By Neeraj Mahajan
Brute force can suppress, human will for a while, but can never silence it altogether; indefinitely…This is the greatest lesson one learns from the Falun Gong episode in China.
else do you say when a number of Falun Gong practitioners are still in jail,
many of them have been attacked badly beaten or suffered inhuman torture in
China's prison camps, some of them have been thrown in prison several times,
but still haven’t given up.
|Policemen beat a Falun Gong practitioner near Tiananmen Square.|
This is the inference drawn from the manner in which the mighty Chinese official machinery has tried every trick in the trade, yet failed to suppress Falun Gong a sort of Chinese yoga propounded by Li Hongzhi based on unorthodox Buddhist and Taoist philosophy – and brand it as an "evil cult".
Falun Gong – or Law of the Wheel –is a sort of ancient Chinese qigong exercises and breathing meditation accompanied by special Falun Gong music. Originally, the Chinese government had no problems with it and rather promoted Falun Gong for the tremendous health benefits and relief for the overburdened Chinese healthcare system. But suddenly when they discovered that Falun Gong practitioners had outnumbered the Communist party workers the relationship snapped.
Over the last decade the Chinese Government has imprisoned and tortured thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in China. More than 3,200 have been killed. Still instead of being wiped out, the spiritual movement is expanding-- finding large number of supporters -Inside China and other parts of the world.
This brings us to the question as to why did the Chinese government perceive a non-violent religious movement like Falun Gong to be such a big threat that it decided to forcibly scare away and indoctrinate its followers from the face of earth.
Reason # 1: Falun Gong had became popular – a bit too fast
By mid-90s, Falun Gong had spread its wings throughout China. It was virtually like a large army of volunteers even bigger than the Communist Party which had 65 million cadres. This sudden rise in popularity became its biggest enemy. The Communist Party obviously had reasons to feel threatened by Falun Gong’s sudden rise in popularity in different social strata. Workers practised Falun Gong in factory yards before going to work. Professors and students meditated on Tsinghua University lawns while the wives of Party leaders’ and senior cadres had their own little group in central Beijing.
Reason # 2: Party leaders perceived Falun Gong as a threat
It was a paradox for the iron fisted Communist Party, which even till date hasn’t allowed people the freedom to surf the internet or faceBook lest they start thinking independently to start behaving independently – without any control. The CCP does not wish people to think independently, or make their own decisions about what is right or wrong but simply follow the Party diktats. That is why over the past sixty years it has taken great pains to undermine religion and Chinese traditions. In keeping with this philosophy even today the party continues to control the media, courts, education system, and religious institutions
On the other hand Falun Gong had made inroads in every social strata of the society; its practitioners were spread throughout China. Their collective meditation sessions and public gatherings even against the government policies were drawing huge crowds.
All this was seen as a threat by the Communist Party leaders who saw this as a dangerous precedent. The Party reacted violently and unleashed an all out propaganda campaign. A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said that the government had moved to protect people by banning the Falun Gong. "The movement has caused illness, disability and even the death of many innocent people," he said. "The cult violates human rights by seeking to control people's minds."
Reason # 3: Ideological gap differences with the Communist Party
In spite of China’s shift towards a market-economy in recent decades, the atheist Communist Party still clings to an officially Marxist ideology. Its leaders felt uncomfortable about Falun Gong’s belief in Buddha and God. The theories of ‘truth, kindness and tolerance’ preached by Falun Gong’s founder Li Hongzhi seemed alien to them.
It should be borne in mind that the government in China is run by the Communist Party which is officially atheist, so anything religious is discouraged and not in keeping with Communist ideology.
The Party which had always believed in Leninist tactics of controlled society and controlled media and used deception and violence to divide the people and enforce its will was unable to digest Falun Gong’s discourse of truth and nonviolence. Falun Gong was thus included in the list of ‘suspect’ faiths by the CCP
Reason # 4: Party leaders were wary of a religious rebellion
The 1978 Constitution of China guarantees "freedom of religion" in Article 36 which states, “No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens because they do, or do not believe in religion. The state protects normal religious activities", and continues with the statement that: "nobody can make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt social order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state." But for the People's Republic of China whose government is officially atheist religion is like feudalism and foreign colonialism. All effort is made to separate of state and church.
All religions in China continue to be persecuted. The government and the Party try to control religious institutions, interfere in their internal affairs and theology. The degree of discrimination however depends upon the number of members and threat perception about the group.
In the past Chinese history has many examples of religious movements like Taiping Rebellion, Yellow Turban, White Lotus sect and Boxer uprisings that turned violent and became the cause of rise and fall of many a powerful dynasties like Xia Dynasty, Shang Dynasty, Zhou Dynasty, Qin Dynasty, Sui Dynasty, T'ang Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, Song Dynasty and Ming Dynasty
Taiping Rebellion the second bloodiest conflict in history between the Imperial Chinese forces and a Hakka prophet named Hong Xiuquan, who claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebellion is named after the revolutionaries' proclaimed Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping as "Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace", which lasted as long as the revolution.
Yellow Turban Rebellion was led by Zhang Jiao who founded a taoist religious sect in Shandong Province. They considered themselves followers of the "Way of Supreme Peace" (Tai Ping Dao) and venerated the deity Huang-Lao. The sect propagated equal rights for all people and equal distribution of land.
Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion was a religious rebellion instigated by Zhang Lu. The rebellion became an example for the popular rebellions against dynastic governments.
White Lotus Rebellion was a Chinese anti-Manchu uprising during the rule of Qing Dynasty. White Lotus Society, a secret religious society advocated restoration of the native Chinese Ming Dynasty. Though the Manchu finally crushed the rebellion, this paved the way for more rebellions in the 19th century.
With a history like this, the Chinese Communist party had reasons to believe that if the Falun Gong movement was not dealt with firmly it might turn violent turned into an armed rebellion against them. This is notwithstanding the fact that Li Hongzhi has on several occasions made it clear that Falun Gong has no interest in taking over political power in China.
"We are not against the government now, nor will we be in the future. Other people may treat us badly, but we do not treat others badly, nor do we treat people as enemies,” Li said in an official communiqué.
Reason # 5: Falun Gong is a potential danger to society
The official Chinese explanation at the time of banning the Falun Gong was that it was a menace to society and any rational government would do the same in a similar situation.
It is a different story though that many Governments could see through the game. The House of Representatives in USA called upon the Government of People’s Republic of China to immediately cease and desist from persecuting the Falun Gong and immediately release its practitioners, “detained solely for their beliefs.” (U.S. House Resolution 605, adopted March 2010)
Reason # 6: Falun Gong brainwashes people
Chinese government controlled media went to town claiming that Falun Gong was part of an "anti-China international movement and "an effort by hostile Western forces to subvert China”.
The main reason given was that the Falun Gong was brainwashing people and spreading superstition in the name of curing illness. It was alleged that the movement convinced among others -- a mother and her 12-year-old daughter to self-immolate at Tiananmen Square in 2001.
At a regular press briefing Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu claimed that the movement was causing "illness, disablement and even death of many innocent people." She quickly added, "The Falun Gong cult violates human rights by controlling people's minds”.
The long term solution that the Chinese establishment was offering was no less interesting, “Only Marxism can save China and only the Chinese Communist Party can lead China to accomplish the great cause of reinvigorating the Chinese nation”.
Reason # 7: Internal power politics within the Communist Party
Just like its growing popularity had won many friends for Falun Gong, it had made many high-level Party officials like Luo Gan Deputy Secretary, a former Minister of Labor and Politburo member – a hardliner against illegal organizations its enemies. The Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC) had become all too powerful with complete control over the Chinese internal security apparatus-- police, courts, domestic intelligence and paramilitary organizations. Its budget was higher than the Chinese military. But they were unable to take immediate action because of rifts in the Politburo.
By now the 100 million practitioners of Falun Gong were to be found in every strata of the society, but the last straw came when it became obvious that the group had infiltrated at all levels within the Communist Party including even family members of the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo that ruled China.
The Political and Legislative Affairs Committee (PLAC) till then an innocuous department of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee used this as an opportunity to accumulate power and carry out large-scale surveillance and suppression.
Curiously not everyone –even within the party supported the hard line. Even the Politburo Standing Committee did not unanimously support the crackdown, but they were silenced. Jiang Zemin a third generation Communist Party leader wanted to consolidate his support base in the Party. So when Premier Zhu Rongji tried to placate Falun Gong representatives, General Secretary and President Jiang Zemin criticized him for being "too soft" and decided to eliminate the Falun Gong.
Such brutal was the reprisal that lawyers were forbidden to defend Falun Gong cases. They were beaten up while going to interview their clients, prevented from appearing in court, abducted and even beaten up in court. Judges openly claimed they were not allowed to give the judgment—in short it was a mockery of justice.
Reason # 8: The Jiang Zemin Factor
The campaign against Falun Gong was the brainchild of Jiang Zemin. Jiang who fashioned himself as PRC’s most powerful leader on the line of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping was acutely jealous of Falun Gong’s popularity and wanted to use it as an opportunity to consolidate his political base in the party. Though some of the other top Party leaders like then Prime Minister Zhu Rongji were in favor of a conciliatory approach towards Falun Gong but Jiang managed to dub the Falun Gong as an “evil religion” push forward a legislation to ban it and create the draconian and extra-constitutional 6-10 Office to deal with it. It was not mandated or authorized by the People's Congress or the State Council but reports directly to the Communist Party. Even today, thousands of 6-10 Office branches are active throughout China.
Falun Gong was just a decoy, the real and long standing aim of the Chinese Communist Party to eradicate religion, which they believed fuelled rebellion. What many of them could not digest was the fact that Falun Gong, which represented a revival of traditional Chinese religion, was growing popular among large number of Communist Party members, government officials and military. Apart from this was the belief that anything the party doesn’t control is potentially dangerous so the best alternative was to purge the government and the military of such beliefs.
This brings us to the question, why did the campaign not fizzle out after Jiang's retirement? The simple answer is that even after Jiang transferred power to Hu Jintao he managed to place his loyalists in top positions within the Politburo and the Party. Even today tensions are being reported between Jiang and Hu Jintao loyalists over the Falun Gong policy.
Reason # 9: The April 25, 1999 gathering
A popular explanation on what triggered the ban is the April 25, 1999 gathering of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners in the heart of Beijing.
Many people say that this was a miscalculation. Though the demonstration itself was peaceful and perfectly legal under the Chinese constitution, it is a fact that it had been three years since Falun Gong books had been banned, two years since criticism in state-run media and harassment by state security agents. A smear media campaign against them was nothing new. So there was no immediate provocation for 10,000 people to petition the government?
Instead this provided an excuse to Jiang Zemin to formally lead the anti-Falun Gong campaign.
Reason # 10: Dangerous for China
Here are a few samples of how the Chinese propaganda machinery tried to spread ill will against Falun Gong and project it as grave danger to China and its people.
Falun Gong founder, Li Hongzhi has spread heretical ideas. The Chinese government can't just sit back and do nothing.
- Li has hoodwinked Falun Gong practitioners into believing that he has many versions of being able to protect them and he has installed a wheel of law in the belly of his followers in an attempt to control their mind.
- The cult leader has devised many absurd fabrications that go against science and civilized society and that his Falun Dafa alone offers the right law and super science.
- Falun Gong cult practitioners would acquire supernatural abilities as long as they persevered in practising Falun Dafa.
- Li has ordered that Falun Gong practitioners not to take medicine. He preaches that power achieved by practising Falun Gong can kill disease and break away with the karmic chain. would
The real motive behind the crackdown – it was claimed that Falun Gong was a politically motivated organization and threat to China and the Communist party. The idea behind all this was to erode Falun Gong’s credibility as an unregistered, obscure religion, spreading superstition and defrauding people and government organizations.
This was gross misrepresentation of the fact that Falun Gong a system of meditation and four gentle exercises that resemble tai-chi and is part of Chinese culture called “qigong.” The central idea behind it is to channelize energy for one’s well-being though exercises which follow the principles of acupuncture and similar forms of Chinese medicine.