolution and immigrated to the US in 1995. He became a high school math teacher after having worked as an engineer for 20 years. Disillusioned with the current schooling model, he became an independent math teacher/tutor in 2018. He writes mainly on education and culture.

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