In the last week of May, the mysterious agency charged with directing the Chinese regime’s persecution of Falun Gong was twice a hot topic in the news—after scarcely having been acknowledged for 16 years.
Major changes in the news in China don’t happen by accident, and the publication of these two news stories suggests that the main legacy of former Chinese Communist Party head Jiang Zemin is being pushed aside.
The first news story concerned a person named Luo Jian being investigated for “serious violations of the [Party] discipline and the law.” According to the report, Luo Jian was a deputy director of the 610 Office of Yangjiang City, in Guangdong Province.
The anti-corruption campaign that has ripped through the CCP’s membership for the past two years has targeted both “tigers”—top ranking figures such as Zhou Yongkang (the former chief of the extremely powerful Political and Legal Affairs Committee) and Xu Caihou (the former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission)—and “flies.” Luo Jian can only be considered as a “fly.”
Nonetheless, almost all major mouthpieces and portals in China, including Xinhuanet and Chinanews.com, carried the announcement of the Yangjiang City Discipline Inspection Commission’s investigation of Luo. Usually, such news would hardly be noticed by a Party mouthpiece at the provincial level.
The only explanation for the national exposure given the investigation of the obscure Luo is that someone wanted to use his case to publicize the name “610 Office.”
Three days later, the newly public 610 Office was reported to be without a leader. The Discipline Inspection Committee (DIC) of the CCP Central Committee updated its website and reported that Liu Jinguo, the DIC deputy secretary, was, as of January 2015, no longer the director of the Central 610 Office.
This announcement was abnormal for two reasons. First, Liu was promoted to the DIC in October 2014, from his position at the Central 610 Office. Considering the totally different missions and tasks for the two positions, Liu should have been removed from the 610 Office immediately. Yet, it took three months to remove him and four more months to make the change public.
Second, no information on the new director of the 610 Office was available. Usually, the removal of the old director and the appointment of the new one should have been announced at the same time. Was this position intentionally left empty? That’s possible.
Behind the Scenes
For the past 16 years, the 610 Office has been one of the most powerful and notorious yet most mysterious organizations in China. In 1999, when then-general secretary of the CCP Central Committee Jiang Zemin decided to persecute Falun Gong, a mind, body, and spiritual practice that 100 million Chinese people had taken up, he couldn’t directly use the existing legal system. No laws were being broken.
Instead, Jiang started a political campaign to suppress the practice. On June 7, 1999, Jiang told the members of the Politburo that the Leading Group for Handling Falun Gong Issues would be established to oversee the campaign. On June 10, an office was set up under the Leading Group to handle the daily work. It was called the 610 Office for the date of its establishment.
So that the 610 Office could carry out its mission of persecution, it was given almost unlimited power. The 610 Offices all over China have been responsible for the arbitrary detentions, forced labor, illegal trials and sentences, tortures, deaths from torture, forced organ harvesting, and many other crimes against humanity committed against Falun Gong practitioners.
To hide its mission and make the persecution look like the rule of law, the 610 Office always operates behind the scenes.
The first and only time that the Office willingly appeared in public was as part of the propaganda barrage following the Tiananmen Square “self-immolations.” On Jan. 23, 2001, state-run media showed five individuals setting themselves on fire on Tiananmen Square in an event that was obviously staged.
With a speed almost unknown to the official media, footage of these “immolations” of alleged Falun Gong practitioners were shown within hours of the event and would continue being shown around the clock on CCTV for months.
The Washington Post reported that the most prominent of the “immolators” had never been known by her neighbors to have practiced Falun Gong. She was known to beat her mother and child and dance for tips at a local bar—behaviors uncharacteristic of practitioners, who seek to live according to a high standard of morality.
On Feb. 27, 2001, then-deputy director of the Central 610 Office Liu Jing held a press conference in the name of the State Council—the body under the premier that directs the state bureaucracy—to slander Falun Gong. Liu Jing identified himself as the person in charge of the State Council’s Office for the Prevention and Handling of Cult Issues.
Liu avoided and denied any relationship with, or even the existence of, the 610 Office. When asked about the relationship between his office and the 610 Office, Liu simply replied that he didn’t know why the reporter was so interested in the 610 Office.
For some reason, the State Council seemed not to want to take responsibility for the 610 Office. The “State Council Structure” in 2003 stated that the State Council’s Office for Prevention and Handling Cult Issues and the CCP Central Committee’s Office for Handling Falun Gong Issues are one organization with two names, listed directly under the CCP Central Committee. This statement was removed from the 2008 State Council Structure but reappeared in 2013.
Leadership Distances Itself
The silence surrounding the 610 Office was broken in a dramatic way in December 2013 by a single line on the DIC website announcing the investigation of Li Dongsheng, then the Office’s head. Li was well-known in China as the vice minister of Public Security. The DIC announcement put two other titles before this one: the deputy chief of the Leading Group for Handling Cult Issues and the director of the Office of the Leading Group for Handling Cult Issues, aka the 610 Office.
This was the first time that these two titles were released to the general public by the central authorities. Even Li Dongsheng’s official biography on the Ministry of Public Security website did not mention those two titles. There was no reason for the authorities to mention these titles, except to expose their existence.
During Jiang Zemin’s time as general secretary, the persecution of Falun Gong was his first priority. He arranged for his term as chair of the Central Military Commission to be extended for two years past its end, so that he could make sure the persecution continued. For the same reason, just before he left office in 2002, he expanded the Politburo Standing Committee and packed it with his loyalists.
The continuing lag in naming a new 610 Office director after the removal of Liu Jinguo in January 2015 is hard to imagine if Jiang Zemin still has any influence.
The 610 Office is not an ordinary Party organ. It’s a tool designed to violate human rights. There are at least two basic requirements for a director: to enjoy persecuting people’s religious beliefs and to be good at it.
Even in the CCP, it is hard to find someone who meets both requirements. Li Dongsheng had succeeded Liu Jing, who retired due to bad health. Li was the best and only candidate. He had been in charge of brainwashing (the forced conversion) of Falun Gong practitioners for 10 years. He had already served as the deputy director of the 610 Office and knew how the organization operated.
Last but not least, as the deputy director of CCTV and then the deputy director of the Propaganda Department, he had turned CCTV into a supplier of mistresses for top CCP leaders—providing another demonstration of how he lacked any morals.
Li Dongsheng’s replacement, Liu Jinguo, has been out of office for seven months. Perhaps it’s really hard to find someone with the right qualifications. Or perhaps there is no need to have a director because the 610 Office is no longer important. In either case, the empty directorship is a sign that the persecution of Falun Gong has lost steam.
Since the ousting of Li Dongsheng, the name of the 610 Office has been mentioned twice, once in 2014 and then in April of this year, in connection with investigations into criminal activity of the former heads of municipal 610 Offices.
So, from the investigation of Li Dongsheng up to last week’s announcement about Luo Jian, every time the name of a 610 Office has been mentioned, it has been related to the alleged crimes the Office’s head committed. This pattern, together with the seat of the director of the Central 610 Office being left empty, leaves little doubt that the current leaders want to distance themselves from Jiang Zemin’s policy of persecution.
The persecution of Falun Gong was Jiang Zemin’s personal mission, his most important and probably only legacy. As he watches the marginalization of the 610 Office, Jiang is now likely hoping that marginalization will be the worst that he will experience at the hands of the current regime.
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