Early on the morning of April 25, 1999, the Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) practitioners began making their way through the fog covered streets of Beijing, heading for the Office of Letters and Appeals, which is nearby the living quarters and offices of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) top leaders. By the time the fog lifted, more than 10,000 had gathered, lined up neatly in several rows on the sidewalks.
The practitioners had come to ask for the release of 45 of their fellow adherents who had been beaten and arrested in the nearby city of Tianjin and for the guarantee that Falun Gong could be practiced without interference from authorities.
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This mass demonstration ended peacefully after then-Premier Zhu Rongji agreed to their requests. However, then-CCP head Jiang Zemin took the gathering as the occasion for calling for the suppression of Falun Gong in China. Three months later, Jiang launched a campaign to “eradicate” this spiritual practice.
On Monday, April 23, the Washington, D.C., Falun Dafa Association held a press conference in front of the White House to look back at the events of 13 years ago in the light of the crisis gripping the Chinese regime today.
Character and Perseverance
Falun Gong involves doing five meditative exercises and improving one’s moral character by living according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Terri Marsh of the Human Rights Legal Foundation (HRLF) sees the character of the practitioners as the key to the protest 13 years ago and the long campaign of peaceful resistance since.
“Falun Gong practitioners’ journeys to detention centers, jails and prisons across China were grounded in … courage, nobility and depth of character,” Marsh said.
Professor Zhang Tianliang of George Mason University noted that the resistance by Falun Gong practitioners to the CCP’s suppression is unprecedented.
“Falun Gong is the only long-lasting, peaceful, and massive civil disobedience in communist China’s history,” Zhang said.
According to Jared Pearman of the Falun Dafa Information Center, as the persecution of Falun Gong has continued, the practitioners in China have been changing the views of those the regime tasked with suppressing them.
Pearman said that, according to anecdotal reports, security agents in some places now protect the practitioners they are assigned to persecute and many judges and prosecutors participate with disdain in cases against Falun Gong and even openly express admiration for practitioners.
“The trend lines are now clear,” Pearman said. “Falun Gong has not been crushed, and reports from China indicate that the number of practitioners is instead growing.”
This trend toward a reversal of the fortunes of Falun Gong in China has recently extended to those responsible for leading the persecution against them.
Bo Xilai was very aggressive in pushing the persecution of Falun Gong, first as governor of Liaoning Province and then as the Party chief of the megalopolis Chongqing. He has now been relieved of all of his Party posts and is being investigated by the Party’s Committee on Disciplinary Inspection.
Zhou Yongkang as director of the powerful Political and Legal Affairs Committee, which controls nearly all aspects of law enforcement in China, was responsible for enforcing the persecution nationwide. He is now also said to be under investigation.
Bo, Zhou, and other officials responsible for the persecution of Falun Gong have been held accountable for crimes against humanity and genocide by legal cases filed around the world by HRLF on behalf of Falun Gong practitioners.
Marsh said HRLF’s legal victories “had changed the political landscape in China,” and pointed to Bo Xilai as an example. Marsh cited a U.S. State Department cable published by WikiLeaks.
According to the cable, Bo was denied elevation to vice premier in 2007 when Premier Wen Jiabao objected that Bo was not suited to represent the CCP internationally because of the several lawsuits brought against him by Falun Gong practitioners around the world. Bo was sent off to run the city of Chongqing and his path to the highest offices in the CCP appeared to be closed.
Zhang said this defeat was critical for the faction loyal to Jiang Zemin. That faction needed someone running the CCP who would continue the persecution of Falun Gong. Otherwise, Jiang, Zhou, Bo, and other leading officials could be held accountable in China for the crimes they had committed against Falun Gong.
According to Zhang, the need that Jiang’s faction had to push Bo into position to control the Party led directly to the plan for a coup to be carried out by Bo and Zhou against the presumptive next head of the CCP, Xi Jinping. After Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in Feb. 6, he revealed the plans for this coup to Beijing officials.
“The power struggle in the CCP has been centered on Falun Gong issues,” Zhang said. On one side is Jiang Zemin and his gang, who committed genocide against Falun Gong. On the other side are Party head Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who are reluctant to continue the persecution, Zhang said.
“The current situation in China,” Zhang said, “is closely related to Falun Gong’s peaceful, massive civil disobedience.”
With reporting by Gary Feuerberg in Washington, D.C.