Why is the Chinese Government Doing This?

By Shiyu Zhou, Ph.D.

On April 25, 1999, more than ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners held a peaceful gathering on Fuyou Street in Beijing to appeal to the Chinese State Council Appeal Office for the release of 45 practitioners arbitrarily detained by the police in Tianjin during the previous two days.

This incident at once received international attention, as Fuyou Street is right next to the Communist Party leadership compound Zhongnanhai, and was portrayed by many as the “besieging” of the Chinese leadership compound. The incident was later utilized by the Chinese Government as a major charge against Falun Gong to justify the persecution and was also mistakenly considered by many to be the direct cause of the crackdown.

Why the April 25th incident? And why the crackdown? This article explores some possible answers to these important questions. It includes some crucial comments made by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in two classified documents (based on information recently revealed by high level officials in the Chinese Communist Party) that Jiang issued as he decided to crackdown on Falun Gong, and is provided as reference for those who are interested in getting to the bottom of the most frequently asked question about Falun Gong: “Why is the Chinese government doing this?”

Misconceptions about the April 25th Incident

The Falun Gong incident of April 25, 1999 was not a sudden, accidental event that caught the Chinese government by surprise as is commonly believed. Nor was it the kind of political demonstration involving the besieging of the Chinese leadership compound as claimed by the Chinese Government. From the written attacks that begun during the Guangming Daily incident in June 1996 to the mobilization of police and use of violence in Tianjin in April 1999, the development and escalation of the Falun Gong persecution actually happened over a period of three or four years.

The Introduction of Falun Gong to the public

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese cultivation practice system. It was first introduced to the public by its founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi, on May 13, 1992. For the first four years, the Chinese Government enthusiastically endorsed the practice due to the health benefits it had brought to practitioners, which helped reduce the troubled government’s health care burden. Many governmental organizations, including the Qigong Scientific Research Association of China and the Public Security Ministry of China, had given awards and recognition to Falun Gong and Mr. Li.

Though Falun Gong has no formal organization, through word of mouth the number of people practicing quickly reached millions in a short few years. By early 1999, based on a Chinese government survey, there were at least 70 million people from all walks of life practicing Falun Gong all over China. Falun Gong has become “the largest voluntary organization in China, larger even than the Communist party,” according to the U.S. News and World Report, February 1999.

The escalation of the Falun Gong persecution

Since the ending of the “Great Cultural Revolution” in the late 1970’s, China’s focus has been shifted from political campaigning to economic and technological development. This change in the political climate has reduced the opportunities for political advancement for those who specialize in political propaganda and ideological battles. To remain necessary components of the government, these people typically rely on political unrest to provide them with a “cause” used to gain political power. The rapid development of Falun Gong was noticed by some departments in the central government. Falun Gong, they decided, was just what was needed.

These individuals began by spreading negative publicity through government-run media to defame Falun Gong and its founder since June 1996. On July 24, 1996, the Chinese News Publication Office issued a nationwide circular banning the distribution of all Falun Gong publications. In early 1997, the Public Security Ministry of China began a nationwide investigation to gather evidence in the hopes of casting Falun Gong as an “evil cult.” The investigations came to a quick end for “no evidence was found.” In July 1998, another investigation was ordered by the Public Security Ministry, which resulted in the illegal harassment of Falun Gong practitioners by the local Public Security Bureau in a number of areas around the country. On April 23, 1999, police were ordered to beat and arrest people who expressed their concerns to a magazine in Tianjin, which had published a slanderous article against Falun Gong.

On April 24, 1999, when Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin requested the release of the arbitrarily detained practitioners, they were told by the Tianjin government officials that the Public Security Ministry of China had been involved in this matter, so the arrested Falun Gong practitioners would not be released without authorization from Beijing. In short, Falun Gong practitioners were told they must take their appeal to the State Council Appeal Office in Beijing.

This triggered the April 25th incident during which Falun Gong practitioners appealed to the Chinese State Council Appeal Office for the release of the detained practitioners in Tianjin. After Premier Zhu Rongji, the official head of the State Council and second in command of the country under President Jiang personally came out to meet with practitioners. The situation was handled in a friendly manner and a resolution was reached that was acceptable to both the government and the practitioners. The entire event was peaceful and characterized by orderliness and all the practitioners who had gathered outside the State Council Appeal Office quietly dispersed, content with Premier Zhu’s handling of the issue.

Then, why the crackdown?

On the very night of April 25, 1999, however, Chinese President Jiang Zemin took a completely different stand on the incident from Zhu Rongji, who was heartily cheered by thousands of Falun Gong practitioners as he met with them in the morning. In a letter written on the evening of April 25th, 1999, entitled “Comrade Jiang Zemin’s Letter to the Standing Committee of the Politburo and Other Concerned Leader Comrades”, Jiang denounced Falun Gong as “an (approved to be) cult,” asking “is there a ‘mastermind’ [inside the Party] plotting and directing behind the scenes?”Thus, President Jiang makes clear his suspicion that the incident indicated foes within the Party were aligning against him.

Clearly, Jiang Zemin could not tolerate such “a social group [Falun Gong] involving a large number of Party members, cadres, intellectuals, as well as army men, workers and peasants,” who were not under the direct control of the Party as he indicated in his April 25th letter. . In particular, he felt threatened by the potential that such a large group could be directed by a “mastermind” among his political rivals within the Party.

Jiang further revealed his perception of Falun Gong in a June 7th letter entitled “Comrade Jiang Zemin’s Speech at a Meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee Regarding Handling and Resolving the ‘Falun Gong’ Issue without delay,” where he fully developed the crackdown policy.

“Obviously,” Jiang wrote in the letter, “an individual like Li Hongzhi does not have that much power. The ‘Falun Gong’ issue has a very deep political background…” He then drew the conclusion that the April 25 incident is “the most serious incident since the political turbulence in 1989” and “effective countermeasures” must be taken.

What happened in “the political turbulence in 1989?” As many still remember, the then Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang was replaced by Jiang soon after his meeting with the students on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. Under similar pressure from Jiang, it was said that Zhu Rongji had to do a self-criticism in front of the politburo members shortly after his meeting with Falun Gong practitioners outside the State Council Appeal Office.

Jiang’s letters clearly demonstrate his view of Falun Gong as a tool being utilized by political foes within the Party, and how, without any concrete evidence, he made the erroneous policy decision to persecute Falun Gong strictly on this basis.

“It is no secret that several Politburo members thought Jiang had used the wrong tactics,” said Willy Lam in his CNN report. “By unleashing a Mao-style movement, Jiang is forcing senior cadres to pledge allegiance to his line,” quoted a party veteran in Lam’s report. “This will boost Jiang’s authority-and may give him enough momentum to enable him to dictate events at the pivotal 16th Communist Party congress next year.”

Since the crackdown was launched by Jiang Zemin in July, 1999, tens of thousands of innocent Chinese citizens have been detained for practicing Falun Gong. Thousands have been tortured, sent to labour “re-education” camps without trial, illegally incarcerated in mental institutions, and millions have been left homeless, jobless or expelled from school. In short, Jiang’s crackdown has devastated a large segment of Chinese society, which includes farmers, academics, business people, government officials, military personnel, etc. The true tragedy of this crackdown, however, lies not only in its affects on the Chinese people, but the fact that the persecution against Falun Gong, in fact, has little to do with the content of Falun Gong nor the character of those who practice it. Falun Gong has simply been used as a pawn in the hands of those seeking to secure and vie for power. In this sense, Falun Gong is a victim of circumstance within the complex landscape of Chinese political power.

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