Why is the Chinese Communist Party persecuting Falun Gong?
The complex rationale behind the campaign can be broken into four elements: Falun Gong’s popularity, the role of Jiang Zemin, conflicting ideology, and the nature of the Chinese Communist Party’s system.
While a common misconception is that the gathering of 10,000 adherents in Beijing on April 25, 1999 is what led to the persecution of Falun Gong, oppression of the practice actually began at least three years earlier.
The more popular Falun Gong became, the more resistance it encountered. Party leaders fear any large, independent group, and Falun Gong was probably the largest. When Falun Gong books became bestsellers in 1996 they were banned; when state-run media estimated that over 70 million people practiced Falun Gong - more than the Party’s membership - media began attacking Falun Gong and state security began spying on and harassing adherents.
It was in response to these early abuses that adherents gathered in Beijing.
Fearing Falun Gong’s rapidly growing popularity was overshadowing his own legacy, then-Party leader Jiang Zemin ordered the practice “eradicated.” According to a 1999 Washington Post article, “Jiang alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A54486-1999Nov11?language=printer). Journalists and inside sources have described Jiang as “jealous” of Falun Gong and “obsessed” with eliminating the group. As China analyst Willy Lam has argued, by creating a national campaign Jiang sought to both align power to himself and eradicate a group he saw as a threat to his power.
The ideological differences between the atheist Communist Party and the spiritual Falun Gong also played a role. While religion is again becoming increasingly popular in China, and the Party does allow some religious affiliations, religious groups must submit to the state and their leaders must be Party approved. Other groups who, like Falun Gong, have chosen to preserve their belief system and refused to tender to the Party have also met persecution, including Tibetan Buddhists and house church members.
Finally, as the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (www.ninecommentaries.com) has argued, the persecution of Falun Gong is the latest in a continuum of violent campaigns that the Party uses to remind the population of its control. Mao Zedong once said that China should have a Cultural Revolution every seven or eight years. Indeed, since the 1950s not a decade has gone by without some violent state-led campaign aimed at the masses. From the suppression of “counterrevolutionaries,” the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 crackdown on the democracy movement, to Falun Gong, the Party has killed 60-80 million Chinese citizens.
The Chinese Communist Party isn’t stupid - it wouldn’t kill innocent people just like that, right?
Hitler isn’t stupid - he wouldn’t kill six million Jews just like that. Why did the Khmer Rouge kill one out of every four Cambodians? If Tibetan monks just want to piously worship and meditate, why are they still being tortured and killed in Chinese gulags? If teenage women in Darfur had done no wrong, why are they being raped? Mladic wasn’t stupid, why did he want to kill every Muslim man in Srebrenica?
It’s possible to see things from the perpetrators’ perspective somewhat and understand their economic or strategic motivation behind mass murder. But we find that at a certain point there is also evil that is sometimes very difficult to come to terms with – how could someone do such a thing to a fellow human being?
From another perspective, one of the reasons so many Chinese have either participated in the campaign or turned a blind eye to it is their visceral knowledge of the evil the Communist Party can perpetrate. After public executions, man-made starvation, cannibalism, and massacre – 60 to 80 million of their family members dead under the CCP all told - the evil perpetrated against Falun Gong has been all too familiar.
If Falun Gong is so good, why did it get banned? Why aren’t other groups being targeted like this?
First, many other groups have also been banned and are being persecuted. Christians who refuse to worship with the state-controlled church, Tibetan Buddhists, and of course democracy and other human rights activists have all been persecuted in China, in some cases for decades; other qigong groups have been banned as well and their adherents can no longer be found doing their slow-movement exercises in Chinese parks.
There is no need to compete for the title of “worst persecuted.” All these groups face egregious abuses that have brought tragedy to countless families. Moreover, these groups of innocent people face the same common aggressor.
If asked how the persecution of Falun Gong differs from what other groups face at present, the difference is as follows.
Quantitatively, Falun Gong was the largest group in society outside the Communist Party. According to the Chinese government’s own estimates, at least 70 million people practiced Falun Gong in the late 1990s, therefore the sheer number of people affected by the persecution reflects this ratio. As the U.S. State Department has noted, Falun Gong adherents have been estimated to comprise of nearly half of all Chinese detained in labor camps. Labor camp survivors have reported that over 90 percent of detainees in particular camps were the Falun Gong, and more adherents were being rushed in to newly expanded wards as late as winter 2007.
Qualitatively, Jiang Zemin and the Communist Party have launched a comprehensive campaign to eradicate Falun Gong. One common reaction from Chinese who witnessed the persecution’s early days was that it was eerily reminiscent of Maoist campaigns thought to be long-gone. In this regard, the Falun Gong resemble a group targeted during the Cultural Revolution, attacked through intense propaganda, door-to-door searches and beatings, public denunciations, and torture for which no one is being held accountable; like certain groups in the 1960s, the Falun Gong are being subject to destitution and mass banishment to remote labor camps in a systematic fashion and on a scale not seen since Mao’s death in 1976.
How did the persecution start?
The persecution was officially launched at 3pm on July 22, 1999 when China Central Television (CCTV) began its round-the-clock broadcast attacking Falun Gong and announcing the Communist Party’s new ban. Falun Gong adherents who then went to petition the government were put on buses and detained in gigantic athletic stadiums and conference halls. Quick to follow were public burnings of Falun Gong books, show trials, and rounds of arrests.
Two days prior to the broadcast launch, Falun Gong seen as key coordinators were arrested from their homes in the middle of the night throughout the country.
The previous month, on June 10, Jiang Zemin created the 6-10 Office explicitly for the purpose of destroying Falun Gong. Two months before that, dozens of adherents were arrested and beaten while picketing outside a magazine office that had slandered Falun Gong; the arrests lead to the famous gathering outside Zhongnanhai. During the preceding year, the Falun Gong began being closely monitored by secret police as they meditated in parks, and adherents were interrogated.
The very beginning of the persecution can be traced back to 1996, when the first article criticizing Falun Gong appeared in the Guangming Daily, marking the beginning of attacks on Falun Gong in state-run media.
Didn’t Falun Gong surround Zhongnanhai? Wasn’t that provoking the Chinese Government?
Over 10,000 Falun Gong adherents did peacefully gather outside the top leaders’ Zhongnanhai compound in Beijing on April 25, 1999. The gathering was legal and aimed at the State Office of Petitions next door, not the governmental compound.
Petitioning the government over abuses is a constitutionally guaranteed right in China. In fact, the previous day authorities in nearby Tianjin, where adherents had been arrested and beaten, told the Falun Gong to take their petition directly to Beijing (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A54486-1999Nov11?language=printer).
The gathering was in response to state persecution already taken place. Specifically it was in reaction to three years of media attacks, the arrest and beating up 45 Falun Gong adherents in Tianjin, and the banning of Falun Gong books.
The gathering was entirely peaceful. No exits or entrances were blocked and traffic was unobstructed.
In fact, it could have led to a very different, happy outcome. That day then-premier Zhu Rongji met with the Falun Gong and promised to resolve their complaints; those detained in Tianjin were released. But hours after everyone dispersed, Jiang Zemin intervened to reverse the policy. He claimed Falun Gong had laid “siege” to Zhongnanhai and that it will be an international embarrassment for the Party if it cannot defeat the Falun Gong.
It seems like Falun Gong has changed in nature, and is highly political now?
First, even as Falun Gong adherents protest, sue Chinese officials, and encourage their fellow Chinese to withdraw from the Communist Party, Falun Gong remains staunchly disinterested in gaining power. Falun Gong’s founder and the practice’s adherents in China and overseas have repeatedly made it clear that they do not wish to take over power, only to stop the persecution. As the CCP has had years to reverse its genocidal Falun Gong policy but has not done so, the only way that ending these and other atrocities seems feasible is to dissolve the Communist Party.
Second, the above activities did not exist in any form before the persecution of Falun Gong was launched. The sum of Falun Gong’s activities before state pressure was meditating or reading Falun Gong literature in groups and introducing the practice to others. If anything, one could say that the Communist Party’s labeling of Falun Gong as political and persecuting it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Party banned Falun Gong and began arresting people; when adherents protested, Jiang Zemin could say: “See, I told you they are political.”
Finally, even if Falun Gong is political, what’s wrong with that? That is certainly not grounds for persecution in any free society or else many of us would be in serious trouble. Only under authoritarian rule the Communist Party’s, a regime that tolerates no competing ideology, can being political be perceived as a crime.
What form has the persecution taken?
Inside China the Communist Party has used every method available to terrorize and pressure people to renounce their faith. Adherents are denied schooling, jobs, and custody of their children; they are publicly humiliated, raped and sexually assaulted by police. Those who disclose the abuses they experience in captivity are jailed for “leaking state secrets.” All adherents are denied legal representation, and some have received prison sentences of up to 18 years for merely their beliefs. Hundreds of thousands have reportedly been sent to labor “re-education” camps—China’s gulag system—without any legal trial. Many healthy, normal individuals have been committed to psychiatric wards where they are abused with nerve-damaging drugs. As of July 2007, 3,064 deaths have been documented, mostly from torture, of which there are over 63,000 accounts in total. The real death toll is believed to be in the tens of thousands.
How many people have been affected by this persecution?
On the eve of the persecution, the Chinese government estimated there were at least 70 million people practicing Falun Gong in the mainland. Including these family and friends, the persecution has directly affected hundreds of millions of people.
The campaign has reached, at some level or another, nearly all people in China – students have been forced to sign banners denouncing Falun Gong, employees to attend special study sessions, travelers to spit at Falun Gong founder Mr. Li Hongzhi’s picture, and from 1999 to 2001 (before the persecution was forced underground) the entire country was inundated with hate-inciting anti-Falun Gong propaganda.
Tens of millions of people lost the right to their spiritual and health practices.
Millions of Falun Gong adherents have been illegally detained and the vast majority of them have been abused in custody by police.
Between 200,000 and 1 million people have been forced into slavery after being sent to labor camps without trials
Human rights workers have documented over 63,000 cases of torture or severe abuse.
Over 1,000 healthy individuals have been incarcerated in mental hospitals and tortured there, an act condemned by the World Psychiatric Association.
Over 500 people have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 18 years.
At least 3,074 deaths through police abuse and torture have been confirmed, though government sources and organ harvesting investigations suggest the real number is in the tens of thousands.
Why does the Chinese government say they do this to Falun Gong?
The Chinese Communist Party categorically denies that any maltreatment of the Falun Gong is taking place. It denies having tortured anyone, it denies killing anyone, it denies removing organs from adherents’ bodies, it denies spying on the Falun Gong overseas and, in the words of Vaclav Haval, “it denies denying.” As for why it has banned Falun Gong, the Party has made its position clear all along, spreading its message throughout the world and putting Falun Gong on the defensive from day one of the full persecution in July 1999. To quote directly, according to the Party, Falun Gong is “anti-society, anti-science, and anti-humanity.”
The Party, which had praised Falun Gong prior to the ban, now claims the Falun Gong is a menace to society (though it cannot explain why no other government in any of the 70 countries in which Falun Gong is practiced freely has made similar charges), it claims Falun Gong is anti-China (though the vast majority of its adherents are Chinese), and that it is a political organization (though the Falun Gong have to this day made clear they have no interest in power and the group had nothing to do with the government before it was persecuted).
I’ve seen graphic photos of alleged torture… are those real? Can you verify your claims of torture and maltreatment?
Yes. Please see evidence.
What are some of the government’s tools in suppressing Falun Gong?
The Party has used its vast security, judicial, and propaganda resources to attack Falun Gong, drawing upon over half a century of its experiences running such campaigns and upon tactics adopted by the most notorious dictatorships of the past.
To turn 1.3 billion people against Falun Gong, the Party launched a massive propaganda campaign overnight, one that inundated state-run television, newspapers, wire services, and the Internet, while censoring access to alternative perspectives.
To preclude overseas criticism, the Party spread its propaganda to a world that did not even know what Falun Gong is, while threatening foreign government officials with repercussions if they spoke out. It also dispatched a spy network to infiltrate the Falun Gong overseas.
To detain hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong adherents, the Party has tapped into and expanded its vast labor camp system, much like the Soviet gulag. It also released ordinary criminals in order to make room for the meditators in jails, while other healthy adherents have been sent to psychiatric wards.
To track down Falun Gong adherents for arrest, the Party has relied on overseas technology, such as systems that the U.S.-based CISCO sold China’s Public Security Bureau for this purpose.
To torture the jailed Falun Gong, the Party has used electric batons, forced-feeding tubes, ropes, irons, and psychotropic drugs, as well as more readily available belts, shoe soles, brushes, burning cigarettes, and of course fists, knees, and walls.
To guarantee impunity for the police, the Party has instructed all courts (whose judges are all Party members to begin with) to vigorously convict the Falun Gong, and ordered lawyers not to defend adherents without permission.
Finally, to dispose of those Falun Gong adherents who refuse to be “transformed” (i.e. brainwashed) and generate a profit, the Party, military, and hospitals have collaborated to “execute” Falun Gong adherents on the operating table; their organs are then removed for on-demand transplants.
To oversee the entire process, Jiang Zemin, who launched the campaign, created the 6-10 Office (link to 6-10 Office page).
This sounds like the Cultural Revolution, doesn't it?
Yes, that was also the reaction of many Chinese when they saw the propaganda blitz, the police everywhere, the burning books, the mass arrests, and the public show trial. The more elderly of family members who have seen their loved thrown into a labor camp and have not heard from them since are no doubt reminded of similar scenes back in the 1960s.
In its efforts to destroy the Falun Gong, the Party has drawn upon the “successful” tactics of its past campaigns, not only the Cultural Revolution but also its many communist movements of the 1950s and early 1960s.
How have the Falun Gong responded to the persecution?
The Falun Gong have responded with markedly nonviolent means, refusing to use force throughout eight years of resistance to suppression.
Inside China, adherents’ response has consisted of trying to file petitions or writing letters to China’s rulers, meditating in public parks pr Tiananmen Square, informing fellow citizens about the persecution they face and its illegality through leaflets or VCDs, hanging banners and posters in visible places, calling labor camps and prisons to speak directly with perpetrators, and publishing records of the persecution online.
Outside China, adherents have been holding continuous round-the-clock vigils for years outside Chinese embassies and consulates, parades, rallies, hunger strikes, and cross-country car tours to raise awareness of the persecution in China. Other activities have included compiling reports for United Nations special rapporteurs, holding press conferences and forums, urging leaders to speak out about the atrocities, producing printed, electronic, and broadcast media about the persecution, as well as developing advanced software to help Chinese break through China’s Internet firewall.
I have heard that the Falun Gong are suing lots of people. Why?
Yes, Falun Gong adherents and supportive international human rights lawyers have been filing lawsuits against Chinese Communist Party officials heavily associated with the campaign. Examples include former head of state Jiang Zemin who launched the persecution, Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee President Liu Qi, and China Central Television (CCTV). On the other hand, officials not directly associated with the persecution, like Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have not been sued.
For more about the dozens of lawsuits filed, their successes, their challenges, the laws under which they were filed, and the prominent lawyers on the cases, click here.
How have most Chinese people responded to the persecution?
For the first several years after the campaign against Falun Gong was launched in 1999, most Chinese people appeared to be shocked and stayed clear of the issue. Whether because they believed in the Party’s propaganda or because they were afraid of facing persecution themselves, few other than family of the persecuted dared say a fair word about Falun Gong in public.
But Chinese people both in China and abroad are now increasingly standing up in defense of Falun Gong. Lawyers like Guo Guoting and Gao Zhisheng[u1] (http://davisiaj.com/content/view/249/1/), in particular, have for the moment lost their careers trying to defend the Falun Gong.
After initially being influenced by mainland propaganda and pressures, overseas Chinese are also gradually becoming more supportive recently, and have given Falun Gong awards recognizing its contributions to the community and to the cause of freedom in China (http://clearharmony.net/articles/200704/38940.html).
How have the U.S. and other world governments responded to the persecution?
Many governments around the world have condemned the persecution, with legislatures generally taking stronger stances than heads of state.
The U.S. government has been unequivocal in its opposition to the persecution. Former President Clinton, President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have spoken out and issued statements on the persecution of Falun Gong.
In November of 1999 the House of Representatives unanimously passed resolution 218, with the Senate concurring, condemning the persecution and calling for the immediate release of all jailed adherents. H.R. 188 was passed unanimously in July of 2002 (http://faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=5983). In 2004, it unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Party’s attempt to extend it overseas (http://www.faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=8962). Members of Congress across the political spectrum have also spoken out about the atrocities perpetrated against Falun Gong in China at rallies, written to Communist Party leaders, supported Falun Gong lawsuits (http://faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=7469), and worked to rescue American Falun Gong jailed in China (http://www.faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=7057).
Similar actions have been taken by legislators in Europe, Australia, and other countries. In Canada, where support has been particularly strong, a member of Parliament walked into a Chinese embassy event in the House of Commons wearing a yellow “I support Falun Gong” t-shirt (he was roughed up by embassy staff).
Outspoken support from heads of state has been limited. For instance, while throughout eight years of persecution the U.S. Department of State has highlighted the Falun Gong’s plight in its annual reports, U.S. leaders rarely directly raise the issue of Falun Gong in public meetings with Chinese officials. This in spite of letters from Congress before such meetings urging them to do so (http://faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=5306).
There are notable exceptions. For example, the Irish prime minister and foreign minister directly approached Communist Party leaders asking for the release of Trinity College student Zhao Ming when he was jailed in China. And in Taiwan, the president and vice president have met with Falun Gong adherents and spoken out strongly in support.
How have organizations such as Amnesty International responded to the persecution?
Amnesty has repeatedly detailed various aspects of the persecution of the Falun Gong in its annual reports (for example, see its special report [links to http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA170112000], or its 2006 annual report [links to http://web.amnesty.org/report2006/chn-summary-eng]). Like most human rights organizations, Amnesty has not yet been able to independently conduct investigations about the persecution and produce its own figures. But it has regularly issued urgent actions, encouraging its wide network of members to campaign on behalf of detained Falun Gong at risk of torture (http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA170492006?open&of=ENG-CHN). One such urgent action case, Mr. Liu Chengjun, was indeed tortured to death in the end (http://www.faluninfo.net/DisplayAnArticle.asp?ID=8207).
During the early stages of the persecution Human Rights Watch issued a report exposing the illegality of the campaign launched against Falun Gong (http://hrw.org/reports/2002/china/).
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture has repeatedly queried the Chinese authorities and issued reports in which cases of Falun Gong torture comprise the majority of the China section (http://www.faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=8650).
Increasingly, prominent individuals – such as leading international human rights lawyers, members of the Jewish religious community, and overseas Chinese democracy advocates - have been speaking out about the killing of Falun Gong adherents for their organs (http://faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=9492).
Didn’t several Falun Gong members set themselves on fire on Tiananmen Square?
This claim has been one of the biggest propaganda successes of the CCP, and in the twenty first century overall. Falun Gong’s teachings are firmly against killing and consider suicide a sin. We believe the incident was staged. For a deeper analysis, please see (http://faluninfo.net/tiananmen/immolation.asp).
Why haven’t I read or heard more about this?
Indeed, after an initial interest in the story, Western press has been largely avoiding the issue.
The CCP has taken great pains to push the campaign underground and prevent foreign journalists from reporting on the story (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/1874755.stm). The Party has also succeeded in creating much negativity towards the Falun Gong from the very beginning. In 1999, China’s propaganda apparatuses spread worldwide whereas Falun Gong barely had websites, say nothing of television stations and newspapers. The group was caught on the public relations defensive and has been fighting an uphill battle to draw attention to the persecution ever since.
Some journalists working for Western media, like the BBC, have confided that the story is not being covered due to fears of losing access in Beijing. For many editors, moreover, news of large-scale human rights abuses, even mass murder, fail to fit with the stories of “China’s peaceful rise” they are currently running.
For more on why Falun Gong is not in the media as much as one might expect, click here Out of Media Spotlight