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The right to appeal or petition against injustice should be protected by any government, yet Chinese citizens are often retaliated against for doing just that. In the past few decades, petitioners across China have traveled to Beijing to appeal for their legal rights, only to be taken back to their area by their local police. Some petitioners were tortured in custody and even died as a result, while others received death threats from the authorities. 

On April 25, 1999, a group of citizens in Tianjin also tried to appeal for their rights. Usually, local officials dread their residents going to Beijing to appeal as that is considered by their superiors to be an indication of their incompetence in suppressing the people. The Tianjin authorities, however, not only did not stop the citizens from appealing, but even encouraged the petitioners to appeal in Beijing. 

When these Tianjin petitioners arrived at the state council’s appeals office near Zhongnanhai (the central government compound in Beijing), they found that they were not alone. Nearly 10,000 people had come from Beijing and nearby provinces. From farmers to scholars, from military personnel to government officials, they came from all walks of life. 

This incident drew broad attention around the world. Major news media such as the Associated Press, BBC, and the New York Times all reported it. They referred to it as the largest, most peaceful, and the best appeal in China. Later known as the “April 25 Peaceful Appeal,” it included about 10,000 participants of all age groups, professions, and backgrounds. One thing in common, though, was that they were all practitioners of Falun Dafa, a spiritual discipline also known as Falun Gong. 

Back then, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had not officially banned Falun Gong. Because of its undeniable effect in improving health and elevating character, Falun Gong spread quickly through word of mouth. Many Falun Gong practitioners have had their health restored, including renowned tenor Mr. Guan Guimin (who recovered from liver cirrhosis), Olympics silver medal winner Ms. Huang Xiaomin (who recovered from illnesses incurred as a result of decades of athletic swimming), and Mr. Ye Hao, then deputy chief of the 11th Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security. 

Falun Gong was widely known at the time and nearly all households in China had heard about it. According to official statistics by the Chinese authorities, there were about 70 to 100 million people practicing Falun Gong in China. Qiao Shi, former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, conducted a thorough investigation of the practice in 1998. “Falun Gong has tremendous benefits and brings no harm to the nation or people,” he concluded. The report was also submitted to the Politburo headed by Jiang Zemin (former CCP leader) later that year. 

So, why did thousands of Falun Gong practitioners go to Beijing to appeal on April 25, 1999? Why did the Tianjin officials encourage their local practitioners to do so? We need to go back and look at earlier events, beginning in 1996. 

On June 17, 1996, the CCP’s mouthpiece, Guangming Daily, published an opinion article openly defaming and attacking Falun Gong. On July 24 of that year, Jiang Zemin instructed the Central Propaganda Department to issue an internal policy on behalf of its subordinate General Administration of Press and Publication. Distributed to all provincial press and publication bureaus in China, this policy banned the publication of Zhuan Falun, the book comprising the main teachings of Falun Dafa. At that time, Zhuan Falun was one of the 10 bestsellers in Beijing. 

Why was Jiang so against Falun Gong? A clue can be found in a letter to his fellow Politburo officials, written by Jiang on the night of April 25, 1999. In this letter, Jiang mentioned two reasons to suppress Falun Gong. One was the large number of practitioners. Another was the ideological difference between Falun Gong and the CCP. Information obtained by the Washington Post showed that, “The standing committee of the Politburo did not unanimously endorse the crackdown and that President Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated.” One Party official explained, “This obviously is very personal for Jiang... He wants this organization crushed.”

Dean Peerman, Contributing Editor at the Christian Century Foundation, said that Falun Gong and its founder Mr. Li Hongzhi were well received by the public. He said Jiang persecuted Falun Gong because of personal jealousy of Mr. Li. In fact, under Jiang’s instruction, Central Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC) Party secretary Luo Gan ordered the Ministry of Public Security in early 1997 to look for evidence nationwide to frame Falun Gong. Practitioners in many places in China noticed new faces that suddenly appeared at group practice sites. These were secret agents dispatched to collect information against Falun Gong. However, not one police department nationwide was able to find any evidence of illegal, harmful, or anti-government activity, and this so-called investigation was aborted. 

But Jiang and Luo did not stop. Another initiative was soon started by He Zuoxiu, whose wife is a sister of Luo’s wife. Despite being a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), He Zuoxiu was often deemed a “scientific ruffian” by the public. Back in college, He correlated class struggle with natural science, which landed him a job in the Central Propaganda Department upon graduation. His specialty was interpreting quantum mechanics using Marxism, which earned him the title of CAS member in theoretical physics. Known to be very good at flattery, He Zuoxiu also applied quantum mechanics to Jiang’s speeches in order to please him. 

After the Ministry of Public Security’s attempt to frame Falun Gong failed, He openly slandered the practice with false information on a Beijing Television Station in late May 1998. After practitioners peacefully approached the station and talked about how He Zuoxiu’s presentation was incorrect, an official at the television station said this was the worst mistake the station had made in its history. One staff member was terminated for the slanderous program and another program was aired soon afterward with footage showing practitioners’ peaceful exercises in a park. 

After this incident, a deputy mayor of Beijing issued a policy that banned the news media in Beijing from interviewing He. He Zuoxiu then went to Tianjin and published an article slandering Falun Gong in the Youth Science and Technology Expo magazine, a publication affiliated with the Tianjin Institute of Education, on April 11, 1999. Several practitioners went to the publisher between April 18 and 24 to talk to them about what Falun Gong really is. Upon hearing from practitioners, the editorial staff were sincere and offered to make corrections. But their attitude soon changed. Citing instructions from “higher officials,” they reversed their stance and said that no action would be taken to correct that article. In the meantime, the Tianjian Police Department dispatched riot police to the magazine office between April 23 and 24. Practitioners were beaten by the police, and 45 practitioners in total were arrested. 

After the arrests, more practitioners arrived in Tianjin and appealed to the Tianjin City government to release the arrested practitioners. The Tianjin police told them that the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing had gotten involved, and without permission from Beijing, the arrested practitioners would not be released. In addition, the Tianjin police specifically “advised” practitioners to take their appeal to Beijing. “This issue will not be resolved unless you go there,” said an officer. 

Trusting the authorities, the Falun Gong practitioners did not question the advice from the Tianjin police, and they traveled to Beijing to make their appeal. Practitioners in nearby provinces heard about these happenings and spontaneously joined the effort. Given that there were tens of millions of practitioners in China at the time, had this been an organized action, many more practitioners would have participated in the appeal. 

On April 25, 1999, about 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered outside the State Council’s Appeals Office. They did not know that a large number of police officers, both in uniform and plainclothes, were already assembled there. As if following orders, these officers led practitioners to both sides of the entrance of Zhongnanhai, the central government compound. As a result of practitioners being directed by the police to form this lineup, the CCP later falsely labeled the appeal as “besieging Zhongnanhai.” 

More police officers arrived and stood about 10 meters apart. Some of the newly arrived police officers were nervous. But they soon calmed down when they noticed that Falun Gong practitioners were very peaceful and kind. 

Ms. Zhou Linna was part of the appeal that day. “I stayed there the entire day, from morning until 9 p.m.,” she recalled. “Everyone was quiet – some were reading Falun Gong books and some just stood there. The younger ones stood in the front, while older practitioners stood in the back. Some were reading or doing meditation on a mat.”

Seeing this peaceful situation, a number of officers went inside their police vans for a rest. Some officers chatted or smoked to kill time. Because of the good reputation of Falun Gong in the eyes of the general public and government officials, several police officers talked with practitioners and learned about what had happened and why they were there. 

Several plainclothes CCP agents posed as practitioners, trying to incite them to attack Zhongnanhai. Following Falun Gong’s principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, however, practitioners did not fall into the trap. They remained peaceful and calm throughout the day. 

Although the CCP later claimed practitioners had surrounded and attacked Zhongnanhai, it was just a pretext used by the regime to frame Falun Gong. This also showed the hidden agenda behind the scenes as this incident was plotted. He Zuoxiu first wrote an article to defame Falun Gong and the Tianjin police then arrested practitioners when they sought justice. After the Tianjin officials “encouraged the practitioners to appeal in Beijing,” the regime then had an excuse to frame Falun Gong and launch an all-out campaign against the practice. 

But Jiang and Luo did not expect that then Premier Zhu Rongji would see the Falun Gong practitioners when he returned to Zhongnanhai after sending off foreign diplomats at the airport. Zhu asked the Appeals Office officials to invite representatives of practitioners to come in for a talk. Several practitioners volunteered and met with the premier. They raised three requests: first, they asked for the release of the practitioners arrested in Tianjin; second, they requested that practitioners be allowed to practice Falun Gong freely and in peace; third, they wanted the ban on the publication of Falun Gong books to be lifted. 

Zhu agreed to the requests, and all practitioners left peacefully. Before leaving, they cleaned up the area and picked up all the trash around them, even the cigarette butts left by the police officers. One police officer who saw this was impressed and said, “Look! This is virtue.”

Some people have said that it was because of this appeal that Jiang launched the persecution against Falun Gong three months later. But as we can see from the progression of events, Jiang’s regime had been planning such a suppression for a long time. The April 25 Peaceful Appeal was a natural action by practitioners to stop the unreasonable acts of suppression. Although Jiang’s regime started the persecution on July 20, 1999, the appeal did show the Chinese public, as well as the international community, how peaceful Falun Gong practitioners are, setting a high moral standard for modern Chinese society. 

Throughout the all-out suppression that started in 1999, Falun Gong practitioners have safeguarded their faith with courage and perseverance. They remain compassionate and calm when exposing the brutality, while calling for an end to the persecution. In fact, they are doing so not only for Falun Gong practitioners, but also for the basic rights of all Chinese citizens.

Over the past 23 years, more and more people have realized that the CCP has gradually extended the suppression of Falun Gong to all Chinese citizens as a whole. When Falun Gong’s principles of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance are under attack, society becomes dishonest, violent, and degenerate. By listening to our conscience, supporting innocent Falun Gong practitioners, and rejecting the totalitarian CCP regime, we will head to a better future. 

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