This article was first published in April 2008.
In the morning of April 25, 1999, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners began to gather in neat order outside the State Appeals Office in Beijing, close to Zhongnanhai, the CCP's central government compound. They sought a return of the open environment to practice Falun Gong that they had enjoyed for years, and more specifically, the release of dozens of practitioners who had recently been arrested in nearby Tianjin City. Tianjin police told them to take their request to the State Appeals Office in Beijing, and this is exactly what they did.
As the number of practitioners grew in size, cunning Party officials led the police to ask the appellants to line up alongside Zhongnanhai. The peaceful protestors, suspecting no ulterior motive, agreed. This gave Party officials the ammunition they needed to publicize the appeal as something it wasn't. Instead of portraying it as it happened, as a remarkably peaceful and quiet demonstration of people standing up for their rights, Party officials labeled it a "seige of the Central Government Compound (Zhongnanhai)." The state-run media then kicked its propaganda machine into high gear to denounce the incident, deceiving not only people in China, but around the world.
CCP authorities have used their false and deceptive interpretation of the incident ever since to "justify" their harsh treatment of Falun Gong. In the minds of many around the world, the April 25 appeal is referred to as the "Zhongnanhai Incident," with all the negative connotations and CCP deception intact.
For this reason, it is important to present the truth of the entire incident, so that people will not continue to be misled. The false propaganda alleges, among other things, that the April 25 appeal is evidence that Falun Gong seeks political power, that it poses a dangerous and sometimes violent threat to the nation and its people. These claims have been repeatedly pronounced by Chinese media both in China and abroad, compounding popular misunderstanding of the event.
An honest investigation into the event provides a remarkably different picture, radically different than the frightening picture painted in CCP propaganda.
1. Sequence of Events
Falun Gong practitioners went to Zhongnanhai because the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in the city of Tianjin had recently and unlawfully detained 45 Falun Gong practitioners. Since Falun Gong helps people to improve their physical and mental health, the number of its practitioners had increased rapidly in Mainland China. According to a government report in 1998, the number of Falun Gong practitioners in China was anywhere between 70 million and 100 million. This caused the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to consider it a potential political threat, despite its having no political aspirations. Some government officials took advantage of this situation by creating problems in order to gain political credit. Thus, news agencies controlled by the government have been constantly publishing untrue stories and articles that attack Falun Gong.
The April 25 appeal was triggered by recent developments in Tianjin, where a CCP scientist named He Zuoxiu published an article titled "I do not agree with adolescents practicing qigong" in Science and Technology for Youth (a magazine published by Tianjin Education College). In the article, he fabricated stories about Falun Gong leading to mental illness, and implied that Falun Gong could become an organization similar to the Boxers, who led a rebellion in the 19th century that destroyed the nation. Many Falun Gong practitioners were disturbed by this slander. With no alternative, some practitioners used the government-approved approach of appeal. On April 18, they went to Tianjin Education College to report the facts about Falun Gong. This article will explain later why there was no other way to report such accusations.
It was an utter shock to practitioners when the Tianjin PSB showed up to harass them. The Public Security Bureau refused to communicate with practitioners appropriately. Instead, they sent people to beat some of the practitioners. On April 23, they started to disperse practitioners and detain them, which eventually blocked the only channel Falun Gong practitioners had for reporting the truth to the government. Practitioners turned to Beijing on April 25 to plead to a higher authority. They asked for the release of the innocent people, for an open and legal environment in which to practice the exercises, and for the easing of the pressure that the government had put on Falun Gong practitioners for a long time.
Initially, practitioners gathered around the State Appeals Office. Later, several policemen told them that one place was not safe, and that another place was off limits. Following police instructions, the practitioners divided into two groups alongside Zhongnanhai. Later, He Zuoxiu arrived, trying to disturb the practitioners; but no one responded to him.
According to a witness, on the evening of April 24, some practitioners working in the Public Security Department had already submitted their name cards to Zhongnanhai, asking for a chance to discuss the situation. There was no response. At 9:00 p.m., practitioners started to gather on Fuyou Street near Zhongnanhai, some with luggage, some with meditation mats. Most of them were from cities outside of Beijing.
At 6:00 a.m. on April 25, a witness went to the north entrance of Fuyou Street, and discovered that policemen were blocking the way to Zhongnanhai. None of the practitioners attempted to force their way through, but they witnessed an astonishing scene. Police first led the practitioners from the east side of the street to the west side, and then directed them to walk south towards Zhongnanhai. Meanwhile, another group came from the opposite direction, also led by police, and both groups met right outside the main entrance of Zhongnanhai. According to the media, there were over 10,000 practitioners gathered outside Zhongnanhai.
Soon there were practitioners approaching from all directions. They filled all the sidewalks outside of Zhongnanhai. But the traffic was not blocked at all; even the route for the handicapped people remained clear. There were 70-year-old and 80-year-old men and women, pregnant women who were near the end of their term, and mothers holding their newborn babies. Many of them hardly ate any food or drank any water, to reduce the time needed for using the restroom.
Practitioners did not wander on the streets, did not chant slogans or wave signs, and did not start any fights. In China, appealing to the government does not require a permit from the PSB. Each practitioner went to represent only his or her own views. They came to report the mistreatment that they and their friends had been experiencing, and did not violate any laws or regulations. Since practitioners thought that they had achieved the goal of expressing their concerns and seeking understanding and support from the government, they quietly dispersed at 11:30 p.m. (1)
2. Causes of the Gathering
On the surface, the April 25 appeal seemed to be triggered by the Tianjin arrests and an anti-Falun Gong article by He Zuoxiu. The underlying reason stemmed from the central authorities' anxiety about the unprecedented popularity of Falun Gong. Seven years after Mr. Li Hongzhi's first public lecture in 1992, there were about 70 to 100 million Falun Gong practitioners in Mainland China. A full understanding of the incident is very complex, as it had both long term and short term causes, and was related to political struggles inside the Communist Party.
A. Long-Term and Short-Term Causes
The long-term cause of the April 25 appeal was the ongoing suppression of Falun Gong. With the rapid spread of Falun Gong, the central authority was afraid of losing its control over the people. The government had therefore been attempting to undermine Falun Gong through the media, by banning books, conducting underground investigations, and by disrupting exercise practice sites in recent years. The government had already been attempting to destroy the practitioners' environment for practicing Falun Gong. There was no other way to express the facts about the repression than to appeal to the central authorities. The April 25 gathering aimed at doing just this.
The central authorities began their criticism of Falun Gong on June 17, 1996. On that day, the Guangming Daily (the official voice of the State Council, articles that reflect only the opinions of government officials) published an article criticizing Falun Gong as an "anti-science" and "superstitious" practice, and labeled its practitioners as "stupid" people.
On July 24, 1996, the Chinese News Publishing Office issued a notice about "immediately confiscating five books, including Falun Gong (2)" nationwide. Following that, dozens of newspapers and magazines started to join the campaign against Falun Gong. Some official scholars such as He Zuoxiu were also active in the campaign. They used their being considered "scientists" to slander Falun Gong. The Central Office of National Publication and Central Propaganda Ministry also ordered all publishing companies not to publish books related to Falun Gong.
Some official departments started investigating Falun Gong at the beginning of 1997. The Public Security Ministry deployed a nationwide investigation of Falun Gong, using the rationale that Falun Gong fit into the category of so-called illegal religious activities. Since Falun Gong practice contains no such activities, this investigation found nothing to prosecute. Related official departments then formed a team to monitor Falun Gong. Meanwhile, they ordered all Physical Education departments to investigate Falun Gong activities. Although all responses from the Physical Education departments were positive, and although their reports indicated that Falun Gong is an activity that improves health, cures illnesses, and has no illegal religious elements, the Public Security Ministry nonetheless insisted that a close monitoring of Falun Gong activities was necessary.
On July 21, 1998, some official departments again issued a "Notice for conducting investigation against Falun Gong," insisting that Mr. Li Hongzhi was spreading an evil cult and that "key" Falun Gong members were conducting criminal activities. The notice also ordered all local Public Security and Political Protection departments to investigate the internal activities of these people and to look for evidence of any crimes within Falun Gong. It is apparent that the Public Security departments had labeled Falun Gong as engaging in criminal activities, without any evidence. This was, in other words, an incident of conviction before investigation.
After this document was issued, many local PSBs announced that Falun Gong activities were considered illegal assemblies. They dispersed group exercise practices, confiscated the private property of practitioners, and detained, arrested, beat, and verbally abused Falun Gong practitioners. In some areas, practitioners were fined, and Falun Gong related books were banned. Practitioners tried many times to appeal through normal channels, but were not successful.
In Mainland China there is only one official voice, so many articles had been published that criticized, cursed, and slandered Falun Gong in the years prior to the official ban. No articles defending Falun Gong were able to be published. Under these conditions where no other options were available, Falun Gong practitioners went to Beijing, asking the government to give them an unrestricted environment in which to practice. In short, the April 25 appeal was caused by the long-term slandering that Falun Gong had suffered at the hands of the government. In addition, practitioners had no other venue for reporting the facts in Mainland China--there is no other way to practice freedom of speech.
The other, short-term reason for appealing, as mentioned above, was to ask for the release of the practitioners arrested in the Tianjin incident. The attempt to report that incident to authorities in Tianjin resulted in the Tianjin PSB detaining 45 practitioners. In Mainland China, an appeal is not only a legally protected right, but is also the only channel that practitioners can use to report the facts. The practitioners' gathering in Beijing was a legal appeal; the only anomaly was that the number of people that attended was so large.
B. Political Causes
The government's suppression, which led to the April 25 incident, was likely related to political struggles among high-level officials. Different groups within the central government held a variety of views on Falun Gong. Among them, a few tried to capitalize on destroying Falun Gong in order to advance their political careers. According to a report from the Central News Agency (5/4 from Taipei), the government's political scheme behind the April 25 incident could be described as a "release before capturing" and a "ruse of suffering [by the government] before charging [against Falun Gong]". The purpose was to make Zhongnanhai appear to have been under pressure, and then to outlaw Falun Gong, allowing the government to demonstrate its might in demolishing this so-called threat.
As early as 1996, the rapid development of Falun Gong was noticed by some departments in the central government. Luo Gan, Secretary General of the State Council at the time, ordered the Public Security Ministry to conduct a secret investigation. Personnel in the public security system participated undercover in various Falun Gong activities, but no evidence of criminal conduct was found.
Even with the lack of evidence, there were still two opinions inside the government about how to deal with Falun Gong. One side thought that Falun Gong was not a political problem. Therefore, it should not be banned. The other side worried about the increasing popularity and influence of Falun Gong, which they thought could potentially be a force opposing the Communist Party regime. They insisted on banning it. Luo Gan, Secretary of the Central Committee of Political and Legal Affairs in early 1998, actively advocated the banning of Falun Gong. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji rejected the idea, and President Jiang Zemin did not express an opinion.
Luo Gan is a relative of He Zuoxiu of the Chinese Science Academy. He Zuoxiu had used the media to openly slander Falun Gong, and tried to create conflict between Falun Gong and the central government. His purpose was to create incidents that would lead all groups in the Communist Party to agree that outlawing Falun Gong was correct and necessary. After the April 25 incident, Luo Gan reported that Falun Gong had tens of millions of followers, possessed a religious and superstitious nature, and that Mr. Li Hongzhi, who currently lives in New York, was suspected of having a complex network of international connections. He reported that Falun Gong was, therefore, a potential threat to social stability. These opinions were even widely distributed to Hong Kong and the international media, intending to exaggerate the potential "threat" of Falun Gong.
Actually, Falun Gong is a very loosely organized practice, with no membership or hierarchy. How could those practitioners, without having an organization, appear to be "well organized and directed"? Could this be why public security officers pretended to be practitioners? Three days before the April 25 appeal, the public security departments had already received information of the appeal and had started to monitor the situation closely. They did not report this information at the time before the incident, but preferred to take the blame afterwards. Wasn't this a "ruse of suffering before charging"?
Other evidence showed that the April 25 incident was a trap set up by the public security personnel, and innocent Falun Gong practitioners stepped into the trap before they knew it. The next part will analyze this topic.
3. Some Clarifications
A. Practitioners were Tricked into Surrounding Zhongnanhai by the Authorities
It is claimed that Falun Gong practitioners "surrounded" Zhongnanhai because they formed a circle around the area. In fact, this arrangement was set up by the Security Department. In the first part of this discussion, we shared an eyewitness description of the events. He stated that the Falun Gong practitioners were led by police to take two routes that converged at the front entrance of Zhongnanhai and formed a circle. Even as that witness was telling us the facts, he did not notice that the police had tricked the people. He simply stated what he had seen. Many people, including Falun Gong practitioners, were not aware of the situation after reading his description. It wasn't until June 24 that some practitioners pointed out this plot in an article they published on the Internet.
Three days before the April 25 incident, the Security Department had received information and was closely monitoring the situation. They chose not to report the information and to rather take the criticism afterwards. It was also reported that when He Zuoxiu was asked to comment on the incident, he said, "For the time being, I will not comment because I do not want to mess up the whole arrangement." (3)
Did certain people in some government departments plan the April 25 incident? Might the articles of He Zuoxiu and the arrest of Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin Security Bureau all have been small traps that were part of one master plan?
B. Falun Gong Practitioners Went to Beijing Only to Appeal for Justice
Practitioners went to Beijing and Tianjin because there was no other way to report the truth and seek redress for the slander spread against them. The approach they took is called "appealing," which is a right protected by Chinese law. According to Item 41 in the "People's Republic of China Constitution," citizens have the right to submit criticism of and suggestions for any national institutions and staff. Citizens have the right to appeal to, file suit, or speak up to national institutions regarding any conduct of institutions or staff that violates the law or fails to fulfill responsibilities. It is stated in the 10th Code of the Chinese "Appealing Codes" that issues in the appealing process should be submitted to related executive departments, or to one level higher, as these departments have the legal right to make decisions.
After the Tianjin PSB arrested practitioners on April 23, some practitioners gathered at the Office of Appeals of the Tianjin City government to appeal and present the facts. The appeal was not well received, however. Instead, about 40 more people were arrested. As a result, Falun Gong practitioners had to appeal to the level above the Tianjin City government, which is the central government in Beijing. In China, appealing does not require application to the PSB. Each practitioner just represents himself, reporting the unjust treatment he or his friends and relatives have experienced. The appeals in Tianjin and Beijing did not violate any government regulations.
Mr. Li has always taught Falun Gong practitioners that they must not violate the law . Any genuine practitioner would abide by this teaching, one of the principles of Falun Gong, and would not violate the law. Therefore, throughout the incidents, practitioners have always maintained peaceful and kind conduct. They were orderly and cooperated with the arrangements and directions of the police. They stood where the personnel from the Office of Appeals and the traffic police told them to, waiting to be received by officials. The whole process did not involve any signs or slogans, nor did it block traffic. Practitioners even picked up all the trash on the ground in the area. Such details were reported by the international media.
C. The April 25 Gathering Was Not Masterminded by Master Li Hongzhi
In the ten-thousand-word report prepared by the Chinese PSB, Mr. Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, was accused of orchestrating the whole April 25 incident behind the scenes. In fact, Mr. Li passed through Beijing on his way to Australia to attend a Falun Gong conference, but was not in Beijing on April 25. To reduce the cost of his airline ticket, he had layovers in Beijing and Hong Kong. He stayed for 48 hours in Beijing during the transfer and left Beijing on April 24 for Hong Kong. The Chinese government claims that this was not an accident and that Mr. Li was planning things while using the excuse of transferring airplanes.
The Chinese government wondered how, without any organization, so many people arrived at Zhongnanhai at the same time. In fact, it was largely due to practitioners' personal networking and exercise environment. The spread of Falun Gong is mostly done by individual practitioners who, after personally benefiting from it, tell their friends and families. Many people practice in parks with groups. Without having an organization, and without anyone official to plan it, any activities would still have been known by many people in a short period of time through this type of personal network.
D. How 10,000 Can Gather Without Being "Organized"
Some people have trouble imagining so many people going to appeal on their own. Could they really have made that decision independently? One need only recall that in 1980, spontaneous gatherings in Europe cropped up all over the country and in many other parts of the world to rally for the slain John Lennon. People appeared with banners, drawings, candles, music and memorabilia. Who organized this? What committee dispatched them? Who distributed the photos and records they carried? We know, of course, that these were people spontaneously following their hearts. Such was the case with the April 25 appeal.
Some remark, "Well, the discipline at Zhongnanhai was described as being higher than that of the official police on the scene. This takes training." Yes, it would take extensive training to get a large crowd to be that disciplined. But what if each individual had been disciplining him or herself every day for years--learning principles and improving him or herself until impulsive emotional responses were gone, learning to consider others first, and training to be a better and better person in every regard? Falun Gong is a serious practice. Every one of those people near Zhongnanhai was simply manifesting what they had learned in Falun Gong, following the principles that had spiritually improved, moved, and elevated them. This is the standard of behavior they try to maintain every day--in their homes, workplaces, schools, and so on. Why should their behavior at Zhongnanhai be any different? If one examines it carefully, it is not so hard to understand. It is much easier for an individual to be disciplined than a crowd. This was a crowd of disciplined individuals. No traffic was disrupted, no slogans chanted, no banners or signs waved, and nobody was harassed or intimidated. The Falun Gong practitioners not only picked up their own litter, they picked up the cigarette butts flicked by police officers. This was clearly no political protest.
4. Summary: Who Has Actually "Disrupted Social Stability"?
Practitioners of Falun Gong are known for being exemplary citizens. In the workplace, they are diligent, committed, and honest workers, are not concerned with personal gains or losses, are strict with themselves, and kind and considerate toward others. Many Falun Gong practitioners have been well known as the best workers in their work units. In the city of Changchun, there was a saying that circulated among employers who were hiring, "We will hire whoever is practicing Falun Gong, because we wish our minds to be at ease." At home, practitioners are good husbands, good wives, and good children, always working to ensure a peaceful and harmonious family life. These qualities do not disrupt social order, but ensure it.
Mr. Li Hongzhi has clearly stated, "All Falun Gong cultivators have to strictly obey the laws of various countries. Any behaviors that violate the policies and laws of a country are prohibited by the virtues of Falun Gong." Emphasis on compassion, harmony and serenity ensure a society that runs smoothly, matching well the Chinese Government's desire to have "Stability above all else." No matter whether they are on the street, at work, or with their families, all Falun Gong practitioners try their best to help others and be a positive part of society. Rather than praising and embracing Falun Gong's positive impact on society, the government has instead chased millions and millions of good people to the opposite side of the Chinese government and has stirred up strife, causing great social unrest. Parents have been hauled off to jails or sent to labor camps, leaving their kids behind, sometimes even unattended. Families and communities have been physically ripped apart by the Chinese government's persecution. Mothers have been made to slander their daughters, sons to turn in their fathers, and neighbors to police and report on one another. Literally, nobody has been allowed to remain neutral. Countless students have been kicked out of school for practicing Falun Gong. Numerous adults have been dismissed from work and heavily fined for not renouncing their practice. Who then, we ask the Chinese government, has disrupted social stability? If Falun Gong had, somehow, in some minor way disrupted social stability (and this has yet to be shown at all), then the Chinese Government has clearly, objectively outdone the practice one-hundred fold.
References and Footnotes
(1) 4/26, Central Daily
(2) The introductory book China Falun Gong was renamed Falun Gong after the persecution began in China in July 1999.
(3) Mingbao, 5/5/99, electronic edition. (Hong Kong newspaper)