On Friday, as part of a march commemorating the events of July 20, 1999, a solemn procession of women dressed in white will walk through Washington, D.C., carrying photos wreathed in flowers. The photos are memorials—each one is of an individual killed in the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong in China—and together they suggest the bitter legacy left by the former Chinese communist leader Jiang Zemin.
Jiang is now, according to news reports, either dead or brain dead, hooked up to a respirator. On July 20, 1999, Jiang was the paramount leader of the Chinese Communist Party and he unleashed the most systematic campaign of human rights abuses seen in modern China: the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice.
Mr. Li Hongzhi began publicly teaching Falun Gong in his hometown of Changchun in May 1992. A qigong practice, Falun Gong involves five sets of meditative exercises and living according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Adherents claimed extraordinary health benefits, as well as life-changing improvements in their character. The practice spread rapidly by word of mouth across China and by 1999 Western media outlets, citing Chinese officials, said 70 million Chinese were practicing—an official with the Chinese Sports Commission in an interview with U.S. News and World Report suggested 100 million were practicing.
Before April 25, 1999, there are only anecdotes about Jiang’s encounters with Falun Gong practitioners. On that date, however, over 10,000 gathered outside the State Appeal Office in Beijing, which is just down the street from the CCP’s leadership compound. They had come to quietly request an end to the regime’s unofficial bullying of their practice.
Jiang was driven out in his smoked-glass limousine to observe those gathered, standing in orderly rows. Later that night, “seemingly in the grip of a spiritual crisis” as one Western commentator put it, Jiang penned a letter to the Politburo demanding action. It forshadowed the persecution that came just three months later.
Scholars refer to a litany of reasons, associated with the CCP ideology and history that explain why Falun Gong—with its independence from the state, traditional beliefs, and enormous numbers—might become a target for a political campaign. But it’s clear that Jiang took it all very personally.
In his letter, Jiang remarked that since 1992, when Falun Gong was first taught, it has “become involved in the activities of a considerable number of social groups of Party members and cadres, intellectuals, servicemen, workers and peasants.” This was Jiang’s way of saying that Falun Gong was well liked and many people practiced it. “Yet it has not aroused our vigilance. I am deeply ashamed.”
He continued, that clearly, “ideological and political work”—referring to indoctrinating the people with Party ideology—was not strong enough. “[We] must use correct world views, philosophy, and values to educate the cadres … and the masses,” he wrote.
The final paragraph explained what this meant: “Can the Marxism our Communists have, the materialism and atheism we believe in, really not win over that suit of stuff aired by Falun Gong? If that were not the case, would it not be a thumping joke? Our leading cadres at all levels, especially high-level officials, should become sober now!”
He later characterized the gathering as “the most serious political incident since June 4” (referring to the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989).
Alongside the Party’s primal urge for ideological struggle and societal dominance—Communist Party propaganda had said Falun Gong was “competing for popularity with the Party,” which is regarded as an unpardonable crime—Jiang was highly vested in the campaign.
“By unleashing a Mao-style movement, Jiang is forcing senior cadres to pledge allegiance to his line,” a Party veteran told Willy Lam, a writer on Chinese politics, at the time. “This will boost Jiang’s authority … at the pivotal 16th Communist Party Congress next year.”
“The Politburo did not unanimously endorse the crackdown and … Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated,” John Pomfret, a reporter for the Washington Post, wrote. “This obviously is very personal for Jiang,” one Party official told Pomfret. “He wants this organization crushed.”
With the April 25 letter, Jiang’s mind was made up.
Next…Just like the Nazi’s Gestapo, the CCP forms the 610 Office