When tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners peacefully assembled on April 25, 1999, in Beijing, to ask the Chinese communist state to stop its harassment of them, they took the first steps in what would become the largest and most sustained movement of civil disobedience in modern China. The practitioners also set in motion changes that are shifting how Chinese society relates to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to leading Chinese dissidents.
Through the power of the example of civil disobedience dramatically displayed on April 25, and then employed on a daily basis after the persecution began on July 20, 1999, Falun Gong practitioners have shown dissidents how to oppose the Chinese regime, while giving them inspiration, hope, and support, these dissidents say.
Mr. Zhong Weiguang is an expert on totalitarianism who now lives in Germany. He says that after the practitioner’s peaceful appeal on April 25, “I started thinking of what a scary society Chinese society is. The Chinese Communist Party, like all communist parties, uses lies and terror to rule the country.”
Not a Falun Gong practitioner himself, Mr. Zhong has come to greatly admire the effect Falun Gong practitioners are having on China, admiration that began with the events of April 25, 1999. Eleven years later, Mr. Zhong says he realizes the meaning of the appeal on April 25 is “so much deeper” than he initially realized. “Among Chinese dissident movements, there has never been a movement like this,” he says.
Mr. Guo Guoting, an exiled Chinese human rights lawyer now living in Canada, is also not a Falun Gong practitioner. Like Mr. Zhong, he also sees Falun Gong as unique in Chinese society. “Under the whole violent, totalitarian CCP, there has been wave after wave of crazy persecution and attacks, but there has never been an organization or group that openly stands up and protects its legal rights,” he says.
According to Mr. Guo, “The meaning of April 25 is just the spirit of civil disobedience.”
Mr. Guo says that since seizing power in 1949 (and even before then), the CCP has carried out political campaigns using propaganda, thought reform, linguistic engineering, social pressure, violence, and sheer terror; one segment of the population is labeled by the Party and the rest of the population is supposed to “struggle” against them.
The same model, Mr. Guo says, has been used to stigmatize, attack, and attempt to break Falun Gong.
Previously, none of the groups or professions targeted in this way have dared or known how to defend their rights, according to Mr. Guo. “So when Falun Gong started doing this, every Chinese person was taken off guard,” he said. The unwillingness to be cowed by the CCP is part of what made Falun Gong’s efforts so unusual, he says.
“The other point is that this isn’t a hotheaded resistance that is quickly over,” says Mr. Guo. “It’s been an ongoing process, an extraordinarily tenacious process of protecting their rights to their beliefs, a display of persistence and dauntlessness.”
According to Mr. Zhong, the peaceful, rational methods used on April 25 have given Chinese activists a great model to follow, one that is both a benchmark and inspiration.
Mr. Zhong says that the Falun Gong practitioners have helped make it possible for China’s dissidents to be heard. According to Mr. Zhong, Falun Gong practitioners, by establishing independent media companies, have given Chinese dissidents a platform from which they can project their own voices.
In addition, the Falun Gong example can help the democracy activists understand their own movement better.
According to Mr. Zhong, “Because of our own internal disorder, and internal conflict, and our inability to work hard long term toward a goal, the overseas democracy movement has moved step by step to being ineffectual.”
The example of Falun Gong practitioners’ persistent work to defend their own rights has held a mirror up to Chinese democracy movement so that they can examine their own behavior more clearly, says Mr. Zhong.
Rights Defense Movement
Over the last several years a rights defense movement has developed in China. It includes protests by peasants whose land has been taken away, by laid off workers, and by people whose homes have been taken from them. It also includes human rights lawyers who have sought to develop the rule of law in China by demanding in court that the CCP obey China’s Constitution and laws.
“From many angles it can be said that if there was no resistance from Falun Gong, today there would not be so many Chinese people defending their rights, and there wouldn’t be this rights defense movement today,” Mr. Zhong says.
Mr. Guo says that just as Martin Luther King and Gandhi promoted nonviolent resistance, so, "In China this movement of nonviolent civil disobedience is precisely Falun Gong. And this disobedience began right on April 25. I think it has given every sector of Chinese society an extremely meaningful and effective path: peaceful appeal and protest, peaceful noncooperation.”
Mr. Guo sees in the path of civil disobedience blazed by Falun Gong practitioners hope for China’s future. “This movement, I think, this kind of thing is what can finally put an end to the CCP’s violent rule. And this can stop the whole society from falling into chaos, or descending into barbarism, or descending into violence, or massacre, or ‘blood running like rivers.’”
Moral and Cultural Meaning
“Before Falun Gong’s civil disobedience began, as a Chinese intellectual I felt that we were very lonely,” Mr. Zhong says. “In terms of the communist culture, that whole CCP stuff, the way of life it forced on us, I can’t accept that. And if you don’t accept that in Chinese society, you’re very lonely.
“But after Falun Gong practitioners appeared, because their beliefs naturally set them apart from the CCP, they have with them a new kind of culture, and due to its inclusiveness and inner meaning, it has given the whole dissident movement enormous support,” says Mr. Zhong.
“Every Chinese person, everyone knows that in everyday life in Chinese society, in people-to-people relationships, people’s ethics and morals, and the morals of society, and the ethics of those who go overseas—all of this is already rotten,” says Mr. Zhong.
“The CCP’s rule is not just an issue of the CCP’s rule, but it has made every Chinese person used to lies, and not just used to them, but also made them participants in the lies. So we see that today in Falun Gong practitioner’s existence in Chinese society that there’s honesty and uprightness. There are people following traditional ethical values, and living their lives in this way,” he says.
The Chinese human rights lawyer Mr. Gao Zhisheng in an open letter in December 2005 to China’s paramount leader Hu Jintao and head of the state bureaucracy Wen Jiabao, said: “In contrast to the current situation where the humanity, conscience, morality, compassion, and responsibility of our society is suffering an overall deterioration, these [Falun Gong] cultivators, as a group reborn from the old nation, have impacted all of these areas in a positive way. One can feel the powerful way in which faith can change one's soul. Indeed it has allowed me to see a spark of hope for rescuing our nation from its current depraved state.”