The escalating hostility of dictators towards Falun Gong
At the beginning, various levels of the Chinese government recognised and commended the benefits of Falun Gong practice to people and to society, and their support facilitated the spread of Falun Gong in the early 1990s. In fact, one third of the 60 million Communist Party members and a large number of high-ranking government officials practised Falun Gong.
A few Party ideologues, however, were affronted by the increasing popularity of Falun Gong. These atheist Party vanguards could not accept the fact that after more than 40 years of Marxist indoctrination so many people, including Communist Party members, would look elsewhere for moral and spiritual guidance. They also had a vested interest in finding fault with Falun Gong as an excuse to mount ideological strikes against those more open-minded and supportive officials and to cleanse the Party to their liking. Turning a blind eye to Falun Gong's positive impact on the people and society, these power-seeking figures busied themselves with wave after wave of witch-hunting and discrediting of Falun Gong.
Among them was Luo Gan, Secretary-General of the State Council, and a close follower of Jiang Zemin, the Party's General Secretary at the time. From very early on, Luo Gan instructed the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security to plant agents as Falun Gong practitioners. The clandestine investigations found no evidence to implicate Falun Gong; instead, many of these agents ended up practising Falun Gong. The inquisitors then resorted to framing. In December 1994, a joint letter by "over one hundred Falun Gong practitioners" was fabricated, accusing Mr Li of falsifying his date of birth, amassing wealth, evading taxes, etc., and was used as the basis for the Ministry of Public Security's order to ban Falun Gong.
The ban was to be announced on February 3rd, 1995. Fortunately, a Falun Gong practitioner working in the Ministry of Public Security learned about this one week before its announcement. He and other Falun Gong practitioners submitted three reports to dispel the false accusations, and were able to head off the crisis at the last minute.
In 1996, a concerted media campaign against Falun Gong began with an article published on June 17th, 1996, in the Guangming Daily, the mouthpiece of the State Council. Many state-controlled newspapers around the country followed with slanderous articles. On July 24th, 1996, the Communist Party's Department of Propaganda issued an internal notice, banning books authored by Mr Li.
In early 1997, Luo Gan instructed the Ministry of Public Security to conduct a nationwide investigation of "Falun Gong's illegal religious activities". However, early reports from many places indicated "no problems discerned so far", and Luo Gan had to call off the investigation. Many agents who participated in the investigation began practising Falun Gong.
At the end of May 1998, the Beijing TV Station broadcast a programme featuring He Zuoxiu, a self-proclaimed physicist. He Zuoxiu's wife and Luo Gan's wife are sisters. In the programme, He Zuoxiu made many false accusations against Falun Gong. Following suit, on July 21st, 1998, Luo Gan once again resorted to the tactic of "trump up charges and find the evidence later" and instructed police departments around the country to "uncover and collect evidence of Falun Gong's spreading of heresy and conducting of criminal activities". Many cities then banned Falun Gong practice, and arrested and fined Falun Gong practitioners for holding group practices on the charge of "participating in illegal gatherings".
These incidents represent only a small fraction of the discrimination and coercion that Falun Gong practitioners encountered. Later on, the Chinese government claimed to be startled by the sudden appearance of a large following of Falun Gong. Many naïve observers also rationalised the Chinese government's persecution of Falun Gong as a reaction to feeling threatened. The fact is, the authorities had been monitoring the situation of Falun Gong at all times, and had attempted various tactics to suppress and intimidate Falun Gong practitioners.
The Tianjin incident
The injustice failed to deter or provoke Falun Gong practitioners, however. Adhering to Mr Li's teaching of "Other people may treat us badly, but we do not treat others badly, nor do we treat people as enemies," Falun Gong practitioners quietly endured the bullying, and time and again gave those prejudiced people opportunities to understand what cultivation is about and what kind of people practitioners are. Many practitioners, including Communist Party members and government officials, also wrote to the central leadership to testify from their own experiences that Falun Gong is beneficial to society, and not a threat. Those appealing could easily be implicated as "standing in opposition to the Party", "disrupting the Party's normal work", or even "counter-revolutionary". Any one allegation was enough for someone to lose everything, including his freedom, but practitioners stepped forward spontaneously and in large numbers to speak of the facts and in defence of Falun Gong.
The large number of appeal letters prompted a group of senior government officials, led by Mr Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the People's Congress, to organise investigations in the later part of 1998 examining the impact of Falun Gong on people's health and on society to provide a basis for solving the controversies surrounding Falun Gong.
Among these investigations were a series of health surveys sponsored by the State Council and the Ministry of Sports and conducted by state-owned medical institutions in several major Chinese cities (http://www.fsccentre.org/Summary of Health Surveys.htm). With over 34,000 practitioners participating, these are the most systematic and comprehensive health surveys done on Falun Gong practitioners to date. The results show that among those surveyed, 98.7% experienced improvement in physical health and 97.7% reported improvement in mental conditions from Falun Gong practice.
Based on these investigations, the group submitted a formal report to the Political Bureau of the Communist Party, with a conclusion that "Falun Gong has numerous benefits to the country and people and not a single detriment." This conclusion, however, felt bad to Jiang Zemin, the General Secretary of the Party, who bitterly wrote on the report: "[The report is] too complicated; I do not understand." With an obvious intention, Jiang assigned Luo Gan to handle the report and related issues.
Luo Gan readily took the hint and looked for opportunities elsewhere. On April 11th, 1999, He Zuoxiu published yet another article slandering Falun Gong in a magazine in the city of Tianjin. Since the article was full of fabrications, many Falun Gong practitioners visited the editorial office of the magazine to tell the editors their personal experiences of Falun Gong practice, and ask the magazine to retract the erroneous article. On April 22nd and 23rd, 1999, in broad daylight, armed police forces violently assaulted Falun Gong practitioners in front of the magazine's office and arbitrarily detained forty-five of them. Mysteriously, the police urged Falun Gong practitioners at the scene to go to the central government in Beijing to address their grievance.
The April 25th peaceful appeal by Falun Gong practitioners
Two days later, on April 25th, 1999, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered quietly in Beijing outside the State Council Bureau of Appeal, located in the vicinity of the Chinese leadership compound, to request the release of the practitioners detained in Tianjin and the lifting of the ban on Falun Gong books.
The gathering was peaceful, orderly, and a demonstration of practitioners' kindness. They stood three-deep in rows between the road and pavement so as not to block the traffic; they advised curious pedestrians to move on so as not to create a scene; they picked up rubbish that was littered around by cars and passersby, and even the cigarette butts from the police watching them. The police, however, took advantage of the practitioners' kind-heartedness. Soon after the gathering began to form, they told practitioners to follow them to see the central leadership. The police then divided the practitioners into two columns and led them away by separate routes that converged at the gate of Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound. The separate routes resulted in an encirclement of Zhongnanhai, which was later used to incriminate Falun Gong.
According to one participant, Dr Shi Caidong, Premier Zhu Rongji walked out of the gate and toward the practitioners at around 7:30 a.m., and enquired what the gathering was about. Premier Zhu then invited three practitioners to go inside the compound to have a dialogue. It was from this dialogue that the practitioners learned that Premier Zhu had issued an instruction a few days before to the State Council not to harass Falun Gong practitioners, but no one knew about this instruction. That afternoon, Premier Zhu met with five representatives of the Falun Gong practitioners, and ordered the release of those detained in Tianjin. Upon learning the news, the practitioners quietly dispersed. Because of this gathering Falun Gong began to receive international attention.
Jiang's personal crusade against Falun Gong
The peaceful resolution of the April 25th petition was highly regarded by international observers and media. Many viewed it as a precedent of solving social conflict through compromise, a milestone in China's progress towards civil society.
Jiang Zemin, then General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, however, deeply resented Premier Zhu's handling of the event. Less than three weeks earlier, when Premier Zhu returned from a successful state visit to the United States and Canada and was credited with getting China's effort to join the WTO back on track, Jiang could not even conceal his enmity and was awkwardly missing from Zhu's welcome ceremony.
Apparently seeking to augment his personal authority, Jiang wanted a different way – his way. According to reliable sources, when Luo Gan reported the course of the April 25th Falun Gong petition, Jiang waved his fists and yelled: "Crush it! Crush it! Resolutely crush it!" At the first meeting of the Party's Standing Committee of the Political Bureau to discuss the April 25th petition, Premier Zhu pleaded: "Just let them practise …" Before Zhu could finish, Jiang pointed a finger at him: "Foolish! Foolish! Foolish! It will lead to the destruction of our party and nation!"
Premier Zhu fell silent. He knew all too well what it meant to defy a paramount chief of the Chinese communist power. In 1966, Liu Shaoqi, then heir-apparent to Chairman Mao, fell from power. He died three years later in handcuffs and tied to a wooden board naked, after suffering extensive torture and inhuman treatment. In 1971, Lin Biao, Mao's second heir-apparent, fled for his life but was mysteriously killed in Mongolia. In 1976, Deng Xiaoping, Mao's right-hand man, was stripped of power and "expelled from the Party forever". Deng was fortunate enough to have survived and later rose to leadership; however, he duplicated what Mao had done to him, sacking his own handpicked successors Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in 1987 and 1989, respectively. All these were too familiar to those at the meeting, and no one opposed Jiang further.
While most officials in the government would not openly oppose Jiang, his high-handed policy was not popular either, for many government officials practised Falun Gong or were sympathetic to Falun Gong. Some government officials wrote to Jiang and other top leaders to suggest more conciliatory approaches. To heighten the pressure, Jiang gave a speech on June 7th, 1999, to the full assembly of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee.
Jiang's June 7th speech was soon distributed to all Party branches as a Central Committee document. It was significant in several respects. The speech accused Falun Gong practitioners of "fighting with the Party and the government to win the people's favour", established "the Party's position on Falun Gong", and mandated "severe treatment" of those who refused to comply with the Party's position. Following Jiang's speech, the Central Committee made the decision to persecute Falun Gong.
More importantly, Jiang had already sensed that the existing government and Party structure would not fully support his personal crusade against Falun Gong. In the speech, Jiang appointed Li Lanqing, Ding Guangen, and Luo Gan to form a body specifically for handling the Falun Gong issue. This was the origin of the infamous "6-10 Office." Three days later, on June 10th, 1999, according to Jiang's instructions, the "Central Committee's Leadership Group on Handling the Falun Gong Issue" was formed, with Li Lanqing as the head. Serving the Central Leadership Group was the Central 6-10 Office, the real operational entity, with Luo Gan in charge.
The Leadership Group and the 6-10 Office were set up as independent organs within the Party and the government, with absolute power over the Party and the government. It has the authority to directly issue orders to the military, security forces, police, the judiciary, and the propaganda ministry, and the power to command all government resources and systems. Below the Central Leadership Group and the Central 6-10 Office are the leadership groups and 6-10 Offices at all levels of the Party and the government, from federal to municipal, with corresponding power to direct resources and systems at their levels. Simply put, the 6-10 Office system is Jiang's personal network for controlling the whole government.
With everything under his control, Jiang's crusade against Falun Gong was in full operation.
Falun Gong practitioners' nationwide petition on July 20th, 1999
On the morning of July 20th, the state-run media began to bombard the nation with anti-Falun Gong hate propaganda, saturating the airwaves and print media with fabrications and invectives. The propaganda machinery also broadcast tearful "confessions" and "denunciations" from "transformed" Falun Gong practitioners to intimidate Falun Gong practitioners, their families, and those who were sympathetic to them. The night before, in a nationwide blitz of arrests, the authorities had detained all Falun Gong practitioners they thought of as key to the Falun Gong "organisation". From their past experience, the authorities were confident that without these "key leaders" the Falun Gong "organisation" would collapse in disorder and the 100 million Falun Gong practitioners would simply disperse due to the high pressure.
For the next few days, however, in every major city in China, Falun Gong practitioners came spontaneously by the tens of thousands to petition the city and provincial governments. Large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners also travelled to Beijing spontaneously to appeal to the central government. Witnesses estimated that millions went to Beijing in the first two days. They came with kind hearts and with trust in the government, and they came for one very simple reason: to testify to the goodness of Falun Gong from their personal experiences, and to urge the government to correct its mistake of launching a persecution based on groundless incrimination.
The authorities were not interested in hearing what Falun Gong practitioners had to say, however. The peaceful petitions were met with violence from the police, who had the heart to wield clubs at 80-year-old ladies, to kick pregnant women, to slap preteen children, and to strip the clothes from young women in broad daylight. In contrast with the violent police, Falun Gong practitioners remained completely peaceful; not a single Falun Gong practitioner in the whole nation retaliated.
It is not known how many Falun Gong practitioners participated in the petitions on July 20th, 1999. What is known is that the number was so large that there were not enough detention centres to hold them. Instead, the police forcibly herded practitioners into sports arenas and large warehouses, where they demanded the practitioners to provide their names and identify their work units. The kind-hearted and unsuspecting practitioners felt that they had nothing to hide and complied, not knowing that the information would be used for further persecution. The police then ordered the work units to come and pick up the practitioners.
As darkness fell, July 20th, 1999, went down in history as the beginning of an unprecedented persecution. Amidst this sudden descent of terror, Falun Gong practitioners came forth with courage; amidst the storm of violence, practitioners exemplified peace. As the contest of courage and terror continues to unfold for a few more years, July 20th, 1999, will be remembered as the beginning of Falun Gong practitioners' journey of peace.