For 22 years, the communist regime in China has deployed a comprehensive campaign of repression against adherents of the spiritual group Falun Gong. Millions of Falun Gong practitioners have suffered
detention, torture, harassment, forced labor, and organ harvesting.
How the persecution started and how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has executed this expansive campaign is explained below.
How Did 100 Million People Become Targets?
A Popular Practice
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a meditation practice that features moral teachings based on three core tenets, “truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance,” along with a set of meditative exercises.
In 1992, the practice’s founder, Li Hongzhi, introduced it to the public in Changchun, a city in northeastern China. It spread quickly by word of mouth to other parts of the country. By 1999, roughly 70 million to 100 million people around the country had taken up the practice, according to official estimates at the time.
Li himself is a four-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee. The practice was also recognized by state bodies for its contributions to society, and some adherents received awards for their community service before the regime began an all-out clampdown in July 1999.
A Peaceful Demonstration
On April 25, 1999, around 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered at the appeals office near the CCP’s headquarters in Beijing to appeal for their right to practice freely. It became the largest peaceful demonstration that China had seen in a decade, since the Tiananmen Square massacre.
What triggered the appeal was the arrest of dozens of adherents in the nearby megacity of Tianjin who had protested a defamatory article about their faith. The environment was also becoming more restrictive: The publication of Falun Gong books had been banned; and police in some areas had been harassing adherents, searching their homes and beating them up.
The petitioners met with then-Premier Zhu Rongji and delivered three requests: to release the practitioners who’d been arrested, reverse the publication ban, and allow them to practice in public without fear. After learning that the Tianjin practitioners had been released, the petitioners left quietly that evening.
Authorities would later seize upon the event to justify the persecution, launched three months later, claiming that practitioners were laying “siege” to the regime.
Fear and Loathing
The discipline’s rapid growth, with its practitioners outnumbering the 60 million Party members at the time, meant the practice was deemed a threat to the regime’s authoritarian rule. Meanwhile, the values that Falun Gong espouses were at odds with the atheist Marxist ideology underpinning the CCP.
Then-Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, who personally ordered the persecution, repeatedly expressed his vehemence toward the practice in remarks and in interviews with foreign media.
Jiang, in a letter released immediately after the April 25 appeal, expressed alarm at the “substantial number of Party members, cadres, intellectuals, soldiers, workers, and peasants” among Falun Gong practitioners and vowed to toughen ideological control.
“Could it be that Marxism, materialism, and atheism that we communists embody can’t defeat what Falun Gong promotes? That’d be a tremendous joke if true,” he wrote in the letter.
An Entire State Apparatus Focused on Persecution
Orders to Eliminate
The CCP was intent on wiping out Falun Gong; Jiang initially aimed to crush the practice within three months. Top Chinese leaders also ordered officials to “defame their reputations, bankrupt them financially and destroy them physically,” according to a military colonel who attended the meeting.
Police officials declared that if they beat practitioners to death, it would be considered suicide, according to Minghui.
In June 2001, more than a dozen female adherents died in a labor camp in Harbin, a city in northern Heilongjiang Province, in what authorities claimed was a mass suicide. “Only 15 or 16 out of 3,000 have died. How is this a lot?” the labor camp reportedly told the family of Li Xiuqin, one of the victims. They saw only her ashes.
The 610 Office
On June 10, 1999, an extralegal Gestapo-like agency was set up and named the “610 Office” after the date of its creation. The 610 Office enjoys wide-ranging powers and directs various sectors of society to carry out the persecution campaign. A 2017 report by the human rights watchdog Freedom House estimates that the annual budget for all 610 Offices across China is around 879 million yuan ($135 million).
In 2002, a Falun Gong practitioner from Changchun was beaten to death after being arrested for hijacking TV airwaves to broadcast programs debunking state propaganda about the practice. The head of the city’s 610 Office overseeing the persecution instructed police to keep the matter confidential. He described the campaign to destroy Falun Gong as “an arduous political task” and told the police “not to fear blood or deaths,” a former officer present at the meeting told Minghui.
The 610 Office is also involved in state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting, resulting in an unknown number of deaths, according to the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong.
The campaign was thorough and mobilized all levels of society. Propaganda maligning the practice appeared in state newspapers and on television and radio, as well as school textbooks and community boards.
The Department of Culture directed the mass destruction of millions of Falun Gong materials, including book burnings, and the jailing of bookshop owners. Workplaces fired people who refused to give up their faith, while students from primary school to college were expelled. One high schooler was sentenced to five years in prison after refusing to join a school-organized parade that slandered the practice—even though he wasn’t old enough to be sent to jail.
A Shanghai primary school punished a teacher who was a Falun Gong practitioner by demoting her to the role of cleaning the school bathrooms, a decision one colleague said harked back to the abuse inflicted during the Cultural Revolution.
With the court system under the control of the CCP, trials in China are a mere formality. Adherents are often detained for months or longer before trial and at times denied legal assistance. Lawyers representing them experience harassment, assault, or threats, and are frequently interrupted in court when advocating for their clients. Wu Shaoping, a human rights lawyer now in the United States, told The Epoch Times he was stopped mid-argument and escorted out of the court by police when making the case that his client had been charged illegally. His client was sentenced to nine years in prison one month later.
Demonizing the Victims
Propaganda and Disinformation
Finding that public opinion hadn’t turned against Falun Gong, the regime launched in 2001 a brazen disinformation campaign in a bid to incite public hatred against the practice and its adherents. In January 2001, five individuals set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, an incident that China’s state-run media blamed on Falun Gong. Following the tragedy, the number of hate crimes against Falun Gong practitioners increased.
The incident turned out to be a staged event. Suspicious circumstances surrounding the event have since been revealed and documented in the award-winning film “False Fire.”
The regime also cooked up false stories about alleged practitioners—such as a person who killed her own child before taking her own life—in hope of spinning public opinion in China. An independent investigation later revealed that the person never existed.
Chinese officials have openly taken part in spreading the propaganda both in China and overseas. In 2004, a Falun Gong supporter brought and won a defamation lawsuit against the Chinese deputy consul-general in Toronto for attacking him in a letter published in the Toronto Star.
During the 1999 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in New Zealand, Jiang handed out booklets defaming Falun Gong to participants of the meeting.
Censorship and Indoctrination
China’s censors have wiped the Chinese internet of any authentic materials on Falun Gong, while allowing misinformation and propaganda about the spiritual practice to fill cyberspace. Words related to Falun Gong have been scrubbed online, and there have been cases in which practitioners were detained for using words related to the practice on China’s popular messaging platform WeChat.
The Great Firewall, which prevents Chinese citizens from accessing many foreign sites such as Facebook and Google, also blocks overseas websites relating to Falun Gong.
The regime’s censorship does not exist only in cyberspace—it also denies practitioners’ rights to freedom of speech. Practitioners who speak with neighbors or strangers about Falun Gong run the risk of being detained—or worse, sentenced to prison.
Teachers are required to indoctrinate their students with anti-Falun Gong propaganda. In April 2020, the primary school attached to China’s Jinan University held a “national security class,” during which students were taught that Falun Gong “posed a threat” to society.
Breaking the Body to Defeat the Will
Since 1999, several million Falun Gong practitioners have been detained in detention centers, labor camps, prisons, and psychiatric facilities, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center. At these facilities, Falun Gong practitioners are often singled out for particularly cruel treatment, in a bid to force them to renounce their faith, according to accounts from survivors.
Torture and other forms of ill-treatment are endemic in these facilities. An untold number of Falun Gong practitioners have died as a result of torture or forced organ harvesting.
Practitioners detained in labor camps and prisons have also been subjected to forced labor, producing cheap goods destined for Western markets and enriching CCP officials in the process.
The detainees are forced to work long hours, sometimes as many as 19 hours a day to hit production quotas, according to Minghui. Guards are known to step up their torture or abuse against those who fail to meet a quota or refuse to comply with work orders.
Products that practitioners have been forced to make include wigs, toothpicks, chopsticks, eyelash extensions, embroidery, ornaments, cellphone cases, winter jackets, medical cotton swabs, leather bags, and more.
Since the start of the pandemic, some prisons have forced practitioners to make personal protective equipment for export, including surgical masks and surgical gowns.
Practitioners held at detention sites and psychiatric facilities have suffered various forms of physical, psychological, and psychiatric torture. The goal is to force them to sign a declaration renouncing their faith. Many practitioners have sustained severe injuries and died as a result.
Some common torture methods include sexual assault; force-feeding; beating with wooden clubs or steel bars; shocking with electric batons; piercing sensitive body parts such as fingertips with bamboo skewers; and burning with cigarettes, boiling water, or hot iron bars.
Guards also subject practitioners to extreme conditions for extended periods of time, including holding them in a small cage filled with chest-deep water, leaving them exposed to freezing temperatures, or depriving them of sleep.
In other cases, practitioners have been forced into or bound in painful positions for prolonged periods.
Practitioners are sometimes forcibly fed with unknown drugs—toxic chemicals that damage the central nervous system or psychotropic chemicals that affect their mental state.
An untold number of detained practitioners have been killed by the regime for their organs, which are used to supply China’s vast organ transplant market.
In 2019, an independent people’s tribunal concluded that the regime had been harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience for years “on a significant scale” and that Falun Gong practitioners were the main source of organs. The tribunal found no evidence that these crimes had ended.
Gao Yixi, a Falun Gong practitioner from far northern Heilongjiang Province, died 10 days after his arrest in 2016, Minghui reported. Not long after, doctors dissected Gao’s body, despite his family’s objections, and removed all of his major organs and brain.
Authorities actively track adherents’ whereabouts by tapping their phones, tracking their location, and monitoring surveillance camera footage, which is often enhanced with artificial intelligence.
By 2017, every person in China was forced to register with their real name to use phone services and to comment online, making it easier for police to track down adherents. In January of that year, police in Harbin of Heilongjiang Province arrested at least five practitioners with the help of surveillance technology after finding a banner with the words “Falun Dafa Is Good.”
One adherent was arrested at a train station after discussing her train itinerary in private social media messages. In 2019, an adherent was arrested at a hospital while taking care of a sick relative after the facial surveillance system alerted the police.
In 2020, police questioned another practitioner in Shanxi over his purchase of some construction materials on the internet.
Chinese police officers and security officials have illegally confiscated practitioners’ cash and other personal property. Some officials have extorted family members of detained practitioners, saying they would be released if the family paid a hefty sum.
Inside prisons and labor camps, practitioners could be denied money and personal belongings sent by their families. Their family members could also be coerced into paying bribes to officials to see their imprisoned relatives.
There have been cases when brainwashing centers have extorted money from the families of detained practitioners to cover the expenses of tortures used on their detainees, such as force-feeding.
Courts also impose hefty fines on adherents. In the first half of 2021, the court sentenced 674 people with fines totaling more than 3.4 million yuan ($525,000), or about 5,000 yuan ($770) per person, roughly one month’s salary for an average person.
Practitioners have also had their salary or pension withheld by their employers—sometimes at the demand of Chinese authorities.
Local police and CCP officials have subjected practitioners to harassment, intimidation, and verbal and physical threats.
The harassment escalated in 2020 when the regime launched a nationwide “Zero-Out” campaign, with the aim of reducing the number of practitioners in China to zero. The new campaign also involves a monetary reward system that entices citizens to report known practitioners to the police.
Despite the repressive climate, the group has persisted in grassroots efforts to call attention to the regime’s abuses. Practitioners around the country—at great personal risk—distribute homemade booklets, posters, and CDs to households and passersby to refute the regime’s propaganda. They hang banners in prominent places as a symbol of their perseverance.
Since 2004, adherents have been urging Chinese people to disassociate themselves from the crimes committed by the CCP by quitting its affiliated organizations.
In 2015, adherents began a wave of lawsuits seeking to bring former leader Jiang to justice.
People in some areas of China have shown support for practitioners’ efforts to counter the persecution. In 2017, around 300 people in Huludao city of Liaoning Province signed a petition calling for the unconditional release of a local Falun Gong practitioner, Minghui reported.