Outsider's Critique: A Few Questions on the Self-Immolation Incident in Tiananmen Square
[Clearwisdom.net] Self-Immolation Incident in Tiananmen Square on January 23, 2001
It is known in China that the state-run media will not report self-immolation incidents. Over the years, there have been many self-immolation incidents in China and it was said that these self-immolators were mainly unemployed workers. Some of these incidents even occurred in front of government buildings or in public places. The authorities often kept these incidents in a low profile and kept the news of them from spreading to the public. If any reporter dared to report this type of incident, he or she would be seriously punished [because of betraying confidential information].
Without precedence, the state-run newspaper, Xinhua News Agency, immediately issued the news of the Tiananmen self-immolation without any hesitation and expressively pointed out that the self-immolators were Falun Gong practitioners from Kaifeng City in Henan Province. No one knew how the authorities were able to know that these self-immolators were from Kaifeng. Maybe they all had their IDs or similar documents with them? Another question is how did the authorities identify these self-immolators as Falun Gong practitioners? If these people had Falun Gong materials with them such as scriptures, pictures or other signs, the authorities would not miss such a chance to show these materials to the public. Displaying these materials to the public later would have less credibility. So far, we have not seen the authorities displaying any kinds of these materials to the public.
Let's take one step backward and assume that these self-immolators were Falun Gong practitioners. Then why would they choose self-immolation? There are two scenarios: one is that they wanted to use this way to complete their cultivation in Falun Dafa, and the other is they wanted to use this way to protest against the authorities.
The first scenario, however, simply cannot be justified. First of all, Falun Gong is against committing suicide. Some people knew that Falun Gong practitioners are not afraid of death, and consequently they developed the notion that Falun Gong practitioners would make light of their lives. In fact, it is not true at all. Being not afraid of death is totally different from taking one's life lightly. In fact, many examples in the past have proven to us that the people with a belief in Gods are always able to endure more tribulations in their lives than those who do not. Actually, a lot of people choose to believe in Gods exactly because they want to develop resolute courage to lead their lives.
Secondly, some people may associate collective self-immolation with the "People's Holy Palace Sect" and relate it to Falun Gong. These two cannot be compared because their teachings are entirely different. One has to realize the reason that incidents like the collective self-immolation in the "People's Holy Palace Sect" happen is that the sect has promoted the theory of "Doomsday" to begin with. However, a lot of religions including Christianity also promoted various theories concerning doomsday. Therefore, simply promoting doomsday is not enough to lead followers to commit suicide. What is more important is that such a religion would need to declare the arrival of a doomsday, that only the believers can be saved, and that one can be saved only by committing suicide. We have never seen this type of propaganda in Falun Gong.
Thirdly, it is rather difficult to convince people to commit suicide, and it won't work simply via propaganda. It usually needs the founder of that sect to be personally involved on the scene and he needs to exercise his personal charisma to create a particular atmosphere with certain coercing factors. In addition, they always take a quieter and quicker approach, committing a less painful suicide such as taking poisons or shooting themselves. Therefore, it is questionable to claim that the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square is a way Falun Gong practitioners used to complete their cultivation.
Could this self-immolation incident be considered as an extreme individual action Falun Gong practitioner used to protest against the authorities? It is true that Mr. Li Hongzhi has published a short statement called "Beyond the Limits of Forbearance" not long ago. But it is still questionable if you interpret this statement as Mr. Li's intent to encourage practitioners to take drastic approaches to protest, which led to the self-immolation incident. This is because if these self-immolators wanted to protest to the authorities, our common sense tells us that they would issue a statement, distribute flyers, show their banners, shout their slogans, and take other kinds of approaches to promote their intention and idea to the public. One example of this approach was during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when a group of Buddhists immolated themselves to protest against the war. However, they would have regretted the fact that the public didn't know who they were and the reasons they died for. This is because if the observers do not know the cause you are dying for, then how can you effectively promote the intent and significance of your protest to the public?
Due to lack of reliable evidences, we cannot ascertain the identification of these self-immolators and their intent. The overseas spokesmen of Falun Gong have denied that these self-immolators are Falun Gong practitioners. However, a friend of mine (a Falun Gong practitioner) told me that there are millions of people practicing Falun Gong in China and a lot of their actions were done at their own will. Therefore, we also cannot exclude the possibility that individual Falun Gong practitioners took this approach to express their protest. But one thing can be clearly observed: in the past, the public almost always offered their compassion to those self-immolators, like the monks in South Vietnam. Or at least, we haven't heard that any one turned around to condemn them. It goes without saying that no one would ever attempt to use that incident to prove that Buddhism or the Buddhist Sect is an evil religion and therefore should be strictly banned. Currently, the Chinese government has accused Falun Gong of inciting the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square. Their intention is to use this incident to intensify the suppression and crackdown campaign on Falun Gong. This kind of inhumane logic is, without precedence, absurd.
January 24, 2001 in New York