On April 25, 1999, ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners from across mainland China made their way to Zhongnanhai, the base and living quarters of the Communist Party leadership in Beijing, to make an appeal.
Although the Chinese regime had a policy of not commenting on or interfering with qigong, a type of slow-motion form of exercise that gained immense popularity in the early 1990s, local officials in the city of Tianjin in east China had beaten and arrested about forty practitioners of Falun Gong, a type of qigong, on April 23. A couple of days earlier, a magazine from a Tianjin college ran an article that criticized Falun Gong.
The ten thousand petitioners were thus hoping that central authorities would release the detained practitioners, and make a guarantee that Falun Gong would not be harassed in the future.
Former Chinese premier Zhu Rongji eventually spoke with practitioner representatives and promised to release the Tianjin practitioners. Zhu also said that the Party didn’t oppose Falun Gong. The petitioners then quietly made their way home, picking up litter and cigarette butts dropped by the policemen on their way.
To Falun Gong practitioners, the issue was largely over when they left—given the assurances made by the country’s premier—and they went about their daily exercises in parks and schools. But Party boss Jiang Zemin, however, declared the peaceful protest in Beijing an example of Falun Gong “laying siege to Zhongnanhai,” and launched a campaign to “defeat Falun Gong” three months later.
Jiang declared “no measure is too excessive” in the persecution, according to contemporaneous accounts of his orders, relayed through the security apparatus. He also set up the 610 Office, an extralegal body whose sole mandate was to persecute Falun Gong, and officials seeking rapid promotion had a new political campaign to engage in.
Over 3,000 practitioners are documented to have been persecuted to death, and hundreds of thousands more languish in prisons and labor camps across China at any given time, according to Minghui, the official website of Falun Gong. Independent researchers have compiled extensive evidence that Chinese hospitals, including military hospitals, systematically harvest the organs of Falun Gong practitioners for transplantation. Tens of thousands of practitioners are estimated to have lost their lives in China’s profitable organ trade, though exact numbers are difficult to obtain given the restrictions on information in China.
Each year on April 25, practitioners of Falun Gong around the world gather together to remember the peaceful demonstration of 1999 and to honor those who have been killed during the persecution.