Analyzing the Differences Between the Staged and the Real Self-Immolations on Tiananmen Square
(Clearwisdom.net) As soon as the "Tiananmen Square self-immolation" is mentioned, many people naturally think of the case in which it was falsely reported that Falun Gong practitioners self immolated on Tiananmen Square. At that time the Chinese state-run media made a big deal of this, especially when they repeatedly broadcast the live video, which left a very deep impression on people. Of course, detailed analysis of the film footage revealed so many discrepancies that 3rd party experts determined this was actually a fabricated event that Jiang Zemin had staged in order to frame and demonize Falun Gong.
With the passing of time, many people have forgotten the specific details of this incident. Recently when I was browsing China's news web, I noticed that there have been several reported self-immolation incidents in Tiananmen Square in recent months. It is interesting to note that the media and related governmental departments have dealt with these recent incidents in a completely different manner from how they handled the 2001 self-immolation incident, which they attributed to Falun Gong. I have compared these two different types of self-immolation incidents from several perspectives. Through this analysis and comparison, we will look at the evidence fabricated by Jiang Zemin that was intended to frame Falun Gong.
Details of two recent true self-immolation incidents
Case #1: On September 15, 2003, in front of Tiananmen's Jinshui Bridge, a farmer named Zhu Zhengliang from Qingyang County, Anhui Province, poured gasoline on himself and then set himself on fire. The reason he gave for doing this was because his house was torn down against his wishes, and his legal case never was processed with justice.
Case #2: On October1, 2003, Yang Peiquan, who came from Gongan County, Jingzhou City, Hubei Province to appeal his grievance, burned himself with gasoline near the southeast corner of Tiananmen Square at the Memorial Tower. Yang is a 49-year-old worker who had been laid off. There are several other self-immolation cases that have been reported in the news, but I won't list all of them here.
Perhaps most residents in China don't know much about the above two self-immolation cases, because of low-profile media reporting. The apparent difference in the media's completely different handling of the recent true self-immolation cases and the staged event that occurred in 2001 makes us take a close look at the extreme propaganda that was broadcast surrounding the "staged self-immolation" incident that was blamed on Falun Gong. For the sake of discussion, we will label the recent incidents as "true self-immolation," then compare them with the "staged self-immolation" that CCTV [China's state-run TV] widely reported in 2001.
1) "Is video available this time?"
After Yang Peiquan's self-immolation incident on China's National Day this year, CCTV did not report it at all, while other media handled it in a quiet, low profile manner. However, some web news services copied the item. On some news websites people can publish their own comments. One of them read, "Is video available this time?"
Did the state-run media videotape the self-immolation of Yang Peiquan? The answer is, No. Did the state-run media videotape the self-immolation of Zhu Zhengliang? The answer again is, No. Did the state-run media videotape Wong Biao, a resident of Nanjing City who died in a self-immolation to protest the forced demolition of his house? The answer still remains, No. Furthermore, among all these recent self-immolation reports, only one self-immolation incident was captured on videotape and broadcast widely by the state-run media. They falsely reported that the self-immolator was a Falun Gong practitioner who claimed he was "going to heaven by self-immolation" at Tiananmen Square, a method and philosophy neither contained nor promoted in any Falun Gong literature or teachings.
Some people may still remember when CCTV reported the "staged self-immolation." In that video report there were long distance shots, there were big close-ups, there were scenes of police putting out the fire with an extinguisher, and scenes of Liu Chunling struggling in the flames and falling to the ground. There was also footage of someone the media claimed to be "Wang Jindong" shouting, and then a policeman covering his body with a fire-proof blanket and many more. From reviewing the broadcast footage, a person can easily see that there was a camera angle for every critical moment. Even today many people still remain deeply affected--and frightened--by the broadcast of the staged self-immolation. The wide broadcast of this fabricated "Live" video functioned very well in shaping negative opinions of Falun Gong in the minds of the Chinese public.
Such perfect video footage, however, is very suspicious. If these several people had really started their self-immolation without alerting anybody, then the possibility of videotaping such a detailed self-immolation incident would have been very unlikely. To record all the critical moments of the whole process from different angles and different locations is really impossible. Yet this "impossibility" was eagerly broadcast in front of millions of Chinese viewers. Today, as true self-immolation incidents continue to occur, even though the police raise the alarm, there have been no similar detailed videos for the audience. Not only is there no video, but not even a single photo has been released! During the staged self-immolation, the police department claimed that their video footage came from CNN, a claim that CNN immediately denied. After their denial, the police department gave up on the idea of falsely using other media's name. They now refuse to respond to any questions on this issue. As to why there were so many fire extinguishers in the area of flat, empty Tiananmen Square, the police department has never given a satisfactory explanation.
2) Why self-immolate?
The reasons for the recent self-immolations were very simple and obvious: to appeal and protest with their lives. Of course, I absolutely do not agree with this method of protest, but from an ordinary point of view, if someone is willing to sacrifice his or her life, there must be a very serious injustice. Otherwise, after so many social movements and campaigns that have taken place in China, the Chinese people should understand that there is no place in China to go for real justice. Really, committing suicide is worse than having a bad life. However, these people paid the price with their lives, so they are not able to even have a bad life. It is very tragic and unfortunate that for some people, self-immolation has become a form of protest for grave injustice received at the hands of others, and they have no other way for their case to be heard. However, in the case of the staged self-immolation, it was very odd and unusual for the media to give the reason as "wanting to go to heaven."
I'm also a Falun Gong practitioner, and I have read all the books Teacher Li Hongzhi has published. Killing or suicide is strictly prohibited in the teachings. The section "On Killing" in Lecture Seven of Zhuan Falun states, "We have a strict rule for practitioners: practitioners can't kill." In the "Lecture in Sydney," Teacher said, "Committing suicide is sinful."
It is therefore not believable that in the "staged self-immolation", the victims wanted to self-immolate in order to "go to heaven" in Tiananmen Square in front of CCTV's video cameras. There are several reasons. First, this is against Falun Gong's basic requirements: practitioners are not to kill or commit suicide. Second, this would seriously damage Falun Gong's image, because, for the Chinese, New Year's day is the happiest day of the year. Suicide on this day would shock and instill hatred in those who don't know much about Falun Gong. Third, self-immolating in Tiananmen Square has a very low success rate. If the victim's really believed self-immolation could send them to heaven, it would be more logical to find a quiet place or stayed in their own homes where success would have been much more likely. It seems as if these people not only didn't follow any of Falun Gong's teachings but also didn't even care enough to protect Falun Gong's image or even to succeed in the self-immolation. When the media so aggressively reported and spread the news of the staged self-immolation incident, it was not hard to see their malicious intent. When the persecution of Falun Gong gradually became a focus of concern to the international community, who are the people who would have wanted this kind of incident that damaged Falun Gong's reputation to occur? Was it really genuine Falun Gong practitioners, or was it just staged by Jiang Zemin?
Since the first public Falun Gong seminar in 1992, and in the intervening years, up until early 1999, no media reported a single instance of suicide or murder taking place as a result of practicing Falun Gong. After July 20, 1999, when Jiang Zemin banned Falun Gong, the state-run TV conveniently broadcast an alleged "suicide" and then an alleged "murder." The state-run media soon began by broadcasting the murder of one person, and then suddenly started broadcasting and publishing cases of a group murder, then murders started appearing everywhere. This tactic reminded me of the "model shows" during the Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s. How was it determined whether the actors did well when they acted the roles of "negative figures"? They had to make people feel it was real, feel that the protagonist was detestable, and it was best to make people even hate the original. Today's state-run media is using the same methods they used 30 - 40 years ago, during the time of the Cultural Revolution, to demonize Falun Gong now.
The state-run media followed the method of the "model show" precisely and then used this old propaganda method to achieve the maximum public fear and disgust for their staged self-immolation incident. Let's take a look at the facts. The CCTV international channel published the news within two hours after the incident occurred. For state-run media such as CCTV, it is a matter of policy that many different levels of authority must approve such big events. The media is required that all reporting related to Falun Gong be scrutinized by various authorities due to its great international impact. As a result, news cannot be released so rapidly unless the approval process was pre-arranged. For this particular incident the unusually short time before the news became widely broadcast suggests that the cooperation of many authorities was conducted in advance.
With his entire body enveloped in smoke, one of the victims, "Wang Jindong" sat there firmly and shouted with a loud voice, "Falun Dafa is a Fa that everyone has to pass!"
As a Falun Gong practitioner, I feel this shouted slogan is rather weird. From July 20, 1999 until today, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners walked into Tiananmen Square to protest peacefully. On October 1, 2000, at least a thousand Falun Gong practitioners were arrested on Tiananmen Square. "Stop persecuting Falun Gong," and "Restore Falun Gong's reputation" are the most two most common sentences spoken by Falun Gong practitioners appealing at Tiananmen Square. If Wang Jindong were a true Falun Gong practitioner, he would not be totally unmoved by such an unjustifiable persecution. Wang Jindong's shouted slogan can only make people dislike Falun Gong, yet it has nothing to do with calling for an end to an unjustifiable persecution. Why did he shout such a strange slogan? I came to understand after some careful analysis.
The media had framed the story theme of the staged self-immolation as "self-immolate and then rise into the sky to heaven." The shouted slogan had to work with the theme. This "Self-immolation and then rise into the sky to heaven" theme has a huge potential to incite people into all manner of mindsets and acts. If the media had framed the theme of the staged-immolation as a simple protest, then it would not have been enough to demonize Falun Gong and make it out to be sinister. If the incident was shown as a protest, the TV audience would then additionally want to understand more facts and also figure out the legality of the persecution, something Jiang Zemin fears most. From this angle, none of the moves made by those actors in the staged-immolation can be considered to be accidental. Therefore, after the staged-immolation, some of the actors played roles of publicly repenting and regretting becoming Falun Gong practitioners, then publicly joining the efforts to expose and harshly criticize Falun Gong. Yet some of the other actors played the role of remaining "obsessed or infatuated" Falun Gong practitioners. Regardless of whether the actors played the role of repenting and regretting or remaining obsessed, whenever the actors gave interviews on TV, they would also repeat the theme that their self-immolation was about "self immolate and then rise into the sky to heaven." In both cases, the object was to incite the public to hate Falun Gong so that the Jiang regime's policies of persecution against Falun Gong had wide public support.
3) Media reaction
Next, let's compare the media's reaction to the two types of self-immolation. Comparing their vigorous reports on the staged self-immolation of those purported to be "obsessed" with Falun Gong, their reports on some later incidents of self-immolation have been very quiet--so quiet that the public wasn't even aware such unusual things occurred at Tiananmen Square. Among the different types of media, TV impacts people the most. Yet, the TV news barely mentioned the later incidents of self-immolation, although a few news websites did report them, and some websites even allowed some special areas for people to post their comments. However, the website administrators have been working hard to censor any postings that do not meet the Party line on the issue. From the complaints of Internet surfers, we don't know whether or not more postings that explained the facts of the staged self-immolation were published or deleted. Therefore, some readers became very angry and began venting their complaints over the censorship. In the BBS forum on the subject of Yang Peiquan's self-immolation, I read many postings like this typical comment, "Why not publish my posting? I've tried five or six times, and all of them were deleted. What a waste of time!" Or, "Whatever I say will be deleted. I declare that I have nothing to say today."
After the staged self-immolation, the media went all out, reporting intensely, and on a large scale. In a short time everybody in the country had heard about it. They forced different local TV stations to air CCTV's "Focal Interview" on this topic. The local newspaper also re-published the reports about this incident. Thus, this fabricated "news" was vigorously circulated for a long time.
Looking at the media reports on the later incidents of self-immolation, the difference is large and obvious. I believe readers can guess some of the reasons already. Since the Jiang regime began persecuting Falun Gong, they used the media to magnify their voice of criticism of Falun Gong and turn public opinion to support their efforts to eradicate Falun Gong. Yet the Jiang regime has silenced the voices of genuine Falun Gong practitioners. It is unknown how many people's voices are represented in the Jiang Zemin-created momentum to oppose Falun Gong.
4) Background Discussion regarding Two Different Kinds of Self-Immolation
You may ask after having read up to this point, "Why did the state-run CCTV fabricate such a lie to deceive the whole world? Also, if they wanted to fabricate a story, why did they botch it up so badly?" Regarding this question, we have to revisit the time when this lie was created.
Since Falun Gong was first introduced to the general public in 1992, the dramatic improvement it had on both body and mind attracted a large number of people. Therefore, Falun Gong initially received tremendous support from the Chinese government. As Falun Gong gained popularity in China, the number of practitioners grew rapidly. Even though Falun Gong practitioners did not advertise their practice in the media and no significant impact on society was apparent, the continual increasing number of practitioners caused the Prime Minister, Jiang Zemin, great discomfort. Furthermore, Jiang was unable to understand Falun Gong's deeper content and principles, since it was outside the range of his personal theoretical understanding.
Therefore, in this authoritarian political environment, a profound crisis ensued. The government security system, under the auspices of Luo Gan, tried every measure in their power to create problems for Falun Gong. In April 1999, this led to the illegal arrest of forty-five Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin City. On April 25, ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners appealed to the government to have them released. At that time, then Premier Zhu Rongji, ordered the innocent practitioners to be immediately released.
Even though the Tianjin incident was resolved satisfactorily, it was a thorn in the authoritarian Jiang's eyes. After the April 25 incidence, Jiang began to secretly investigate Falun Gong, using his public security network. Meanwhile, he created a smoke screen through the media, to assure that Falun Gong practitioners would remain unaware of what was going on. A government organization estimated that the number of Falun Gong practitioners had reached 87 million by that time. Such a large number provoked Jiang's jealousy greatly. On June 10, 1999, he established the notorious "610 Office" [an agency specifically created to persecute Falun Gong, with absolute power over each level of administration in the Party and all other political and judiciary systems] to deal with Falun Gong. Today, a number of subordinate offices exist at every level, right down to the village, county, and street block. These Gestapo-like organizations are above the law and can do whatever they want to persecute Falun Gong practitioners.
On July 20, 1999, believing that his preparations were complete, Jiang launched an all-out suppression of Falun Gong. Since all powerful branches of "the Party, Politburo and Military" were under his control, he was confident that it would be relatively easy to suppress Falun Gong; thus, he announced that the "Falun Gong problem" would be resolved within three months. The entire government machinery was utilized to participate in this persecution. Meanwhile, the media was being used to play a contemptible role again. However, after one year and three months had passed, practitioners still continued to appeal peacefully almost daily on Tiananmen Square against the illegal treatment by the Jiang Zemin. Jiang's fear increased with each passing day, since he was the one who convinced the seven members of the Politburo to go along with his plan to eradicate Falun Gong. Under China's power structure, Jiang defined his personal needs as the needs of "politics," the "Party," the "country," and the "people." He also was fully aware that if he had to transfer his power to the people, there would be no one to continue the persecution of Falun Gong. Therefore, he believed that he had to resolve the situation with force as long as he still was in power. Under this abnormal political situation, the illogical lie appeared. After the staged "self-immolation," a new round of persecution began. The campaign of persecution reached new heights and cruelty.
Let's take a look at several recent true self-immolation cases. When reporting these incidents, the media tried to reduce the impact of the self-immolation on the society (of course, they cannot just ignore these incidents). But what happened is not only related to some obscure reason, but may also relate to a deeper social problem. Although rapid economic development has been achieved during the last decade, in reality, social problems have not been addressed, and ever-increasing corruption has brought suffering to the lowest level of society. Jiang wanted to create a smoke screen, using the staged self-immolation, to cover up more deep-seated social problems.
5) Learning from History and Making a clear Distinction Between Right and Wrong
As reported by Chinese Central TV in 2001 on Falun Gong's "self-immolation," several inconsistencies go beyond what we have described earlier. Many questionable points such as: The people involved in this self-immolation were carefully chosen, that is, a man, a young woman, an older woman, and a young girl. The young girl, Siying, while being carried to an ambulance, cried out heartbreakingly for her mother, while the carrier stopped for a moment to allow them to be taped.
Little Siying, who was supposedly burned and had her trachea cut in a surgery to allow her to breathe, was unbelievably talking and singing to a reporter when she was interviewed in the hospital--something that medical experts have declared impossible due to the surgery. Also, the accepted medical standard and practice of treating burned patients is not to have the burned area covered to prevent infection, but instead to leave the area uncovered for applying medication. Yet, during a TV interview, Liu Siying's whole body, from head to toe, was completely covered with bandages. She was unrecognizable. In less than two months, she reportedly died abruptly in the hospital. No further details have been released.
Another central figure in this staged self-immolation is the person known as, "Wang Jindong." TV footage showed him sitting on the floor in a cross-legged posture, which is distinctively different from the posture called the "full-lotus position" required of Falun Gong practitioners during meditation. A plastic bottle containing gasoline, placed between his legs, remained intact and not even melted after he was set on fire. An older woman, Lie Baorong, claimed she had drunk half a bottle of gasoline, yet still remained very healthy during her TV interview.
An object is captured on film hitting Liu Chunling on the back of her head and knocking her down. This is clearly shown in the TV footage. Later she was reported to be dying from the burns she received. A reporter from the Washington Post went to the hometown of Liu Chunling in Kaifeng, Henan Province, to carry out an independent investigation and found that she had never practiced Falun Gong. It created a huge reaction overseas when the TV footage (slowed down) showed her being struck from behind by a heavy object by a person wearing a police uniform. This portion of the footage was removed in the later CCTV programs. This illustrates CCTV's shameless attempts to create propaganda to mislead the public and its complicity in such a heinous crime by participating in the "staged self-immolation".
New Tang Dynasty TV has systematically analyzed the so-called Falun Gong "self-immolation" and pointed out several questionable points. NTDTV has produced a documentary film, False Fire. During this staged self-immolation, Jiang Zemin deceived and misguided the public, and abused the government and the media he controlled. Yet he does not want to assume the responsibility and the extremely severe consequences for persecuting Falun Gong. As we have learned from history, a dictator who deceives and cruelly harms his people will never be able to escape the responsibility for his crimes.