Inside Story: Why is Falun Gong Persecuted?

July 16, 2009 Updated: April 25, 2012

It is always the question asked—why would a country want to persecute a spiritual practice that requires people to be truthful, kind and tolerant? It is understandably difficult to comprehend.

David Matas, a Canadian human rights lawyer and co-author of a report on illegal organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in China, says it is best understood by looking at the very system under which Chinese people live.

“The Communist Party of China [CCP], for no apparent reason other than totalitarian paranoia, sees Falun Gong as an ideological threat to its existence,” he says. “Yet objectively, Falun Gong is just a set of exercises with a spiritual component.”

Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, credited with initiating the persecution of Falun Gong, illustrates the extent of that paranoia.

In a letter written in 1999, but published in “Jiang Zemin’s Article Collection” in 2006, he questions the popularity of Falun Gong and the turnout of thousands of practitioners at Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound in Beijing on April 25, 1999.

“Does Falun Gong have any connection overseas and to the West? Is there any expert to plot and command this event? This is a new signal, which we must attach great importance to. The sensitive period has come. We have to take effective measures to prevent similar things from happening again,” Jiang wrote.

The letter went further, pointing to three areas of perceived concern – Falun Gong is a national group with followers from all walks of life, Falun Gong has a religious character and Falun Gong is presumed to have connections outside China.

These same criteria can be used to explain why underground Catholics, House Christians and Tibetan Buddhists (being outsiders from Tibet) have also been persecuted.

Jiang’s letter goes on to say, “I have emphasized many times that we need to suffocate what seems to be the beginning of an unwholesome trend.”

According to, many have sought to blame the persecution on that public gathering on April 25, but the truth is that the persecution had already started some three years earlier. It was in fact because of that harassment that the 10,000 practitioners had turned up that day on April 25.

Although Falun Gong was the largest qigong practice in China, with a membership estimated between 70 and 100 million (more than the membership of the Communist Party), it was not the only qigong practice banned.

Zhong Gong, which claimed to have 30 million followers, was also popular during the ’90s. But it had not been harassed and was trying hard to please the regime, sponsoring a number of official ceremonies for the CCP, including ones celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth and the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party Army’s Long March. Nonetheless, it was also banned the same day as Falun Gong.

The Nine Commentaries, an editorial series on the violent history of the CCP, argues that the persecution of Falun Gong is but a continuum of violent campaigns that the CCP uses to remind the population of its control. It cites Mao Zedong, who once said that China should have a Cultural Revolution every seven or eight years, and notes that since the 1950s, not a decade has passed without some violent state-led campaign aimed at the masses.

David Matas says the bottom line is that it is the principles of Falun Gong – truthfulness, compassion and tolerance – that are the most threatening for the regime.

“Anyone who believes in any one of these principles spells trouble for the Communist Party government – a cruel, repressive, dishonest regime. Tens of millions of Chinese believing in all three principles had to give the Party chills.”

Everyone knows, says Mr. Matas, that, “The worst nightmare of a gangster is an honest person.”