Winnipeg is one great city. These words, once on our welcome sign, still hold true today. We can complain about cold winters and mosquitoes, but we have clean air, open farmland and basic freedoms.
My family arrived Canada in 1992, a few years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Both my parents, like millions of Chinese in 1989, believed there was hope for change. But as history unfolded, hope faded. It died when the tanks rolled in.
When I learned all specimens at Bodies: The Exhibition were Chinese, I was stunned. Chinese traditions treat the deceased with great reverence, solemn ceremonies and dignity. There is no concept of body donation. Who were these people? Were they Chinese students like those at Tiananmen 20 years earlier? Or perhaps they were pregnant mothers who refused to give up their spiritual beliefs.
For five years, I have been doing a traditional Chinese self-refinement practice known as Falun Gong or Falun Dafa. Many have seen practitioners doing meditation in parks or heard about the Chinese regime's brutal persecution of practitioners in China. Most people, however, do not understand the practice itself and why, in just seven years, 100 million people picked it up, and why the Chinese regime so aggressively suppresses it.
Falun Dafa has taught me the three most important things in my life: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. Before I practised, I was terrified of being alone, unsure of myself and racked with emotional frustration. Failed relationships and a constant sense of dissatisfaction followed me. I couldn't understand how to break the cycle. Only by adhering to these three simple, yet profound principles in my daily life did I see hope for change.
The spirits of compassion and tolerance are the essence of traditional Chinese culture. It's easy to understand why Falun Gong caught on so quickly in the early 1990s. The values promoted by the practice existed for 5,000 years -- right up until the Chinese Communist Party began its campaign to systematically destroy true Chinese culture.
Falun Gong practitioners have become China's symbols for nonviolent resistance -- and perseverance. The idea of peaceful, free-thinking individuals is something frightening and incomprehensible to a regime that relies on control and fear to rule.
The Communist Party's persecution of Falun Gong, which began in 1999, has been extensively documented. The UN, Amnesty International, U.S. Congressional committees and countless first-hand testimonies detail an elaborate system of illegal detention, forced labour, torture and, worst of all, organ harvesting.
Winnipegger David Matas, nominated for the Nobel peace prize, co-authored Bloody Harvest, an investigation into allegations the Chinese regime is killing innocent imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners in order to sell their organs for huge profits.
Half of all forced labour camp prisoners across China are Falun Gong practitioners, according to estimates in a 2007 U.S. State Department report.
When I saw posters of the exhibition, I could see friends, mothers and sons who were killed because they refused to give up their beliefs.
The exhibitors provide no form of written consent for use of the bodies. On the official Bodies website a disclaimer reads: "Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons."
Falun Gong practitioners know first hand what the CCP is capable of. But many westerners, dazzled by China's growth and deep pockets, don't realize it's a regime that treats its citizens as commodities. By staying silent, are we sending the message we're fine with what the regime is doing?
Winnipeg is a great city, and though it's no longer on our welcome sign, we've evolved into something more compelling than "the heart of the continent." Winnipeg, after all, will house the first Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Whether standing up for Falun Gong in China or speaking out against persecutions in our local communities, Winnipeggers have a role on the world stage as guardians of freedom and human justice.
No matter where life ends up taking me, I'll always be proud my roots run deep in Winnipeg.
Judith Cheung is a graduate from the University of Manitoba environmental design program. She has lived in Hong Kong and various cities in Canada, but has spent most of her life in Winnipeg.