What’s the legacy of a man who ordered the genocide of as many as 100 million people? For the sake of the victims and posterity who will one day look back upon this tragic era and hopefully draw lessons from it, we mustn’t mince words. We must be clear.
Jiang Zemin belongs alongside the worst tyrants in history—the dregs of humanity who directed unmeasurable suffering upon their fellow man.
For hundreds of millions in China, Jiang will mostly be remembered as the architect of the most systematic, deadly, and protracted assault on Chinese citizens in decades: the persecution of Falun Gong.
With Jiang’s death, his victims and many Chinese with a sense of justice will breathe a sigh of relief. Although his henchmen may continue the atrocities, at least Jiang will no longer be able to harm them. There will be one less figure of evil in the world.
Jiang’s Paranoid Vendetta
As a traditional spiritual and exercise discipline in the Buddhist tradition, Falun Gong quickly gained popularity in China after its public introduction in 1992. It attracted “qigong” enthusiasts and those drawn to its moral philosophy based on the virtues of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Indeed, Falun Gong enjoyed considerable official support from open-minded government officials, who saw it as a way to improve public health and moral values.
By early 1999, estimates by China’s State Sports Commission put the number of Falun Gong adherents as high as 70 million people, exceeding the total membership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). State-run television pointed to more than 100 million followers.
Although Falun Gong doesn’t espouse any political ideology or aspirations, Jiang came to see Falun Gong as a threat to the CCP because of its popularity, independence from the state, and traditional spiritual philosophy.
Thus, in the spring of 1999, Jiang single-handedly mandated that Falun Gong must be “eradicated.” On July 20, 1999, he initiated a Cultural Revolution-style campaign of propaganda, book burnings, mass imprisonment, and coercive “transformation” of Falun Gong practitioners.
Jiang took the campaign personally, almost to the point of obsession.
According to a Nov. 9, 1999, Washington Post report, “It was Jiang who ordered that Falun Gong be labeled a ‘cult,’ and then demanded that a law be passed banning cults.”
The move, like the campaign itself, was self-serving.
“The crackdown was undertaken to demonstrate and solidify the power of the Chinese leadership. … Communist Party sources said that the standing committee of the Politburo did not unanimously endorse the crackdown and that President Jiang Zemin alone decided that Falun Gong must be eliminated,” according to the same Washington Post article.
A Party official noted that “this obviously is very personal for Jiang.”
In 2001, CNN senior analyst Willy Lam wrote that senior officials criticized Jiang’s suppression as a way “to promote allegiance to himself.”
In 2002, Jiang reportedly issued “shoot to kill” orders against Falun Gong practitioners after five practitioners tapped television broadcasts in Changchun to show images of their faith being freely practiced around the world. An animated documentary based on this incident, “Eternal Spring,” has been selected as Canada’s entry for the 2023 Oscars Best International Feature Film.
The Decimation of Millions of Lives
The consequences of Jiang’s fateful decision in 1999 have been devastating. Millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners have been abducted from their homes or off the street, then illegally jailed in prisons and gulags, some for more than a decade.
Under Jiang’s leadership, the CCP sanctioned the systematic use of violence and torture against Falun Gong adherents in order to force them to recant their practice of Falun Gong.
“The [Chinese] government for the first time this year sanctioned the systematic use of violence against the group [Falun Gong], established a network of brainwashing classes, and embarked on a painstaking effort to weed out followers neighborhood by neighborhood and workplace by workplace,” according to a 2001 Washington Post article.
Electric batons, sexual abuse, and injections with psychiatric drugs became routine, leaving untold numbers of people permanently scarred, disabled, or insane.
In 2006, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak reported that in 66 percent of all alleged torture cases in Chinese detention camps, Falun Gong practitioners were victims. A 2013 New York Times report on the Masanjia Labor Camp states, “All agreed that the worst abuse was directed at Falun Gong members who refused to renounce their faith.”
In a 2017 report, Freedom House found that “Falun Gong practitioners across China are subject to widespread surveillance, arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture, and they are at a high risk of extrajudicial execution.” The organization independently verified 933 cases of Falun Gong adherents sentenced to prison terms of up to 12 years between January 2013 and June 2016.
While the torture and abuses meted out by Chinese security forces have led to more than 4,800 confirmed deaths of Falun Gong practitioners, the true number is believed to be much higher, due to the risk and difficulties of confirming these cases and sending them overseas.
Yet, Jiang’s worst crime is the state-sanctioned mass killing of Falun Gong practitioners, so that their vital organs could be extracted and sold for organ transplantation.
Hamid Sabi, counsel to the China Tribunal, presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council testimony that forced organ harvesting had been committed “for years throughout China on a significant scale … and continues today,” according to a 2019 Reuters report. He said that the harvesting has involved “hundreds of thousands of victims,” mainly practitioners of Falun Gong. In a 2021 statement, U.N. experts found the allegation credible and were extremely alarmed by it.
According to a video published by End Transplant Abuse in China (ETAC), the former PLA Minister for Health Bai Shuzhong, in one forensically examined phone call, stated that Jiang directly ordered the killing of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs.
As Jiang and the CCP leadership have gone about executing the campaign against Falun Gong, they’ve developed and refined an array of repressive mechanisms. Since 1999, the CCP has expanded the network of detention centers and black jails, rewarded torturers with promotions and bonuses, and created an extrajudicial security force called the 610 Office, which operates as a Gestapo for Falun Gong.
It has honed its misinformation and propaganda skills, neutered the judiciary, and created the most expansive system of internet censorship and surveillance in the world. Though originally designed to target Falun Gong, these tools are now being used against Uyghurs and other Chinese citizens.
In response to his role in orchestrating the attempted eradication of Falun Gong, Jiang has been the target of dozens of international lawsuits and more than 200,000 legal complaints filed by victims within China.
Jiang’s death won’t bring back to life the untold hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners who may have died over the past 23 years because of his actions. Nor will it repair the millions of families that have been torn apart. Nor may it diminish the ferocity with which Falun Gong practitioners across China continue to be jailed and tortured today.
But for people who practice Falun Gong around the world, it does bring some hope that it will open a new opportunity for people in China to follow their conscience and bring an end to the killing.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.