A reference to the "Zhongnanhai incident" of April 25, 1999 is likely to elicit little more than blank looks and a shrug of the shoulders from the majority; but for Falun Gong practitioners and China watchers it is one of the most significant dates of the last decade, as it marks the point at which former communist leader Jiang Zemin resolved to smash the hugely popular spiritual phenomenon that was sweeping the country.
Jiang Zemin's decision to try and eradicate Falun Gong initiated the most exhaustive and intense media propaganda campaign since Mao's Cultural Revolution. For the next few years, the state-controlled media in Mainland China concocted increasingly bizarre stories to try and demonise Falun Gong practitioners in the minds of the population at large. Any foreign journalist attempting to find out the truth or write anything about Falun Gong that deviated from the Party line risked an unpleasant threatening interview with the authorities at best and expulsion from the country at worst. Chinese leaders are perpetually nervous of any large group of people gathered together in one place, notwithstanding the fact that the constitution theoretically allows freedom of association. Premier Zhu Rongji met with representatives of the estimated 10,000 to 18,000 Falun Gong practitioners who gathered around the Zhongnanhai government compound, listened to their grievances and promised that the practitioners arrested in Tianjin would be released.
The crowd quietly dispersed, but that was not enough for Chairman Jiang, who
wrote a letter that denounced Falun Gong and posed the question as to whether
there was a "mastermind [from inside the Party] plotting and directing
behind the scenes." He made it clear that he would not tolerate "....a
social group 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. Jiang was jealously protective of his personal power and
embarked upon the full-blown persecution of Falun Gong against the wishes of the
Politburo and without any concrete evidence that the group was a threat of any
A media spokesperson for the Chinese Communist regime was seen on CNN throughout the world saying how the demonstration had been extremely disruptive and "blocked traffic," while the footage being shown made a complete mockery of his claims. Much was made of the fact that the "protestors" had "surrounded" the regime's headquarters.
The Communist Party's media campaign intensified over the ensuing months to the point where foreign news media started to repeat much of the misinformation about Falun Gong, particularly since there was initially no other source of information.
Over the last few years, the international media watchdog Rapporteurs Sans Frontieres has issued periodic reports lambasting the Communist Chinese regime's control of all forms of traditional media as well as the Internet. The situation became front-page news worldwide with the exposure of the SARS cover-up and the Communist regime promised more transparency in the future.
In order to secure the 2008 Olympics for Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP) promised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that during the Games,
international journalists would be free to report without restrictions. To this
end, a decree was issued from the office of Premier Wen Jiabao last December
that apparently guaranteed foreign journalists freedom to travel anywhere and
report on anything without interference from the authorities.
Of course, in China the promulgation of a regulation is one thing, but putting that regulation into practice is quite another.
Foreign journalists wanting to visit Tibet or Xinjiang still must apply for
special permits and as for trying to report on democracy activists, dissident
human rights lawyers, Falun Gong or illicit organ transplants - well, just
A BBC film crew wanting to do a story on a riot in Hunan Province arrived in the town of Zhushan only to be summarily thrown out by the authorities. Moreover, a number of Chinese reporters attached to foreign newspapers continue to languish in prison for attempting to report on forbidden topics.
Assuming that the Olympics go ahead (there is a growing movement for a boycott on human rights grounds), China is going to be deluged with foreign journalists, a significant proportion of whom are likely to want to report on things other than sport.
Although, even in the sporting arena, there is plenty of scope for stories that will expose the ruthless lack of compassion frequently exhibited by the Communist regime. There is already growing concern that the draconian training regimes that are inflicted on aspiring athletes as young as five amount to little more than systematic child abuse on a massive scale. Also, the use of performance enhancing drugs by Chinese athletes, usually at the instigation of the coaches themselves, has been an issue for some years.
Public Security chief Zhou Yongkang has recently stated that the police must
"strike hard at hostile forces both in and outside the nation" in
order to "defend political and social stability." Such a policy hardly
seems to be in line with the Olympic spirit, but the regime will be mindful of
the South Korean experience in 1988.
Prior to the Seoul games, a series of pro-democracy street demonstrations contributed to the downfall of the military dictatorship in that country. Many would like to see something similar develop in China, but you can be sure that the CCP will be pulling out all stops to ensure that it doesn't happen.