China Mental Health Watch

Jan 19, 2005

Ms Lily Wu calls for the release of her sister Professor Xiaohua Wu, who was incarcerated in a Chinese psychiatric hospital because of her practice of Falun Gong. Ms. Wu is at a press conference in Yokahama Japan in August 2002 during the WPA meeting at which the decision to conduct an independent investigation of psychiatric abuse in China was made.

Severe abuse of Falun Gong practitioners by psychiatric professionals in China is extensive and systematic, yet the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) has shelved plans to investigate this abuse in the face of resistance from the Chinese government. In the place of an investigation, the WPA leadership has chosen a course of accommodation that flies in the face of the best evidence as to what is happening in China and of the WPA's own principles.

In July 2000 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) requested an investigation by the WPA into reports of abuse in China. In August 2002 the General Assembly of the WPA voted to conduct an independent investigation by sending a fact-finding team to China. In doing so the WPA membership was acting in accord with the Madrid Principles, principles adopted by the association to guarantee the ethical practice of psychiatry worldwide. In April 2004, a week before the trip to China was to take place, the Chinese government cancelled it.

In May 2004 the WPA leadership "compromised" with the Chinese Society of Psychiatric (CSP). The CSP would admit "misdiagnosis and mistreatment" but not systematic abuse, and would welcome the assistance of the WPA in future collegial, educational meetings. China Mental Health Watch believes that the proposed "compromise" betrays both the victims of psychiatric abuse in China and the profession of psychiatry, damages the credibility and the integrity of the WPA, and makes a mockery of the Madrid Principles.

Abuse Well Documented

Agence France Press, the Associated Press, the Columbia Journal of Asian Law, Lancet, New York Times, Radio Free Asia, Reuters, the Voice of America, Washington Post, and Yomiuri Newspaper of Japan, among others, have reported on the psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China. So, too have Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, and the American Foreign Policy Council's China Reform Monitor. Also, the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom's annual reports on International Religious Freedom in China have reported the psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China, as have the State Department's annual country reports on China.

There is an abomination going on in China. The psychiatric persecution of mentally healthy Falun Gong practitioners is unprecedented in terms of the number of victims, hospitals (over 100) involved, the brutality of methods used and the severity of the consequences. It has been estimated that over 1,000 healthy Falun Gong practitioners have been involuntarily admitted to mental institutions.

The abuse is horrific. Some of the torture techniques used in the hospitals are the same as those in labor camps and detention centers. Practitioners are forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs, receive massive amounts of electro-shock through acupuncture needles, endure forced sleep deprivation, and are tied up and force-fed for long periods of time. The sequelae of this persecution include depression, memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, permanent nerve damage, and death. Fourteen deaths have been confirmed due to psychiatric abuse.

The wide spread psychiatric abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China was confirmed by a survey conducted by telephone by the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG) in April 2004. The conclusions of this study are shocking. WOIPFG interviewed staff of psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric wards throughout China. 83% of the psychiatric hospitals investigated clearly admitted that they have "accepted and treated" Falun Gong practitioners, and more than half of these hospitals stated that those practitioners had no mental problems. The Chinese psychiatrists interviewed evaluated the "treatment" according to whether the practitioners agreed to renounce Falun Gong. The majority of the prescriptions were given immediately upon admission without any prior evaluation. In many cases the practitioners were given an arbitrary or made-up diagnosis to justify their admission to the hospitals.

Abuse Not Caused by Failure in Education

The agreement between the WPA leadership and the CSP rests on the assumption that any abuse has been inadvertent, caused by a failure in education. The facts show otherwise.

Robin Munro, in his authoritative study "Judicial Psychiatry in China and its Political Abuses" (Columbia Journal of Asian Law: Spring, 2000, Volume 14, No.1), reports that in the two decades prior to the late 1990s the incidence of "political cases" in China's psychiatric hospitals steadily declined from reports of around 15% of all admissions to rates to 1 or a few percent. (p. 86) One might have speculated on the basis of this record that the practice of psychiatric abuse as a means of political repression was disappearing in China. But in the latter half of 1999 there appeared a "flood of reports" indicating that "large numbers" of Falun Gong practitioners were being "forcibly sent to mental hospitals by security authorities." (pp. 107-108)

If failures in professional education were the cause of the abuse of psychiatry, then the two decades long trend toward the gradual disappearance of admitting patients as "political cases" would suggest a great improvement in such education had occurred. On the basis of such improvement, one would have predicted that the trend toward ending the admission of "political cases" would have held in the case of the Falun Gong. It did not.

Abuse Part of Systematic Political Terror

In reaching its agreement with the CSP the WPA leadership has assumed that the CSP is an independent professional organization capable of governing itself. In fact, the CSP is an agent of the Communist Party that governs China, and it can only do what the Party allows it to do. Those individuals who head the CSP, other medical associations or the heads of hospitals or clinics all hold their positions at the pleasure of party chiefs. Once the Party adopts a line, everyone in China is required to show enthusiastic support for the government line. Failure to do so may result in loss of promotions or jobs, or detention or worse. The profession of psychiatry has no meaningful independent existence in China.

The Communist Party under the leadership of Jiang Zemin launched a systematic campaign to "eradicate" Falun Gong on July 20, 1999. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, 1,260 practitioners have been confirmed as dying from abuse, with the true figure believed to be far higher. Over 100,000 Falun Gong practitioners have been sentenced to China's horrific forced labor camps, and hundreds of thousands have been detained in jails, detention centers, brainwashing centers, etc.

The psychiatric abuse plays an integral role in this campaign of terror. On the one hand, it stigmatizes the victims, by suggesting to the Chinese public that there may be something wrong with them. On the other hand, there is hardly any torture more terrifying than the abuse of psychiatry. Massive doses of psychotropic drugs rob the victims of their will and reason.

The abuses of psychiatry in China are not an aberration, and they are not due to a failure of education or of understanding. These abuses are rather the explicit goal of government policy. Any attempts to respond to this abuse that do not understand this basic fact are doomed to be misguided, and might even be harmful.

The WPA Should Remain True to its Principles

Falun Gong practitioners have been the most frequent victims of psychiatric abuse in China, but they are not the only victims. For instance, on June 9, 2004 China Human Rights Watch reported that AIDS activist Hu Jia was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital, and on June 14, 2004 Voice of America reported that democratic dissident Wang Wanxing was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital.

Any violation of the WPA's standards as stated in the Declaration of Madrid should not be tolerated. The horrific psychiatric abuse going on in China harms the profession of psychiatry and humanity as a whole. The membership of the WPA may yet override the actions taken by the WPA leadership. Some WPA members have requested that the WPA expel the CPS. Doing so would preserve the WPA's integrity and oppose the violation of human rights in China. In any case, we hope the membership of the WPA will roundly reject this "compromise" of the WPA's own standards negotiated with the CSP.

Dr. Viviana Galli is a member of the American Psychiatric Association and Chair of China Mental Health Watch. ( )