The Most Oppressed Group in China, Ignored by the Media
The first time I visited China in 1995, throngs of Falun Gong practitioners would be practicing meditation and flowing Qi Gong movements in parks, squares, and university campuses every morning. When I returned in the early 2000s, they were absent. The change speaks volumes of the phenomenal rise — and barbarous putting down by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — of a movement drawing on Taoism and Buddhism and having deep resonance with ordinary Chinese.
The largely unreported story of Falun Gong is one of persecution, enslavement, torture, and rape orchestrated by the CCP. Since 2000, Falun Gong adherents have also been subjected to forced organ-harvesting to feed China's multi-billion-dollar transplant industry, documented in great detail in the report Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter. But for The Epoch Times and some small media outlets, no one would have known of the horrific oppression of this harmless group, for the mainstream media have ignored it completely.
The Falun Gong movement began in China in 1992, at a time when Qi Gong — which combines Buddhist meditation and tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance with Taoist ideas and martial arts–based flow exercises — had gained popularity for its health benefits and spiritual engagement. Informal networks of volunteers taught the exercises and shared spiritual texts for free. The Falun Dafa Information Center (Faluninfo) attributes the dramatic rise in Falun Gong's popularity to the Chinese people's deep-felt need to connect to their rich traditional roots after the violent decades of political and social chaos under Mao's cultural revolution.
Until 1999, the CCP did not see the movement as threatening. In fact, the Ministry of Public Security said Falun Gong enhanced social stability. China's sports commission endorsed it as a cost-saver for the healthcare system. Despite Falun Gong not being on the list of recognized religions "tolerated" by the officially atheist Chinese state, it was not deemed anti-government. It even received government support and positive coverage in the state media. Although the constitution gives people the freedom to practice religion, followers of all religions — including traditional Chinese beliefs, viewed as superstitious — faced monitoring, repression, and some persecution. Falun Gong, however, was spared that.
Li Hongzhi, who founded Falun Gong and established its disciplines, received permission to teach the practice. Without membership, without donations, without temples, without clergy, and with a focus on the difficult goal of holistic personal improvement, Falun Gong grew so much in popularity that by 1999, the CCP reported that the group had 70 million–100 million practitioners. This was more than the CCP's membership. Suddenly, Falun Gong was seen as a threat to the party's authoritarian control. Its emphasis on spirituality was declared in conflict with communist materialism, party discipline, and nationalism.
A crackdown began, along with targeted propaganda — for it was difficult to credibly deprecate a movement that represented the essence of centuries-old Chinese culture, which had survived the communists' efforts to root it out. (Tibetan or Islamic Uighur cultures, in contrast, were easier to discredit as alien.) In 2001, a self-immolation drama, which Faluninfo describes as "a cruel (but clever) piece of stunt work," was orchestrated in Tiananmen Square. Five alleged practitioners set themselves ablaze; two of them died. Western media was skeptical about the official account. Falun Gong practitioners pointed out that the exercises were performed incorrectly and that suicide is contrary to the teachings of the movement, casting suspicion on the veracity of the incident and pointing to the probable involvement of the CCP.
The CCP followed through with an onslaught of physical and psychological attacks: book-burnings, mass detentions, show trials, public beatings of adherents, and torture to make them renounce their faith. Reference to the movement was censored on the internet, and practitioners were put under electronic surveillance. Fake reports and articles alleged that Falun Gong prohibited interracial marriage, homosexuality, and modern medicine. This was most likely to present the movement to the West in a negative light.
In the third stage of the crackdown, in late 2000, President Jiang Zemin declared that the group was set on "overthrowing the Chinese government, and undermining socialism." He established the 6-10 Office, a Gestapo-like force to track down Falun Gong followers and "defame, bankrupt, and physically destroy" them. They faced the loss of homes, jobs, and college degrees and were held in brainwashing centers and labor camps established across China. Criminal law was amended to punish Falun Gong practice with a 15-year jail term, extendable to life imprisonment.
The West, oblivious to Falun Gong, was at that time looking to expand commercial ties with China. So China used its considerable political and economic clout to defame Falun Gong as a dangerous cult. Foreign officials working out deals with China or Chinese companies were fed misinformation on Falun Gong. Students receiving scholarships to study in China or visiting it under exchange programs were directed to defame the practice. Chinese settled abroad were influenced or coerced to infiltrate Falun Gong groups in their countries and inform on them.
The free world has been complicit in this repression, blinded by its desire to cultivate Chinese leaders for business. So-called liberal academics and reporters — who find it easy to speak out in democracies like America, which they vow to systemically change — have succumbed to the fear of pressure from Chinese embassies, denial of visas, other travel restrictions, and suspension or loss of press and academic credentials. Payments and other benefits have also been used to co-opt them. Confucius Institutes in schools and colleges around the world — there are about a hundred in the U.S. — function as propaganda arms of the CCP, turning young minds against Falun Gong.
Chinese clout has extinguished negative reports of atrocities against Falun Gong. Promised a Chinese version of its newspaper, the New York Times declared Falun Gong dangerous and suppressed an article on China's forced organ-harvesting. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other forever protesting rights groups look away. The United Nations called China's brutal crackdown on Falun Gong "an issue of good governance" and sponsored an international conference allowing the CCP to justify itself.
Falun Gong advocates are fighting back as best as they can. They stage nonviolent protests across China and evade censorship to counter disinformation and expose human rights violations. With the help of followers in the diaspora and daedal software, they get video and other evidence of rights violations past Chinese firewalls. They have set up covert radio and television outlets. The movement is the biggest whistleblower against the Chinese state and the CCP. Among the bravest warriors in this fight is The Epoch Times, which the liberal New York Times, beholden to China, denounces as an anti-China right-wing "global-scale misinformation machine" and worse.
Decades of persecution have only sharpened Falun Gong's focus: its mission now is to expose the CCP and bring about a true renaissance of Chinese culture. Since 2004, practitioners have widely disseminated the underground document Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, detailing the CCP's brutality and how it is at odds with Chinese values. It has turned millions of formerly loyal citizens and partisans against the CCP. Tuidang warriors are quitting the CCP and signing public withdrawals from its statements using aliases to avoid reprisals. The hope is to awaken people to the CCP's tyranny and renew traditional Chinese respect for morality and harmony so that they can unite to shake off the shackles of the CCP.
The world is slowly taking note. One recent positive development is that four members of Congress wrote the Stop Forced Organ Harvesting Act of 2021. It directly refers to China's diabolic harvesting of organs from Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners of conscience. Such formal noting of China's legalized genocide could bring Falun Gong some well-deserved publicity for its efforts to rid China of one of history's most oppressive regimes.
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