Remembering April 25th, 1999: Zhu Rongji Led Us Inside Zhongnanhai
This article was first published in March 2004.
The peaceful resolution of the 10,000-strong Zhongnanhai appeal on April 25th, 1999 is mainly attributable to the sincerity, kindness and tolerance that practitioners have derived from their Falun Dafa cultivation. For the good of China and its people, with the best intentions to resolve problems peacefully, trusting the government and not seeing any other alternatives, we chose to appeal as a group to the government. Throughout the entire process, we maintained good order and did not incite a riot or uproar, we did not chant any slogans nor raise our voices.
Additionally, we had heard that the then-Premier, Zhu Rongji, was handling the situation with an open mind. 'Before April 25, 1999, I did not know what stance Zhu Rongji was taking in response to the letters Falun Gong practitioners' had written to the authorities to explain the situation. However, for seven years many government leaders had recognized practitioners to be the most trustworthy and peaceful group of people in any country or environment at any time. A quote attributed to Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the People's Congress after he reviewed an investigative report of Falun Gong conducted in 1998 states that they are "one hundred percent beneficial while posing no harm" to the country, society or the families of those practicing.'
Before the persecution began on July 20, 1999, the practice site I went to on a regular basis was like other practice sites where hundreds of thousands of other Falun Gong practitioners went each night. Also, many practitioners voluntarily went to nearby practitioners' homes to study the Fa together. On April 24, I was a little late when I arrived at the practice site. Seeing that I was late, the assistant, Aunty Li gave me a quick briefing. In the magazine "A Broad Review of Scientific Technologies for Youngsters" "published in Tianjin, He Zuoxiu made slandering remarks and claimed practicing Falun Gong would cause mental disease, implying that Falun Gong would destroy the country and the Party. This article followed the same pattern of many other twisted reports that had recently appeared in about a dozen media outlets without an in-depth investigation.
The intention of the slander and attack was the same as in the "Notice of an Investigative Report on Falun Gong" sent out by the 1st Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security on July 21, 1998. This notice first categorized Falun Gong as "spreading rumors and deviant theories" and requested that Political Security Sections of all local Ministry of Public Security offices launch an investigation. As a result, the Public Security Offices in Xinjiang and Liaoning Provinces started to consider practitioners' normal group practices as "illegal assemblies" and dispersed Falun Gong practitioners with force, wrongfully confiscated 'their personal property, and even physically abused, insulted, fined, arrested and detained practitioners.
According to the "Publishing Industry Guidelines" created by the State Department in 1997, rule 27 of Chapter Three states, "If a newspaper or periodical publishes articles with incorrect or unjust information, damaging the legal welfare of a citizen, a judicial entity or organization, the injured party has the right to request a correction, which the publishing company should promptly publish in their newspaper or periodical. If the publishing company refuses, the injured party may submit a lawsuit to the People's Court."
Accordingly, between April 18th and 24th, Tianjin Falun Gong practitioners went to the magazine company and other pertinent offices to tell the publisher how their minds and bodies had benefited from practicing Falun Gong, hoping that the editor of the magazine would explain the truth thus eliminating the bad influence of the stories on society. At first, the magazine company said that they would correct the mistakes they had made. However, their attitude took a dramatic turn for the worse and they refused to admit their wrongdoings. These developments caught the attention of more and more Falun Gong practitioners' and they went to the magazine company in increasing numbers to communicate with the staff. On April 22, the Tianjin Public Security Bureau suddenly dispatched an anti-riot police force and arrested some practitioners. On April 23, they again sent anti-riot police to hit and disperse the crowd and arrested more than forty people.
Tianjin police even told practitioners that they needed to go to Beijing if they wanted to solve the problem. Rather than reaching a legal and reasonable resolution of this issue through normal channels, practitioners were beaten up and arrested. Under the circumstance practitioners could only conclude that the involvement of a higher authority, the Appeals Office, was required to stop the illegal actions.
Aunty Li said that it was up to each one of us to decide whether we would go. I said that I had not received a reply to a letter I wrote regarding the banning of Zhuan Falun by the News Publishing Bureau. I would be able to address this issue again, if I went to make the appeal and, of course, I would go. Since 1996 the state's News Publishing Bureau had confiscated and banned Falun Gong related books via administrative measures citing the "spread of superstition" as their reason. Many practitioners had written letters to the News Publishing Bureau and central government leaders to protest these government agencies' illegal actions. Yet, after a long time, practitioners still had not had any reply and the situation had not improved. Thus, bringing their messages directly to the central government leaders was now their only choice.
It was around 7 a.m. when I arrived at the north end of Fuyou Street on April 25. Practitioners had already filled up the two sides of Fuyou Street and nearby streets. Some stood there and some sat down, but they did not talk to passers-by. Some were holding books and reading. Even though there were a lot of people, they did not create a traffic jam, nor did they make any noise. Bikers on their way to work were pedaling by as usual. I crossed Xiannmen Boulevard and entered the south side of the city. It was my first time there and I didn't even know where the gate was. I thought I would first circle around to see if I'd run into any practitioners I knew. So I walked south along the west side of Fuyou Street. Practitioners lined up neatly on both sides of the streets. Practitioners on the outside were standing and practitioners on the inside sat down, and were reading the book Zhuan Falun. Judging from their clothing, I could tell that some were from the countryside and they looked sincere and kind. I didn't meet any acquaintances along my way, although I did see many young men reporting on the situation through walkie-talkies. They were probably plainclothes policemen.
While walking further down the street, I heard low but enthusiastic applause. I turned to take a look and saw Zhu Rongji a few dozen meters away walking from the gate across the street. (I had just passed the west gate of Zhongnanhai). Several of his staff members were following him. They walked toward practitioners who were across the gate. Practitioners who were sitting down stood up and applauded. Everyone was very happy and surprised to see Zhu Rongji come out to meet practitioners as soon as he arrived at his office. Everyone wanted to approach him to explain the situation. I walked back quickly and also tried to approach him from inside the crowd. At that moment, a practitioner reminded everyone to stay put and maintain good order.
Zhu Rongji probably had already learned about Falun Gong practitioners' coming to appeal. He asked us loudly, "What are you here for? Who told you to come here?" A lot of practitioners who stood in the front were from countryside and most of them stayed silent.
"You have freedom of religion and beliefs!" He added.
"We are Falun Gong practitioners and we are here to explain the situation." Some practitioners in the crowd replied.
"If you have any problem, you can send some representatives up here and I'll take you inside for a discussion." Zhu Rongji paused, then said, "I can't possibly talk to so many of you!"
Zhu Rongji encouraged us to designate representatives to talk to him. However, we had all come spontaneously and most of us did not even know each other and had never thought about designating representatives. Since our practice is entirely voluntary, we just come to practice whenever we feel like it and if we don't have the time we just go about our own business. Nobody signs up for anything and nobody ever checks headcounts, let alone elect representatives.
"Do you have any representatives? Who among you are the spokespersons?" He again asked.
At that moment I walked up towards him and ended up about two meters from him. "Premier Zhu, I can go with you." I was the first one from the crowd who volunteered to walk to his side.
"Who else?" Zhu Rongji asked.
All of a sudden, everyone raised their hands.
Every practitioner wanted to go in to convey his or her message.
"We cannot have too many people." Zhu Rongji pointed at the first three persons. In fact, we were not elected or designated representatives, but spontaneous volunteers.
Zhu Rongji turned and led us toward the west gate of Zhongnanhai. As he walked he raised his voice and asked us, "Didn't I already comment on the situation you guys reported?"
"We did not see it!" We replied in surprise.
He probably realized something and changed the subject, "I'll get the director of the Appeals Office to talk to you. I'll get the Deputy Secretary to talk to you." He turned to his staff members and asked them to find the people he mentioned. At that time we arrived at the Security Guards Post on the west gate of Zhongnanhai. The staff members signaled us to stop and took us to the left into a reception room while Zhu Rongji went into Zhongnanhai to work.
Soon after, four officials in their thirties and forties came in. One of them who was in his forties sat across me. According to Zhu Rongji, he was the person in charge of the Appeals Office. "We are here on the Premier's request to try to understand the situation'. You guys first give us your information." He said. The three of us took turns telling them our names, work units and phone numbers. Every one of them was taking notes.
One of the female practitioners was an employee of a computer company in Beijing University. She started by saying, "He Zhuoxiu published an article that slandered Falun Gong in an educational magazine in Tianjin"
"Who?" The person in charge of the Appeal Office did not seem to understand and interrupted her.
"He Zhuoxiu." Together we replied.
"So it's just about He Zhuoxiu! [So what!?]" He said as he took notes dismissively.
"It's He Zhuoxiu again!" Another official muttered.
"Tianjin Falun Gong practitioners went to the magazine to explain the true situation, however the police arrested more than forty practitioners. We hope that they can release them as soon as possible." The female practitioner added.
From the looks on their faces, some seemed to understand the situation. But the man in his forties didn't seem to understand. He turned to the young man by his side and seemed to check with him about the situation in Tianjin.
"Falun Gong practices 'Truth, Compassion and Tolerance.' We have personally benefited from the practice, therefore we told our friends and relatives. They also benefited from the practice after a while so they told their friends and relatives. It has been spreading from one person to another and from heart to heart. As a result, more and more people joined the practice of Falun Gong. Now in some areas practitioners' suffered disruption of their exercise practice. We hope that we can have a fair and lawful environment for our cultivation practice." The female practitioner and another practitioner who had been laid off from his job all said the same thing.
"Also, the book Zhun Falun used to be published openly and publicly. But the government's News Publishing Bureau banned the publication of the book. So there are a lot of pirated editions circulated in society. We hope that you can give permission to allow open and public publication of Zhuan Falun." I reiterated the situation I had addressed in my previous letters.
The four officials took notes as they listened. The three of us took turns adding our own perspective to the conversation.
We also discussed the government's policy about the "Forbidden Three" on Qigong and Human Body Science ("no promotion, no dispute and no stick-whipping"), and agreed that different levels of government offices and news media should execute this policy.
During our discussions the middle-aged official seemed to realize that we were not designated representatives who had been prepared to negotiate. He probably did not know that we were randomly picked by Zhu Rongji. "Do you have anybody who is in charge that can act as a representative? Can you find two persons that are in charge?" He asked.
"Then I'll go look for veteran practitioners." I replied. There is nobody really in charge in the cultivation of Falun Dafa. Everyone follows the Fa to determine what he or she should do. We have personally benefited from the practice and want to be good people, so we insist on practicing Falun Gong. The officials were looking for persons in charge but I' had no idea who that would be. All I could do was to find practitioners who had started practicing Falun Gong early on who might give them some more information.
He agreed and signaled a staff member to take me out to find somebody.
I went to practitioners across the west gate and asked if anybody had more knowledge of the situation. However, most of us did not know each other very well. I asked several practitioners when they started practicing Falun Gong. Eventually, I found somebody who started practicing Falun Gong in 1994 and we returned to the reception room at the west gate of Zhongnanhai. Before he could even explain, the middle-aged official interrupted him, "We'll report your situation to the State Department and leaders in the central government as soon as possible. When you leave, please tell every one to go home. Go home as soon as possible."
"Mainly there are three issues we want to address: First we hope that Tianjin police will release the Falun Gong practitioners as soon as possible. The second is to allow the open publication of Zhuan Falun. The third is to be allowed a fair and lawful environment to practice Falun Gong." When we were leaving, I summed up our requests and gave them several copies of Zhuan Falun as gifts for the government leaders to read.
Later, the situation indicated that the message we conveyed was also what a lot of practitioners wanted to tell the government. On the same afternoon, supervisors from the State Department talked to practitioners from the Beijing Falun Dafa Association and they discussed similar issues.
After we left the building, practitioners were anxious to find out if the Tianjin police would release the detained practitioners. I briefly explained the situation to practitioners standing near the west gate entrance and I told them that it was not clear if the practitioners would be released. So everyone stayed put and waited to see if the situation would be resolved. On the sidelines were plainclothes policemen who carefully monitored my words and my moves. They probably thought that I was one of the organizers who had organized the appeal, or that I was in charge and they kept following me. As a matter of fact, I was just one of the average Falun Gong practitioners. (A few days later, a colleague in my work unit told me that during that night someone asked for my file and ran a check on me. But they did not find anything special in my records.)
In the early Beijing spring, the sun is usually baking hot by noon. As more and more people gathered around Zhongnanhai, the situation was kept in good order. The practitioners all came from different areas. They had personally benefited from the practice and knew full well the truth of Falun Gong. We were also very concerned with how the government would handle the incident of Tianjin policemen unreasonably arresting practitioners. The minds of the practitioners' were very peaceful and they quietly waited for any messages.
I thought that my own appeal had expressed the issues I was concerned with and I still had other things to attend to that day, so I went home soon after I left the walls of Zhongnanhai.
On the same evening, I went to attend group study as usual, but nearby practitioners were mostly not home. I guessed that they had also gone to make an appeal and had not returned home yet. At about 9 p.m. I decided to go to Zhongnanhai again. On my way I saw the streets filled with practitioners heading home. I learned that the situation had been properly resolved, so I also went home.
(The author is Shi Caidong who is a Falun Dafa practitioner. On April 25, He was studying for his Ph. D. degree at the China Science Institute. He has been a visiting scholar at Delaware University, USA, since November 2002. He currently resides in New York.)