By Dr. Michael Pearson-Smith. Over the last four years, China watchers have proposed a variety of socio-political reasons for why the Chinese regime moved to crush Falun Gong – a benign exercise and meditation practice with ancient Chinese roots. The answer, however, has proved to be simpler and far more disturbing than most initially guessed.
When the nationwide persecution campaign against Falun Gong began in China in July 1999, many believed the campaign to be another mass movement orchestrated and backed by the Communist Party leadership as a whole.
“Jiang Zemin individually made this decision ... [he] went against many other people in his own politburo who did not want to do this to the Falun Gong, some of whom even practiced the Falun Gong or had relatives who practiced the Falun Gong. So we need to hold him accountable.” - Ambassador Mark Palmer Former U.S. Ambassador and 26-year veteran of the U.S. State Department
Over the last four years, however, facts have emerged to cast light on the maneuvers of then-Communist Party head Jiang Zemin. An abundance of evidence has emerged showing Jiang not only formulated the policy of eradicating Falun Gong himself, but also overrode the will of the Premier and the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee – who initially disagreed with Jiang’s stance on Falun Gong – to enact the campaign. Additionally, since 1999 Jiang has been the driving force behind the campaign and its rising intensity.
Falun Gong Flourishes in China
From its introduction to the public in May 1992 to the beginning of the persecution in July 1999, the number of practitioners grew into the tens of millions. In 1999, Chinese Government officials told the Associated Press and the New York Times their estimate was “at least 70 million.” (AP: “Growing group poses a dilemma for China,” 4/26/1999; NYT: “In Beijing: A Roar of Silent Pro- testors,” 4/27/1999)
Many attributed the rapid growth of Falun Gong to its effectiveness in im- proving the physical health of millions of Chinese citizens, while also uplifting mental and spiritual well-being. By early 1999, one could see Falun Gong practi- tioners everywhere among the morning exercisers in all the major cities of China. In a strictly controlled society such as China it would have been impossible for such a large mass organization and social phenomenon to exist, let alone thrive for seven years, without consent and sup- port from all levels of government.
At the time, not only were the masses learning Falun Gong, but also all seven of the Politburo Standing Committee members had read Zhuan Falun, the main text Falun Gong. Many of their relatives and friends were also practic- ing Falun Gong. Many high-ranking officials in the Communist Party, gov- ernment and military had taken up the practice themselves after attending Mr. Li Hongzhi’s lectures personally or hear- ing about it by word-of-mouth.
The Offensive Against Falun Gong Begins
In the latter half of 1996 Falun Gong practitioners first began to report inci- dents of harassment by police. Luo Gan was already a high-ranking official. As the Chair of the Communist Party’s Political Legal Committee, Luo was in charge of the Public Security Bureau, the national intelligence agencies, and the judiciary. But Luo Gan saw in Falun Gong an opportunity for further politi- cal gain and put in motion a plan to put Falun Gong and the government at odds with each other.
As part of this plan, Luo, looking for a pretext to ban the practice, ordered the police in China to conduct a secret investigation of Falun Gong across the country. In July 1998, through the Chi- nese Ministry of Public Security Bureau #1 (a.k.a. Political Security Bureau), Luo Gan issued Public Authority  #555 “Notification about conducting investigation of Falun Gong.” This document first labeled Falun Gong a “cult,” then asked the police departments across the country to systematically plant agents to investigate and collect “evidence.”
The investigation by the police, how- ever, found no evidence of crimes related to Falun Gong.
At the end of the summer a letter was written in response to Luo’s police in- vestigation by 135 very highly respected members of society, including famous professors, actors, and high level gov- ernment officials. The chief author of the letter was a famous law professor at Beijing University. In it he explained that the basis of Luo Gan’s investigation of Falun Gong in July, the above-men- tioned “notification” from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security Bureau #1, violated the Chinese Constitution and was against the law.
Premier Zhu Rongji quickly re- sponded, saying that the Public Security Bureau should not harass Falun Gong practitioners, but should concentrate on security issues. Zhu’s response also men- tioned that Falun Gong had helped to save large amounts of medical costs for the country.
The response from Premier Zhu, how- ever, was intercepted by Luo, and never forwarded to Falun Gong practitioners. It was not until April 25, 1999, that Premier Zhu learned his response had been withheld by someone. It was also not until that time that Falun Gong practi- tioners first learned there had been such a positive response from Premier Zhu.
Following the police investigation in July, a few retired Communist Party members of the National People’s Con- gress led by Qiao Shi, who had been in his own time been a very high-ranking official, conducted their own investiga- tion of Falun Gong. They received a great deal of feedback from the popula- tion, and concluded that Falun Gong brought much benefit to China with no negative impact. They ended their report by saying “Winning the hearts of the people you gain the world. Los- ing the hearts of the people, you lose everything.” The report was submitted in October to the Permanent Standing Committee (the group of seven Com- munist Party members who run the country), which Jiang Zemin headed.
Insiders at Zhongnanhai (the govern- ment compound in Beijing) reported that Jiang was very displeased with this report, and wrote a note to Luo Gang expressing his displeasure, a note that excited Luo’s desire to advance himself by opposing Falun Gong.
April 25th: Jiang Zemin’s Excuse to Declare War
The acts of harassment against Fa- lun Gong came to a head in the city of Tianjin, not far from Beijing. Luo Gan’s brother-in-law, a man with a Ph.D. in physics named He Zuoxiu, who has regularly written propaganda articles for the Communist Party, had written a magazine article attacking Falun Gong. That article included a previously dis- credited story about an individual said to have committed suicide due to prac- ticing Falun Gong (in fact that young man had neither practiced Falun Gong nor committed suicide). When the magazine refused to retract the article, practitioners held a peaceful appeal out- side its office.
Police arrested and beat them. When local practitioners appealed to the police in Tianjin for the release of those ar- rested, they were told all appeals on this issue must go to Beijing. In all previous incidents in which practitioners had been harassed, this had never been said before. The stakes had risen.
In Mainland China, Appeal Bureaus are set up by the government to receive grievances from the people. All levels of the Party and administrative depart- ments have Appeal Offices. For ex- ample, the Appeal Bureau for the State Council is located about two to three hundred meters down Fuyou Street from Zhongnanhai, the central government’s compound in Beijing.
On the morning of April 25, 1999, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners – following the instructions they were given by officials in Tianjin – came to the Appeal Bureau for the State Council from different areas. They had heard of the situation through word of mouth, and came to appeal of their own indi- vidual will, hoping to appeal directly to the officials in the central government. Police were waiting for them in force. Rather than directing them away from the sensitive government compound of Zhongnanhai toward the Appeals Office, police did the opposite. They refused to let practitioners approach the Appeals Office, and instead directed them opposite Zhongnanhai until the group wound entirely around the com- plex in neat, orderly rows.
On that day, then-Premier Zhu Rongji came out of the Zhongnanhai government compound and talked to the Falun Gong practitioners. According to witnesses, Premier Zhu asked why the practitioners had come, saying “Didn’t I already issue comments on your prac- tice?” The Falun Gong practitioners responded that they never received Zhu’s correspondence. They proceeded to ex- plain that police in Tianjin had beaten and illegally arrested over 30 Falun Gong practitioners. “We were told this could not be resolved locally, and that we should appeal to the central govern- ment,” the practitioners told Premier Zhu.
After listening to the report of the situation, Zhu issued an order to release the arrested practitioners that same day. After confirming that the practitioners in Tianjin would be released, the 10,000 then quietly dispersed.
Not knowing practitioners were instructed to go to Beijing and then arranged around Zhongnanhai by the police awaiting them, many observers understood the appearance of practi- tioners there to be a direct challenge to the Communist Party’s authority, and, when the persecution began, assumed the events of April 25th to be the cause.
Jiang Overrides Government Leaders and Orders Persecution
Eyewitnesses report that when the news of the Falun Gong appeal was brought to Jiang during the day, he re- sponded with a vehemence that shocked all present, “Crush Falun Gong! Crush it! Crush it completely!”
That evening, Jiang wrote a letter to the other members of the Permanent Standing Committee and other top Party officials, calling for an emergency meeting regarding this incident. “The Communist Party must vanquish Falun Gong,” Jiang stated in the letter. “How could it be possible that the Marxist theory we endorse and the materialism and atheism that we believe in can’t van- quish what Falun Gong propagates? If it were true, wouldn’t we become laughing stocks?”
During the meeting, Jiang openly reprimanded Zhu calling him “Muddle- headed! Muddle-headed!” He repudi- ated the Premier’s decision that was in the process of being implemented, and forced the Party to accept his personal goal to “eradicate” Falun Gong.
At the end of the meeting, Zhu Rongji, who had been accused under Mao of being a “rightist,” stopped and shook hands with every staff member present, saying his goodbyes. He is not known to have uttered a word about Fa- lun Gong since.
Acting on Jiang’s instructions the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and the State Council then issued a circular to the Party Commit- tees of all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. This demanded that all departments ascertain whether any of their personnel were Falun Gong practitioners and whether they had been to Zhongnanhai on April 25th. Jiang also ensured that the General Political Department of the People’s Liberation Army issue a directive demanding that all military personnel, including sup- port workers and even retirees, cease participation in Falun Gong exercises. The order stated: “The people’s armed forces must never allow any qigong orga- nizations of a religious nature; and must firmly and decisively dismiss those ser- vicemen and dependents who are Falun Gong exercisers. Whoever disobeys this shall be strictly disciplined.”
Yet, Jiang still faced considerable op- position within the Communist Party. His policy was viewed by most of the top Party members as irrational, un- necessary, and one that violated China’s own Constitution. Jiang, however, was the head of the Com- munist Party, the government, and the military. Thus, in the face of Jiang’s intimi- dation, over the next few months all high- ranking officials of the Chinese govern- ment gradually grew silent on the Falun Gong issue.
Between April 25 and July 20, 1999, Jiang and Luo began to make use of all meetings and public occasions to force everyone to express their attitudes and pledge their allegiance. Chinese govern- ment sources say the situation during this time was also very chaotic as Jiang’s followers attempted to find incriminat- ing details that they could use to justify the persecution and silence any objec- tions.
The State Appeals offices still held policies that announced a “freedom to practice” qigong, and “no ban on spiri- tual practices.” These announcements were on the walls of the Appeals offices directly alongside the new policies post- ed by Jiang, making the discord about Falun Gong at the highest levels of the Party visible for all to see.
At a Politburo meeting on June 7 Jiang announced the decision to form a leader- ship team “to deal with the Falun Gong problem.” The Director of that team would be former vice-premier Li Lanq- ing, and his assistant directors would be Luo Gan and the Propaganda Minister Ding Guangen.
On June 10, the Central Commit- tee obediently formed the “Leadership Team to Deal with the Falun Gong Problem,” headed by Li, with Luo and Ding as assistants. This team in turn formed an office they called the “6-10 Office,” named after the date of its insti- tution. The 6-10 Office would carry out the policies of Jiang and his “Leadership Team” in eradicating Falun Gong. (see The 6-10 Office)
In the early morning hours of July 20, 1999, Falun Gong practice site vol- unteers around the country were pulled from their beds and detained by police. On the same day, Jiang ordered the Cen- tral Civil Affairs Department, which is responsible for the registration of groups and organizations, to issue a notice ban- ning Falun Gong.
An estimated 35,000 practitioners were detained over the next several weeks. Within a few months, the first reports of severe abuse, torture and killings began to emerge from inside China.
Four Years of Jiang-sponsored Terror
According to sources in China and thousands of testimonies from vic- tims over the last four years, Jiang implemented the persecution through a three-pronged directive to all levels of government: Destroy [Falun Gong] practitioners physically; destroy their reputations; destroy them financially.
Numerous edicts handed down by Jiang, which the security and propa- ganda machines had no choice but to obey, were illegal and unconstitutional. In July 1999, Jiang, through the Bu- reau of Civil Affairs (an Administrative branch), declared Falun Gong to be an “illegal organization.” According to Ar- ticles 2, 80, and 81 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, only the National People’s Congress has the ability to declare an organization illegal. The President does not possess such power. Yet, this executive order initiated the persecution campaign.
In October 1999, the National People’s Congress passed a series of laws basically targeting Falun Gong. Regarding these laws, a November 2, 1999, article from the Washington Post stated: “When [China’s Communist leaders] found themselves without the laws they need to rigorously persecute a peaceful meditation society, the Party simply ordered up some new laws. Now these will be applied – retroactively.” These laws were dictated by Jiang, using the National People’s Congress merely as a rubber stamp. Doing so oversteps the authority granted to the President by the Chinese constitution. Applying these laws retroactively to prosecute Falun Gong practitioners and sentence them to prison terms was likewise an illegal action.
Although many provinces were quick to enact Jiang’s policy on Falun Gong, some southern provinces, such as Guan- dong, were not pursuing the persecution with the vigor Jiang demanded. Thus, in February 2000, Jiang went on a tour of those southern provinces to spur them on and ensure that they toed the line. In particular, he criticized Guandong for not “doing its best in the persecution of Falun Gong,” and for being “too soft” on Falun Gong. He also asked Guandong Province Governor, Li Changchun, to make a statement at the conference of the Political Bureau to “express regret” with respect to his lack of efforts in this area.
Under pressure from Jiang, Guandong Province as well as other southern prov- inces eventually began to incarcerate Falun Gong practitioners and send them to labor camps en masse. Among the first from Guandong to be sent to a labor camp was a university classmate of Hu Jintao, the vice-president of China (and the man who would succeed Jiang as President and Chair of the Communist Party). Hu had been very passive in car- rying out Jiang’s campaign against Falun Gong. In forcing Hu to accept this, Ji- ang sent a powerful double message: no one may be granted exception from the persecution, and none of China’s leader- ship may try to avoid the responsibility for enforcing it.
By the end of 2003, details of 852 deaths have been verified by the Falun Dafa InfoCenter (FDI), with informed sources putting the true death toll well in the thousands. Hundreds of thou- sands have been detained, with more than 100,000 being sentenced to forced labor camps, typically without trial, ac- cording to the InfoCenter.
CNN’s China expert Willy Wo-Lap Lam has reported that the persecution of Falun Gong was in fact an attempt by Ji- ang to secure his own power. Lam quoted a Party insider on February 6, 2001 as saying “by unleashing a Mao-style move- ment, Jiang is forcing senior cadres to pledge allegiance to his line. This will boost Jiang’s authority — and may give him enough momentum to enable him to dictate events at the pivotal 16th Com- munist Party Congress next year.”
Others who have been investigating the human rights abuses against Falun Gong in China, however, put forth a more mundane cause: Jealousy. Consider events in the spring of 1998. The Yang- tze River was flooding. Jiang visited the city of Wuhan on an inspection tour of the endangered areas. According to eye- witnesses, a particular group working on the dikes caught his eye. They worked very well together and with great en- thusiasm. Their section of the dike had stayed ahead of the flood. Jiang was very pleased. He asked who these workers were. When told they were local Falun Gong practitioners who had volunteered for this duty, he flew into a rage, turned on his heel, and stalked off.
“Jiang was jealous of Falun Gong’s wide-spread popularity among the peo- ple,” says Dr. Shiyu Zhou, a Falun Dafa InfoCenter (FDI) spokesman. “Falun Gong had captured the nation’s attention and seemed to truly bring about changes in the communities. After so many years of turmoil, people in China were return- ing to a more traditional Chinese way of life, working together, thinking of others before themselves and putting an empha- sis on kindness. It may sound petty at first, but the admiration people held for Falun Gong made him furious. That’s the main reason he did this.”
Dr. Michael Pearson-Smith lives in Mel- bourne, Australia, and works in educa- tional publishing and sales.