|Practitioners gather on April 25th|
When the fog lifted like a curtain, the inhabitants of Zhongnanhai, the living quarters and offices for the rulers of China, were treated to the spectacle of 30,000 Falun Gong practitioners surrounding the complex, lined up several rows deep in quiet and orderly fashion on the sidewalks across the streets that encircle it. This “siege” was said to be so shocking as to lead directly to the crackdown on Falun Gong.
The practitioners who were there report they had never intended to appeal outside Zhongnanhai. Three years of increasing harassment and restrictions on the swiftly growing practice of Falun Gong had been brought to a head in the provincial city of Tianjin.
The brother-in-law of Luo Gan, the high Party official who would lead the persecution of Falun Gong, had published a magazine article attacking the practice and setting out the basic lines that much of the Party’s anti-Falun Gong propaganda would take.
Local students of Falun Gong peacefully gathered outside the magazine and asked that the article be retracted. Over 40 were beaten and arrested. When practitioners in Tianjin appealed to the police to release those arrested, the police said the matter was out of their hands. All appeals must go to Beijing.
Two to three hundred metres down Fuyou Street from Zhongnanhai is the State Appeals Office, the place all Chinese are entitled to go if they believe the government has treated them unfairly. This was the destination of those who showed up at Fuyou Street at dawn that day.
But when they arrived, the police were already out in force, and would not allow them to stand opposite the Appeals Office. The police placed members of the group on the street opposite Zhongnanhai, and as more arrived, continued to arrange them until the crowd of 30,000 wound completely around the complex. Behind the police lines, cameramen filmed those present for future use.
At the end of the day, after a meeting with Premier Zhu Rongji, who promised to redress the grievances of the practitioners, the 30,000 departed as quietly as they had come.
The Beijing police had never seen a crowd like this. They remained quiet, orderly and in good humour the whole day. They kept the sidewalks clear so that pedestrians could move along. At the end of the day they cleaned up all litter, including the cigarette butts of the policemen.
Jiang Zemin, who at that time was the paramount leader of China, was ready to seize the moment. He sent a letter that evening to the highest ranking members of the Communist Party.
By turns aggressive and plaintive, he wrote “The Communist Party must vanquish Falun Gong… How could it be possible that the Marxist theory we endorse and the materialism and atheism that we believe in can’t vanquish what Falun Gong propagates? If it were true, wouldn’t we become laughing stocks?”
Jiang’s call for a campaign against Falun Gong was not in fact popular within the leadership. In their speeches, the other members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo had taken very different approaches to the Falun Gong issue than that of Jiang. Some were rumoured themselves to practise Falun Gong. Family members were known to be practising.
However, Jiang’s power—he was head of the Communist Party, President of the government, and commander of the armed forces—was unquestioned and unquestionable.
He formed a special office called the 6-10 Office (named after the date of its institution on June 10, 1999) for the sole purpose of “eradicating” Falun Gong. Early on the morning of July 20, those the 6-10 Office had identified as “ring leaders” were rounded up, and the persecution of Falun Gong began.
Falun Gong practitioners never refer to gatherings such as took place outside Zhongnanhai as “protests” or “demonstrations.” The word they always use is “appeals.”
The world has, since July 20, 1999, become accustomed to seeing these events. A “Law and Order” episode dramatised one. Major cities around the world, as well as many small towns, have often seen large groups of adherents stage such appeals. Peaceful adherents of Falun Gong have been a fixture outside the meetings of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights meetings in Geneva for six years.
They were very visible at the winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City. When Jiang Zemin visited Bush’s ranch in October, 2002, the environs of Crawford, Texas were treated to an appeal by several thousand practitioners.
An appeal usually consists of a group of practitioners doing the meditative Falun Gong exercises together and peacefully holding up signs explaining why they are there.
Mrs. Li took part in an appeal for several weeks outside the offices of the Associated Press in New York City. AP had run an article about Falun Gong whose only apparent source was China’s state-run media, and which repeated without contradiction various statements about Falun Gong that practitioners consider to be slanderous.
Mrs. Li went every day in the dead of winter to the sidewalk opposite the AP office. She and the other practitioners were there to ask AP to withdraw the article. “The workers inside reported how our appeal started discussions inside the building. They told us they supported us and admired us. They would bring us hot chocolate.”
Levi Browde of the Falun Dafa Information Centre spoke about the act of appealing. “We want to bring the world’s attention to terrible crimes being committed in China—the persecution of Falun Gong. We call what we do an appeal, because we are appealing to the conscience. We appeal to what is best in everyone. If others live up to what they know to be good, they will naturally do what is right.
“Others sense that we are not opposing them. We don’t oppose individuals. We are not fighting with anyone. We only oppose what is wrong. We believe the only real change that happens in the world occurs when people’s hearts change. That is what appeals aim to do.”
The persecution has continued, but much has changed. Jiang Zemin has lost all of his titles and much of his power. The Communist Party that Jiang ordered to begin persecuting Falun Gong is in a rapidly deepening crisis, with over one million Chinese having renounced it. Throughout, the practitioners of Falun Gong have continued their appeals.
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