A play in one act based on the true story of Li Zhenjun. Play by Evan Mantyk.

Characters
Narrator / Voice of Tradition (note: appears only at beginning, could be played by the actor playing George or any of the other actors)
Zhenjun “George” Li
Communist Policeman 1 (CP 1)
Communist Policeman 2 (CP 2)
Man

 

SCENE I

Narrator speaks to audience.

NARRATOR: Oh how I’ve missed you and how long it’s been,
Dear ladies and gentlemen, since last we met.
I come to you to weave another tale
As current as a hot stock market bet,
As true as words marked on a children’s toy
That’s “Made in China.” Bear with me a bit,
I beg; unleash the forces of your minds
Upon this stage, adapt our lacking wit
To make our English tongues of Eastern pitch,
As Romeo’s Italian was transformed,
King Arthur’s strange Old English was updated,
So too shall Chinese words be now reformed.

The air is stifling in the labor camp;
Is it from faulty venting once installed?
Or is it censorship of anyone
By whom the Communist Party is appalled?
Inhale a breath of air that’s fresh and clean
Before we start our first unpleasant scene.

 

SCENE II

A labor camp in communist China in 2002. Two communist policemen hold a man, George Li, in the airplane torture pose. See accurate drawing above (drawing source). Communist Policeman 1 (CP1) has George’s hand pinned against the wall with his baton. 

CP1: Give it up, stupid!

CP1 puts his foot onto George’s rear end and pushes.

CP1: You like that? You want more?

GEORGE: I didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you doing this?

CP1: You know what you did alright and, if you don’t, you can stay there until you figure it out. Remember, when we let go you keep your arms right where they are, or you’ll regret it.

CP1 and CP2 let go, back away slowly, then turn around to talk to each other.

CP2: I don’t think he’s going to break. He’s a stubborn one.

CP1: We’ll give him six hours like that. He’ll be singing a different tune.

CP2: Let me try something.

Listen, George, I’ll say it again: All you have to do is sign a piece of paper saying that you give up Falun Gong and your life will be a whole lot easier.

CP1: Ours too. [aside]

CP2: Just think about it for a moment.

CP1: Or six hours. [aside]

CP2: Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what your family wants? Don’t make them suffer while you’re here. They need a husband and a father, right?

GEORGE: You don’t know… [pauses in pain] what you’re doing. Falun Gong is good. It teaches people to be good. It has been good for my family. There is nothing… [pauses in pain] wrong with that.

CP1: Oh, we’ll see how good you are, stupid.

CP2: Who are we going to get to watch this guy?

CP1: Maybe Lu; what’s he doing?

CP2: I’ll go look for him.

CP1: No wait, let me go. He may not do anything you tell him–remember, you’re the new guy. Anyway, Lu had his break already, now it’s our turn. Hey, did they fix the kettle yet?

CP2: I think it’s still broken.

CP1: Who’s the son of a bitch who keeps breaking it anyway?

CP2: I don’t know. Maybe we can get some water from upstairs.

CP1: Alright. First, I’ll get Lu to watch this guy—

CP1 sees that George’s arms have been lowered significantly.

Hey, I told you to keep your arms up. What are you doing, stupid!?

CP1 swings down hard on the back of the head of George with his baton. Just as CP1 makes contact with George’s head the scene ends. CP1 and CP2 take a seat for tea stage left and stay in tableau. CP2 is reading a newspaper.

 

SCENE III

Ten years later, George is sitting cross-legged, meditating to music from a tape player in a New York City park with a pile of flyers and sign that says “Stop Persecution in China.” A man playing Pokemon Go on his cellphone, carrying a soccer ball in his other arm, and an open bag of chips.

MAN: Come on, come on, the pokestop… should be… right…

The man accidentally steps on and smashes George’s tape player, ending the meditation music, and knocks over his sign.

MAN: Oh man, I think I cracked your, your… your tape player?

The man ejects the tape and takes it out, but it is a mess of unwound tape beyond repair.

MAN: …and destroyed your tape.

GEORGE: Oh, I see.

MAN: What were you doing? What—meditating?

GEORGE: Yes. Yes I was.

George in tableau. Man talks delivers soliloquy.

MAN:

To walk away right now and not look back
Would be as easy as, as… as a game.
It could be I’m a tourist, passing through,
Half of these folks could truly make that claim.
What other choice is there for one like me:
Behind on payments for his new iPhone
Thanks to the parasite of student debt
Which drains my pockets, leaves me not a bone
To chew on even though I’ve no degree
Or job to make my life a fruitful one…

[Starts to walk away]

And yet, he sickens me with guilt and shame
This man stuck in the eighties, tape unspun.
I have no money, and no good excuse,
But I have self-respect I won’t give up.
Besides, he needs a smart phone. What’s his deal?
Just like some coins left in a hobo’s cup,
I’ll leave my presence and my good intent;
Let’s hope they’re valued and not poorly spent.

George out of tableau.

MAN: I can’t believe it, I’m so sorry. I totally didn’t see you there.

George hands him a flyer.

GEORGE: This is a meditation. It is good for your body and mind.

MAN: Oh, really? Hey, this looks cool. I’ve done some yoga before.

GEORGE: It is very good for your health. A long time ago I was very sick. My body hurt all over. I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with Hepatitis B.

MAN: Oh, damn. I had a friend who had a friend who had that. You can get treated for that, you know.

GEORGE: The doctors told me it was chronic and there was nothing they could do. Whatever they treated me with didn’t work. “Incurable,” they said. Then, I started to do this meditation and read the books that teach you to be a good person, and a few weeks later I felt healthy and strong.

MAN: Wow, that’s really great!

George and Man in tableau. CP1 and CP2 out of tableau. Cp2 reading a newspaper and CP1 disinterested.

CP2: It says here, “1,400 people died from practicing Falun Gong…”

CP1: Mm-hmm.

CP2: “The head doctor at the Beijing State Hospital said, ‘I am so terribly, terribly, terribly worried about all the children of Falun Gong practitioners who may also die because of their parents’ dangerous beliefs. If the parents die who will take care of the children. It is an urgent matter of the health of the state to stop the spread of Falun Gong.’”

CP1: Mm-hmm.

CP2: Don’t you think we are doing a good thing? We need to protect those children. Someone has to take care of the children right?

CP1: Mm-hmm.

CP2: I mean, if you think about it, we should really be rewarded for what we’re doing, right? I mean, even if he doesn’t give up Falun Gong.

CP1: Mm-hmm.

CP2: Another article says, “Falun Gong practitioners have claimed to face government persecution, but are in fact being funded by the CIA and the U.S. government in order to create chaos in Chinese society…”

CP2 enters tableau.

CP1: I don’t know why he thinks I care about it
Does he not realize that those are lies?
All of the papers are the Party’s puppet
Controlled by careful pressure it applies.
These people meditate, improve their health,
I saw them do it in the park at dawn
Maybe they’re stupid and they waste their time
But they’re as “dang’rous” as an uncut lawn.
Oh, I could almost smack his stupid head.
Should I play dumb, say “wow,” agree with him,
Or say the truth and risk my job for it?
All of these rookies’ brains are soft and dim.
Just fill the quota and shut up your mouth
About what goes on here. We want to keep
Our jobs, or get promoted, get a bonus
And fight our way a little up the steep
And muddy slope of life. To buy a car–
Or something else that sparkles like a star.

CP1 returns to normal, CP2 out of tableau, turns the newspaper page.

CP2: And this article from today says that Falun Gong practitioners are committing mass murder. They’ve killed—

CP1: Can you read to yourself?

CP2: Mm-hmm.

CP1 and CP2 return to tableau. George and Man out of tableau.

GEORGE: A year after I started practicing it, the Communist Party outlawed it.

MAN: No. You’re telling me they outlaw people just trying to be healthy? You’ve got to be kidding me.

GEORGE: It’s real. They put me in a labor camp.

MAN: Oh, I didn’t mean to doubt you, I was just thinking, you know, “Damn, how could they do that?”

GEORGE: The Communist Party is atheist. So when Falun Gong became very popular in the 90s there were more practitioners like me than there were registered party members. That’s when they decided to launch the persecution.

MAN: That’s terrible. I just don’t see why.

GEORGE: They were probably jealous that a spiritual practice could be so popular.

MAN: That reminds me of my uncle. He was captured during the Vietnam War. A prisoner of war. I think they tortured him there, just like you, although he never talked about it. That’s what my dad said. Damn commies.

What am I thinking? Damn Americans, I just smashed your tunes. Man, I am so sorry.

GEORGE: It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.

MAN: I know. I’ll give you this soccer ball. Here.

GEORGE: Soccer ball…

George and man in tableau. CP1 and CP2 out of tableau.

CP2: You think we’ll get a bonus if we can break this guy? I heard he was a news anchor or something.

CP1: Seems possible. Maybe he can go on TV and tell everyone he gave up practicing. Then, we’ll get a big bonus. If he goes on TV, I guarantee that.

CP2: Yeah, a big bonus. What would you do with yours?—

Phone rings. CP1 picks up.

CP1: Yeah… oh yeah?

How many orders?

Sure.

Sure.

When are they going to pick it up?

Good.

He hangs up.

CP1: We’ve got an order for 1,200 soccer balls. So forget about that letting him go business. We need him and all the others too. If he gives up or works well, we’ll give him some good food and let him off the study sessions. I’m going to tell the others.

CP2: Okay. Wait. Um, I wonder… if we… were to…

CP1: Yeah, what?

CP1 in tableau.

CP2: The money from these soccer balls I’ll not
Be seeing. Bosses like this guy keep it
Out of the reach of guys like me below.
If only he could re’lize that I need it.
My daughter broke her arm and needs a cast
But I cannot afford to pay the bill.
I tried to gamble, win the cash that way.
The game was mine! before it went downhill.
And now my wife says that she’ll move away.

Whatever. There’s no point in telling him.
He’d only say that daughters are bad news
And better she were broke, not just her limb.
His wife must have aborted one or more
Until he had his son to be his pride—
A choice he’s made that I can understand,
And yet if there’s a son he’ll need a bride.
Forget it all! He’ll buy me drinks tonight;
At least for that this cutthroat is alright.

CP1 out of tableau.

CP1: Were to what?

CP2: Never mind. I’ll go check on Lu.

CP1 and CP2 in tableau. George and man out of tableau.

GEORGE: 20 hexagons, 12 pentagons, 1,800 stitches.

MAN: Really? That’s the same kind of ball they forced you to make?

GEORGE: No, but similar. It was for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. We worked 16 hours a day and had to stare at the ground for two hours as “study sessions” if we didn’t sign a piece of paper saying we give up Falun Gong.

MAN: Oh my God.

George gives him the ball back.

GEORGE: My fingers were covered in pus and blisters. Four balls a day, or else you were beaten. And I was one of the quick ones.

MAN: I can’t even imagine it.

GEORGE: The worst part was actually the food. The vegetables were rotten. They just threw them, unwashed, into a pot and boiled them. We were given five steamed buns a day. Often they were moldy and there was rat poop inside.

MAN: Disgusting. And you never gave up?

GEORGE: I did. I signed the piece of paper after the first 14 months, after the order was filled. I regretted it deeply afterwards. I continued to hand out flyers telling people the truth about Falun Gong. Telling them that what was in the newspapers wasn’t true. I was arrested again and sentenced to four years.

MAN: Damn.

George in tableau.

MAN: Well what the hell! What should I do with that?
My soccer ball is made in China too,
I think my socks and underwear as well,
Does each of these some decent man undo?
What is the point of a United Nations?
What is the point of all our civil rights?
If in our neighbor’s backyard we use slaves
And in our front hang slave-made Christmas lights?
And what of my iPhone, isn’t it as well?
I thought this Apple’s skin was sleek and cool,
But inside rot has taken hold; the worm
Digs deep and makes the world its happy fool.
What could I really do?

_________________I think my friend
Is texting me; my pants keep on vibrating.
I’ll have to tell my uncle ‘bout this guy;
He always says our freedom’s worth celebrating.
At any rate, I’m grateful. Thank you, God,
That in America is where I plod.

George out of tableau. The man pulls out his wallet and thrusts a few small bills toward George.

MAN: Here, it’s all I’ve got. Just take it. It’s not much. You deserve more for what you’ve been through.

GEORGE: No, no. Don’t worry about it. My daughter tells me I can just use my phone anyway.

George pulls out a smart phone from his pocket.

MAN: Ah, so you were hiding that the whole time.

GEORGE: She told me to quit using my tape player, but I could never quite figure out how to use this thing for music.

MAN: Let me see. You should have a music app on here. Do you have a file of your meditation music?

GEORGE: A file?

MAN: I’ll take that as a no.

GEORGE: It should be online.

MAN: Hold on, let me see that flyer. I’ll check this website.

Uh-huh.

Here it is.

The same meditation music plays.

GEORGE: Thank you!

MAN: No problem. What was your name?

GEORGE: George.

MAN: I’m John. Well it was great to meet you, George, but I have to run.

GEORGE: Nice to meet you, John. Goodbye.

Man exits. George sits down to meditate and speaks the following soliloquy with eyes closed.

GEORGE: How lost are people in life’s grand delusion
Yet when we meet the mists are pulled apart
Revealing rhyme and reason in what happens,
Unveiling what connects each wand’ring heart.
The puzzle pieces fit into a shape
Unknown before the moment that we met.
The gears click into place and open up
A view more powerful than internet.

And yet for those who will not hear the truth
What can be done if they don’t know they’re lost?
Or that they’re sinking in a murky sea
Oblivious to the rising, long-term cost?
Aren’t they the ones who’re persecuted, trapped,
Pressed to a wall of bitter, endless strife?
Who have been made to sign away their souls
And strip the conscience from their tortured life?

If only they could see tradition’s worth;
That it’s a lifeline spanning all the earth.

 

THE END.


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13 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This is admirably composed and has really moved me. It’s insightful and educational and portrays the plight of each character with sensitivity and understanding. George’s closing soliloquy is full of a wisdom that is lacking in western society – a warning we should all pay heed to.

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    A gut-wrenching play, especially when one notes that it is based on actual events.

    A thing to recognize about atheism — it is NOT a neutral, disinterested philosophical opinion that is content to exist as just one more option in a world of belief-systems. Atheism (as exampled by the government of Red China and all other Communist states) is aggressively militant, intolerant, demanding, and perfectly willing to use force to eradicate opposing viewpoints, and impose itself on all members of society as a required belief.

    This is why the Chinese state has gone after what is nothing but a harmless and basically apolitical organization. It’s also why the state is perfectly happy with the current apostate Antipope in Rome, who has betrayed Chinese Catholics by forcing them to accept a Communist hierarchy of bishops. Another example of atheism in action.

    Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    I doubt that I will ever again watch a soccer match on TV without thinking about this play. Fortunately for me, I don’t care to watch much soccer, but henceforth I will likely click past it whenever I see it on my screen for a fleeting moment. One can almost understand how soldiers would be tempted to abuse captured enemies, but to so abuse one’s own countrymen, who have never done a damn thing wrong, is beyond comprehension. J.S.S. is right: ideologies are a hideous and pernicious source of atrocities, the likes of which have been a major element of human history. I’m sure the current Chinese regime is not the worst ever, but it certainly looks like they are vying for the gold cup. The soldiers were willing to sell their own souls, but what does it matter if the State has determined that souls don’t exist, and are just an artifact of decadent western capitalism. I’m not sure whether it is the soldiers or their victim(s) who are worse off.

    Reply
  4. David Watt

    A play which tears at the heart , and yet still retains an uplifting balance.
    The soliloquy is particularly beautiful, the more so for encapsulating truth.

    Reply
  5. Sally Cook

    Dear Evan –
    All that is raised in this play explains the interactions of people trapped by short-sighted evil to the fullest degree.

    Granted that we imperfect souls have a propensity for taking beauty and crushing it, making me question once again how can we really be as stupid as it would seem we are?
    You have shown the interactions of evil, denial and dismissal in such a clear mirror and revealed the underlying reason for your interest in traditional poetry.
    I am very moved by this play; it should be produced on major stages, in school drama classes, and shown as a movie in all countries. I think people are hungry for it.
    Bravo, Evan!

    Reply
    • Sally Cook

      PS — And isn’t this exactly what is going on right now in the highest realms of our government?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        If you mean our Deep State — the permanent American government controlled by left-liberal Democrats and RINO Republicans — then yes Sally, you’re right. Those types are completely evil.

  6. James Sale

    Very powerful writing and a severe indictment on not just communist/atheistical states, particularly China, but on us too as we buy and use all this stuff – iPhones – made over there. It seems nothing changes: I am just re-reading the book of Isaiah which is a savage indictment of all the leaders back then – c.700-600 BC – prepared to sell all principles down the line for the sake of their comfort and profit.

    Reply
  7. Evan Mantyk

    Thank you all for you comments. And yes, Sally, the parallels to what is happening in America and the West are disturbing and real. I’m glad that came through. Things are much more beneath the surface here not only in the government, but also in the media, arts, and academia.

    Reply
  8. Monty

    No matter how many thousands of years ago it was, there must’ve once been a time when every human on this planet was an atheist (long before the word was even invented). One could assume that – during that time – humans lived harmoniously.

    Later in the piece, certain humans started to develop beliefs in non-human fantasies . . since when, billions of humans have been needlessly killed; and continue to be so. And maybe billions more to come.

    Thus, if we’re talking about atheists v believers . . who’s the goodie and who’s the baddie?

    Reply
    • Evan Mantyk

      Monty, this is an old, old debate that I will not broach with my own views. But an interesting piece from the ardent theist, Socrates (via Xenophon):

      Socrates gave an intense defense of God’s existence when talking to Aristodemus, who was said to never pray to the gods or consult the oracles and laughed at those who did. Socrates began with the classic argument that livings beings, nature, and the universe are so well-ordered as to necessarily require that the great unseen Creator must exist. Socrates said, “How wisely is the ear formed to receive all sorts of sounds, and not to be filled with any to the exclusion of others.”

      Socrates then took the argument one step further:

      “Do you then think that there is not elsewhere an intelligent being? Particularly, if you consider that your body is only a little earth taken from that great mass which you behold. The moisture that composes you is only a small drop of that immense heap of water that makes the sea; in a word, your body contains only a small part of all the elements, which are elsewhere in great quantity. There is nothing then but your understanding alone, which, by a wonderful piece of good fortune, must have come to you from I know not whence, if there were none in another place; and can it then be said that all this universe and all these so vast and numerous bodies have been disposed in so much order, without the help of an intelligent Being, and by mere chance?”

      Socrates’s elegant point here was surprisingly ahead of his time. Like the earth and moisture he referred to, we do indeed find all of the chemical elements and atomic elements that make up humans to be elsewhere in the universe, and because of them, we also find a far greater level of complexity required for life. This makes Socrates’s argument for the existence of the Creator even more powerful today. His reference to “mere chance” also seems to foreshadow the rise of evolutionary theory, which depends on almost innumerable random mutations—chance, we might say.

      Socrates also appealed to the plain fact that people throughout history (even when he looked back as we look back at him) all believed in divine beings and found belief in them and the supernormal, such as oracles and omens, to be generally useful and good.

      He says, “Do you not know that the most ancient and wisest republics and people have been also the most pious, and that man, at the age when his judgment is ripest, has then the greatest bent to the worship of the Deity?”

      Today, we may say the very same of Socrates’s belief in God and the exquisite arts and culture of the Greek golden age in which he lived.

      (https://www.theepochtimes.com/the-truth-behind-socrates-and-the-socratic-method_3088498.html)

      Reply
      • Monty

        I couldn’t get involved in all that banter, Evan; to me, it would’ve been like trying to read Japanese. Like you say, it’s an old debate (maybe the oldest), and it’ll continue to be debated all the time man exists. No one has ever known the definitive answer, and no one ever will . . which renders it a pointless debate. Hence, I never have or will get involved in such a debate.

        My comment above was not made to provoke that, or any other, debate; it was just a hypothetical invitation to anyone who read it. If it can be reasonably assumed that there was once a time when all humans were atheist, I was just inviting the reader to imagine how the world might be at present if the whole human race had remained atheist to this day . . that’s all. It was no different to what Lennon asked in his song. He wasn’t trying to tell us anything; he wasn’t telling us we should believe this or that . . he was just simply saying: ‘Imagine if..’ – and I was doing the same.

        Of course, even if all humans had remained atheist to this day, we’d still find other reasons to kill each other – oil, money, land – but in that case, most of the killings would’ve been done in the last 100-200 years . . as opposed to 2000 year’s worth of killings in the name of religion.

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