A former Chinese defense official recently condemned the persecution of the Chinese spiritual discipline Falun Gong, one of the most politically sensitive and highly censored topics in the country.
Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice, has been persecuted in its homeland since 1999. The security campaign against the group came along with a strenuous propaganda offensive, which said that the practice—which consists of slow meditative exercises and moral teachings—was a danger to social stability and must be “eradicated.” Since then, discussing it outside of official propaganda messaging has been strictly forbidden.
But now Xin Ziling, a Party member who held a range of important posts in the military before his retirement, has taken to the airwaves to condemn the persecution of Falun Gong.
Open repudiation of the Party’s anti-Falun Gong campaign is rarely seen in China, and in years past any who spoke out publicly against the persecution could have expected swift retribution.
“Re-evaluate Mao Zedong, redress the victims of the Tiananmen massacre, and end the persecution of Falun Gong,” said Xin, in an interview with the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television.
He was speaking with the broadcaster after being asked for his thoughts on news that 200 million Chinese people had renounced the Party through a movement called Tuidang.
Xin was formerly the director of the editorial desk at China National Defense University, the top institution for higher education of defense officials in China. He later became an open apostate, and penned books critical of Mao Zedong. He is believed to be under effective house arrest at his Beijing residence.
A Changing Political Climate
When former Communist Party head Jiang Zemin initiated the campaign against Falun Gong, he placed it as a matter of utmost political importance, forcing the entire Party membership and the military to swear allegiance to him and the Communist Party, and “struggle” against the practice. Those who refused to denounce it were subject to forceful re-education, otherwise known as brainwashing.
The campaign’s overt political importance appeared to fade over the following decade, though the persecution continued, and it remained a forbidden topic of public discourse in China.
“The breakthrough point might be live human organ harvesting. The European Union, the United States, Canada, and parliaments in numerous countries, and various rights organizations have already officially condemned the crimes,” Xin said.
Xin’s remarks are highly unusual in China. Two years ago a Chinese blogger was detained by police for alleging online several cases of organ harvesting from living prisoners of conscience—a majority of whom are Falun Gong practitioners.
Xin’s statement emerges in a rapidly changing political context, where dozens of powerful officials with close ties to Jiang Zemin, who led the anti-Falun Gong campaign, have been arrested and put on trial.
These include Zhou Yongkang, the former chief of the security apparatus, and Li Dongsheng, the top official in charge of the 610 Office, the secret Party taskforce that was set up to carry out the persecution. Official propaganda channels have even accused some of these officials of forming a clique to seize power.
Blaming Jiang’s Faction
As Jiang’s political influence continues to wane, a range of figures have stepped forth—perhaps as part of a deliberate information campaign, perhaps acting spontaneously and individually—to blame crimes of organ harvesting on officials connected with Jiang Zemin.
In March, Huang Jiefu, China’s organ transplantation head, strongly hinted in an interview with Hong Kong-based, pro-Beijing broadcaster Phoenix Television that ex-security czar Zhou Yongkang was involved in the illegal organ trade.
Jiang Yanyong, the military surgeon who exposed SARS, told a Hong Kong broadcaster in March that Xu Caihou, formerly the second most powerful man in the military, was responsible for live organ harvesting throughout military hospitals in China.
On April 10, Ge Jianxiong, a leading member of the Communist Party’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told New Tang Dynasty Television that it is very possible that Zhou, whom he characterized as an “evil person,” is behind organ harvesting. Ge also felt that Zhou’s organ harvesting crimes should be brought up in his indictment.
In a phone call recorded by investigators with the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, Bai Shuzhong, the former health minister of the army’s logistics department, is on the record saying that it was Jiang Zemin, the former Party leader, who ordered the removal of organs from live Falun Gong practitioners.
Bai’s voice is clearly audible and corresponds with his voice in publicly available recordings. The human rights investigators posed as internal Party control authorities, and pressured Bai to respond to questions about Jiang and organ harvesting.
A Brutal Persecution
Jiang Zemin, the former Party leader, became infamous for how he made the anti-Falun Gong campaign a personal crusade.
“When it came to suppressing Falun Gong, six of the seven Standing Committee members opposed it,” Xin Ziling said. “So he held another meeting and eventually forced through his decision.” The Politburo Standing Committee is the most powerful decision-making body in China.
Falun Gong practitioners numbered between 70 million and 100 million in China at the time, having grown organically through the country since the early 1990s.
Practitioners who publicly protested the persecution were arrested, tortured, and subjected to brainwashing in detention.
The Falun Dafa Information Center has reported that over 3,800 practitioners have been killed due to torture and abuse. Due to the difficulty of getting information out of China, the true figure is believed to be much higher.
In 2006, two Canadian investigators—human rights lawyer David Matas, and former parliamentarian David Kilgour—released a report alleging that tens of thousands of organs from Falun Gong practitioners were being harvested for profit. Most recently American journalist Ethan Gutmann presented similar research in his book “The Slaughter,” concluding that over 60,000 practitioners were killed for their organs between 2000 and 2008.
Bucking the Trend
It appears that not everyone in the Party could stomach the brutality.
In the interview with NTD Television, Xin Ziling said that former Premier Wen Jiabao confronted Zhou Yongkang over the issue of organ harvesting when Zhou still headed the Party’s security apparatus in 2011.
“You harvest organs from the living without anesthetic. Is this humane? We haven’t been able to face this issue or resolve it. … How can we explain this to the people?” Wen said, according to Xin.
“Many people at the top have proposed to resolve this; the persecution of Falun Gong is Jiang Zemin’s legacy, and shouldn’t be continued from generation to generation,” Wen added, in Xin’s account.
These remarks, attributed to Wen Jiabao, have in fact been reported before. The Epoch Times provided a similar account of the encounter between the two officials in 2013. Xin, when asked the source of his account of Wen’s remarks, indicated that he had heard it through internal channels.
The Party has not re-evaluated Mao Zedong, as Xin has asked. It also has not acknowledged the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre—although it has finally allowed Zhao Ziyang, the late premier who supported the pro-democracy student movement, to have his ashes buried 10 years after his death.
Regarding Falun Gong, Xin admits the issue is difficult.
“This is a very complex political issue,” said Xin in the NTD interview, referring to the persecution of Falun Gong. “How should it be revealed?”
At the moment, Xi Jinping is still in the process of rooting out the influence of Jiang Zemin over Chinese politics, and many of the officials that have been removed were deeply involved in the campaign. These include former Politburo member Bo Xilai, former security chief Zhou Yongkang, and others.
This background may make it convenient for Xi to address the issue of Falun Gong, should there ever come a time to apportion blame for the crimes, Xin indicated.
“Once it’s revealed, it won’t be the sole responsibility of Zhou Yongkang. Zhou can’t bear the responsibility by himself,” Xin said. “Who has defined Falun Gong as a ‘heterodox religion’? That was Jiang Zemin. So Jiang Zemin will be implicated.”