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The persecution of Falun Gong[1] refers to the campaign initiated by the Chinese Communist Party against practitioners of Falun Gong since July 1999, aimed at eliminating the practice in mainland China. Falun Gong is a qigong-based movement founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992,[2] which was banned by the government of China on 22 July 1999.[3] The movement has been called an "evil cult"[4] by the official Chinese press.

According to Amnesty International, the campaign to supress Falun Gong includes a multifaceted propaganda media campaign,[5] a program of enforced ideological conversion and re-education, as well as a variety of extralegal coercive measures, such as arbitrary arrests, forced labour, and physical torture.[6][7][8] An extra-constitutional body, the 6-10 Office was created to lead the suppression of groups which the government considered 'cults'.[9] The authorities mobilised state media apparatus, police force, army, education system, families, and workplaces against Falun Gong.[10]



Practitioners of Falun Gong protest peacefully outside the Zhongnanhai compound.

Falun Gong emerged in 1992, toward the end of China’s “qigong boom”—a period which saw the proliferation of thousands of varieties of slow-moving, meditating exercises believed to affect health and well being. First taught by Li Hongzhi in Changchun, Jilin province,[11] Falun Gong differentiated itself from other qigong schools in its revival of spiritual and religious elements drawing on Buddhist and Daoist concepts.

Official registration issues

In 1993 Falun Gong was accepted into the state-run China Qigong Research Association (CQRS), and became an “instant star” of the qigong movement, enjoying considerable official support.[12] By 1996, however, the relationship between Falun Gong and the CQRS had become strained. Palmer noted that Li objected to the new policy of the CQRS to formalise the structure of Falun Gong, and also objected to the requirement to start up a Communist Party branch.[13] In March, 1996, Falun Gong filed to withdraw from the CQRS, with Li explaining that he believed the CQRS seemed more interested in making money from qigong than conducting research.[14] Falun Gong subsequently attempted to register with other government bodies, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Minority Nationalities' Affairs Commission, the Chinese Buddhist Association, and the United Front Department, but was rebuffed. In 1997, Falun Gong informed the Civil Administration and Public Security ministries that it had not succeeded in applying for recognition.[15]

Initial restrictions and criticism

In July, 1996, possibly in response to its withdrawal from the state-run Qigong Association, and possibly as part of a broader government backlash against qigong practices, Falun Gong’s books were banned from further publication.[16] The group also became a target of media criticism in the state-run press.[16] Falun Gong adherents typically responded to what they perceived as unfair media treatment by picketing editorial offices to request retractions of critical stories. According to David Ownby, approximately 300 such demonstrations occurred between 1996 and 1999, and many, if not most, were successful.[17]

Protests in Tianjin and Zhongnanhai

By the late 1990s, the relationship between Falun Gong and the Chinese state was growing increasingly tense. In 1999, official estimates put the number of Falun Gong adherents at approximately 70 million, making it arguably the largest independent civil society group in the history of the PRC.[18]

In April 1999, He Zuoxiu, a longtime critic of qigong practices, published an editorial in Tianjin Normal University's Youth Reader magazine. Elaborating on what he had said months earlier on Beijing Television, he again launched into attacks on qigong groups—and Falun Gong in particular—as superstitious and potentially dangerous.[19] Falun Gong practitioners claimed the cases that He cited as evidence of the dangers of Falun Gong erroneous[20] or otherwise "highly offensive."[21]

He's article catalyzed a "dramatic public struggle" between Falun Gong practitioners and Chinese authorities over the legitimacy of Falun Gong. Because Falun Gong practitioners had no access to mass media, they resorted to other symbolic forms to appeal to officials and the public: peaceful protests.[22]

After the article was published practitioners gathered to protest in meditation posture outside the editorial office of the publication in Tianjin,[21] and sent petitions and appeals to the Tianjin party headquarters and municipal government for the retraction of He's piece. Three hundred riot police were sent to disperse the crowd. Some of the practitioners were beaten, and forty-five arrested.[23][24] The practitioners were told that the police action had been carried out on orders from the Ministry of Public Security,[25] and that those arrested could only be released with the approval of Beijing authorities.[24][26][27]

On 25 April, ten to twenty thousand Falun Gong practitioners lined the streets near Zhongnanhai, the residence compound of China's leaders, in peaceful and silent protest to request the release of the Tianjin practitioners and an end to the escalating harassment against them. It was Falun Gong practitioners' attempt to seek redress from the leadership of the country by going to them and, "albeit very quietly and politely, making it clear that they would not be treated so shabbily."[28] Many Falun Gong practitioners were party members, who openly lobbied for the group. No other disenfranchised group has ever staged a mass protest near the Zhongnanhai compound in PRC history. Several Falun Gong representatives met with then-premier Zhu Rongji, who assured them that the government was not against Falun Gong, and promised that the Tianjin practitioners would be released. The crowd outside dispersed peacefully, apparently believing their demonstration had been a success.[29]

The ban and crackdown

Three days after Zhongnanhai, Xinhua published an interview with an official who warned against similar protests: "Those who jeopardize social stability under the pretext of practising any type of 'qigong' will be dealt with according to the law."[30] In early May, reports were circulating that Jiang Zemin had established a high-level task force to deal with the threat, with Hu Jintao and Luo Gan in charge.[31] Authorities began to round up Falun Gong leaders. According to the BBC, Falun Gong mobilised "tens of thousands of followers in some 30 cities" in mid June after the arrests.[32] On 22 July 1999, the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) issued a statement banning Falun Gong:

China today banned the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control after deeming them to be illegal. In its decision on this matter issued today, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said that according to investigations, the Research Society of Falun Dafa had not been registered according to law and had been engaged in illegal activities, advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardizing social stability. The decision said that therefore, in accordance with the Regulations on the Registration and Management of Mass Organizations, the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control are held to be illegal and are therefore banned.[33]

In another commentary, Xinhua said that Falun Gong was opposed to the Party, that "It preaches idealism, theism and feudal superstition, and that its leaders were "a small number of behind-the-scenes plotters and organizers who harbor political intentions".[34] Xinhua asserted that the actions taken against Falun Gong were essential to maintaining the "vanguard role and purity" of the Communist Party, and that "In fact, the so-called `truth, kindness and forbearance' principle preached by Li has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve."[35]

Li Hongzhi issued a "Brief Statement of Mine" on the same day, which dealt with a number of issues. On the ban, he said:

Falun Gong is simply a popular qigong activity. It does not have any particular organization, let alone any political objectives. We have never been involved in any anti-government activities... We are not against the government now, nor will we be in the future... We are calling for all governments, international organizations, and people of goodwill worldwide to extend their support and assistance to us in order to resolve the present crisis that is taking place in China.[36]

Speculation on rationale

A World Journal report suggested that certain high-level Party officials wanted to crack down on the practice for years, but lacked sufficient pretext until the protest at Zhongnanhai, which they claim was partly orchestrated by Luo Gan, a long-time opponent of Falun Gong.[37] There were also reportedly rifts in the Politburo at the time of the incident. Some reports indicate that Premier Zhu Rongji met with Falun Gong representatives and gave them satisfactory answers, but was criticized by General Secretary and President Jiang Zemin for being "too soft."[23] Jiang is held by Falun Gong to be personally responsible for the final decision:[38][39] Peerman cited reasons such as suspected personal jealousy of Li Hongzhi;[38] Saich postulates at party leaders' anger at Falun Gong's widespread appeal, and ideological struggle.[39]

Human Rights Watch notes that the crackdown on Falun Gong reflects historical efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to eradicate religion, which the government believed was inherently subversive.[40] Some journalists believe that Beijing's reaction exposes its authoritarian nature and its intolerance for competing loyalty.[41] The Globe and Mail wrote : "...any group that does not come under the control of the Party is a threat"; secondly, the 1989 protests may have heightened the leaders' sense of losing their grip on power, making them live in "mortal fear" of popular demonstrations.[41][42] Craig Smith of the Wall Street Journal suggests that the government which has by definition no view of spirituality, lacks moral credibility with which to fight an expressly spiritual foe; the party feels increasingly threatened by any belief system that challenges its ideology and has an ability to organize itself.[43] The state’s suppression of Falun Gong is related to a generalized intolerance of any group that flaunts itself in the communist party’s face, according to Michael Lestz. "The sin of Master Li’s sect is not that it harks back to earlier religio-political movements but that it represents a large organization independent of the state that violates the unwritten "rules of engagement" that govern the relations between the state and such organizations." Though practitioners were "simply asking to be left alone," by appearing en masse in front of Zhonghanhai, they "rattled the cage" of a command structure used to ruling by repression.[44]

Reports suggest that certain high-level Communist Party officials had wanted to crackdown on the practice for some years, but lacked pretext or support until Zhongnanhai, which Ching suggested was pivotal in elevating "fear, animosity and suppression" of the movement.[45] Reportedly many high-ranking members of the politburo were opposed to a nationwide persecution of the movement, and Falun Gong considers Jiang Zemin personally responsible for the final decision and the ensuing political campaign."[39][46] Jiang Zemin had allegedly received a letter from the former director of the 301 Military Hospital, "a doctor with considerable standing among the political elite," endorsing Falun Gong and advising high-level cadres to start practising it.[45] Jiang also found out that Li's book, Zhuan Falun, had been published by People's Liberation Navy, and that possibly seven hundred thousand Communist Party members were practitioners. "Jiang accepts the threat of Falun Gong as an ideological one: spiritual beliefs against militant atheism and historical materialism. He [wished] to purge the government and the military of such beliefs".[45]

The Washington Post reported that sources indicated not all of the standing committee of the Politburo shared Jiang's view that Falun Gong should be eradicated.[47] The size and reach of Jiang's anti-Falun Gong campaign surpassed that of many previous mass-movements.[46] Through a Mao-style purge of Falun Gong, Jiang forced senior cadres "to pledge allegiance to his line", thus boosting his authority to enable him to dictate events at the pivotal 16th Communist Party congress, according to a Communist Party veteran. "As with 1960s-style campaigns, the standard ritual of ideological sessions held in party units, factories, and colleges the past few years is that participants make public declarations of support for the Beijing line—and for the top leader."[46] Lam reports a mid-level official saying that "The leadership is obsessed with the Falun Gong and have put its eradication as a top priority this year."[48]

Legal and bureaucratic mechanisms

On 10 June 1999 the Party established the '6-10 Office', an extra-constitutional body to lead the suppression of groups which the government considered 'cults'.[9] Representatives were selected in every province, city, county, university, government department and state-owned business in China.[47] On 20 July 1999, the crackdown officially began. Public security officers throughout China quietly detained numerous Falun Gong leaders just after midnight,[49] although Porter states this took place "within days". Across the country, police began arresting Falun Gong leaders from hundreds of homes, and hauling them to prison. Falun Gong's four Beijing "arch-leaders" were arrested, and quickly tried.[50] Public Security Bureau ordered churches, temples, mosques, newspapers, media, courts and police to suppress Falun Gong.[10] Three days of massive demonstrations by practitioners in some thirty cities followed. In Beijing and other cities, protesters were detained in sports stadium.[49]


Protesters are arrested in Tiananmen Square.

The government’s strongest discursive attack on the Falun Gong up to this point occurred on 20 June, when the People’s Daily published a long article urging people to give up Falun Gong practice. On this same day the official media published several editorial directed toward Communist Party members who practiced Falun Gong, strongly reminding them that as Party members they were atheists and must not allow themselves to "become superstitious by continuing to practice Falun Gong." If they did not give up Falun Gong beliefs, they would be forced out of the Party. Once Chinese authorities decided to completely ban the Falun Gong, they launched a multifaceted rhetorical campaign in the government controlled media to marshal public opinion against the movement. In their effort to undermine the legitimacy of the large and popular Falun Gong movement, the Chinese government used an extensive repertoire of discursive and presentational strategies to try to discredit the Falun Gong organization, practices, belief system, and purported social consequences.[51]

On 22 July, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security together dissolved the Falun Dafa Research Society and banned "the propagation of Falun Gong in any form" and to prohibit anyone from disrupting social order or confronting the government.[49] Other qigong groups, such as Zhong Gong, were similarly forced to disband. HRW notes that Chinese officials did not hesitate to apply the same harsh tactics to Falun Gong that it had employed previously against other sects it sought to control – to illustrate its power over all religious expression, "[religious leaders] who inspired extraordinary loyalty from worshippers or who resisted government edicts went to prison or simply were 'disappeared'".[52] HRW and Amnesty stated that the official directives and legal documents issued for the purge fall short of international standards.[8][53]

On 26 July, several state bureaux and the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued a circular calling for confiscation and destruction of all publications related to Falun Gong;[54] it was condemned in the media, with books shredded and videotapes bulldozed for TV cameras.[49][55] Three days later, an arrest warrant was issued for Li Hongzhi for "spreading superstition, deception, and organising gatherings to disturb public order", which was filed with but declined by Interpol.[49] Protests continued, and thousands of practitioners entered Beijing for a demonstration in Tiananmen Square on 25 October. Politburo member Li Lanqing reported that up to the end of October, there had been 35,792 instances when followers were stopped by police and either taken away or told to leave Beijing; a large number are believed to have been stopped from reaching the capital.[56]

The government enacted a statute (article 300 of the Criminal Law), passed by the National People’s Congress on 30 October 1999, with retrospective application to suppress thousands of "heterodox religions" across China,[57] thus legitimising the persecution of Falun Gong and any other spiritual groups deemed "dangerous to the state."[55] Arrested leaders had been formally charged on 19 October with various offences ranging from organizing a cult to "stealing, illegally possessing and leaking state secrets" and "running an illegal business." The State Council Information Office announced that at least 150 people had been detained or were being sought on similar charges by 22 November; forty-four people had been indicted by 28 November.[58] Upon the sentencing of two key Falun Gong leaders to heavy prison terms (16 to 18 years') in late December, the protests which had abated resumed immediately.[59]

HRW observed that state's efforts to stop demonstrations were met by "orchestrated defiance" and daily protests throughout 2000. Daily protesters usually numbered in the hundreds, perhaps 1,000 protesters or more would gather on holidays and important dates; practitioners from around the country would "court detention" on Tiananmen Square by unfurling banners or meditating. In anticipation of their arrests by police, Falun Gong ensured international media were on hand to witness how their peaceful protest was met by violent responses from authorities; they would draw attention to arrests and suspicious deaths in custody, issue media alerts, and post information on the internet.[60] According to Leung, 5,000 were detained across China by February 2000.[55] By 25 April 2000, within one year after the massive demonstration at Zhongnanhai, a total of more than 30,000 practitioners had been arrested there.[61] Seven hundred Falun Gong followers were arrested during a demonstration in the Square on 1 January 2001.[62] Officials grew impatient with the constant flow of protesters into Beijing,[10] and decided to implement a cascading responsibility system to push the responsibility for meeting central orders down onto those enforcing them: central authorities would hold local officials personally responsible for stemming the flow of protesters.[63] The provincial government would fine mayors for each Falun Gong practitioner from their district who made it to Beijing; the mayors would in turn fine the heads of the Political and Legal commissions, who would in turn fine village chiefs, who fined police officers who administered the punishment. According to Johnson, police in turn extorted money illegally from Falun Gong practitioners, and the order was only relayed orally at meetings, “because they didn't want it made public.” A chief feature in the testimony of Falun Gong torture victims was that they were “constantly being asked for money to compensate for the fines.”[10]

HRW reported that some work units would summarily fire people identified as practitioners, meaning they would lose housing, schooling, pensions, and be reported to the police. Whereas places remote from Beijing once turned a blind eye to solitary exercise and meditation, restrictions were tightened in 2001 after the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident.[64] Local officials would detain active practitioners and those unwilling to recant, and were expected to "make certain" that families and employers keep them isolated.[65]

Media campaign

File:Anti-Falun Gong poster.png

The poster reads "Firmly support the decision of the Central Committee to deal with the illegal organization of 'Falun Gong'"

Since the organization's ban by the government of China on 22 July 1999,[3] the state-controlled media declared Falun Gong to be an "evil cult"[4] that spreads superstition.

By 30 July, ten days into the campaign, Xinhua reported confiscations of over one million Falun Gong books and other materials, hundreds of thousands burned and destroyed.[66]

At the early stages of the crackdown, the evening news would broadcast images of huge piles of Falun Gong materials being crushed or incinerated. Perry writes that the basic pattern of the offensive was similar to "the anti-rightist campaign of the 1950s [and] the anti-spiritual pollution campaigns of the 1980s." The media would focus on those who had kicked the Falun Gong habit; relatives of Falun Gong victims would talk about the tragedies that had befallen their loved ones; former practitioners would confess being "hoodwinked by Li Hongzhi and... expressing regret at their gullibility"; physical education instructors suggested healthy alternatives to Falun Gong practice, like ten-pin bowling.[67]

According to CNN's Willy Lam, state media stated that Falun Gong was part of an "anti-China international movement".[46] As it did during the Cultural Revolution, the Communist Party organised rallies in the streets and stop-work meetings in remote western provinces by government agencies such as the weather bureau to denounce the practice. Xinhua published editorials on PLA officers declaring Falun Gong "an effort by hostile Western forces to subvert China," and vowing to do their utmost to defend the central leadership and "maintain national security and social stability."[46]

Circulars were issued to women's and youth organisations encouraging support for the ban. Both the Youth League and the All-China Women's Federation called for greater use of science education to combat "feudalistic superstition." Xinhua reported speeches of Youth League officials. One speaker said "This reminds us of the importance and urgency of strengthening our political and ideological work among the younger generation, educating them with Marxist materialism and atheism, and making greater efforts to popularize scientific knowledge".[68] The Women's Federation stated the need to "arm our sisters with scientific knowledge and help improve their capability to recognize and resist feudal superstition"[68] A group of PLA veterans who had joined in the 1930s and 1940s issued a statement that "Only Marxism can save China and only the Chinese Communist Party can lead us to accomplish the great cause of reinvigorating the Chinese nation."[69]

Li was also a target for Chinese media during this time. The Chinese authorities charged that he had created Falun Gong on the basis of two other Qigong systems developed earlier, namely, Chanmi Gong and Jiugong Bagua Gong, and that some of Falun Gong's exercises were copied from "movements from Thai dance that he picked up during a visit to relatives in Thailand."[70] Chinese authorities asserted that acquaintances Li Jingchao and Liu Yuqing helped to develop the system, and other earlier followers helped write texts and touch up photographs; it was not tested exhaustively beforehand, but was completed only one month before its official launch, they alleged.[71] James Tong notes that these allegations were brought forth in the publication "Li Hongzhi qiren qishi", some already in print before 22 July 1999, that conformed to the guidelines of the suppression of Falun Gong as specified by the Politburo and Jiang Zemin. Many were hastily compiled reprints or re-writes of Renmin Ribao articles and Xinhua dispatches on exposes of Falun Gong and Li Hongzhi, and party and government documents banning the Falun Gong.[72] Qiren qishi was itself produced by the research arm of the Public Security Bureau.[70]

Use of the cult label

The government re-used many of the arguments which had been advanced by critics of the movement prior to the ban, including allegations that Falun Gong was "propagating feudal superstition", that Li had changed his birthdate, and that the practice exploited spiritual cultivation to engage in seditious politics. In exposés such as "Falun Gong is a Cult",[73] "Exposing the Lies of the 'Falun Gong' Cult", and "Cult of Evil", they alleged that Falun Gong engaged in mind control and manipulation via "lies and fallacies," causing "needless deaths of large numbers of practitioners." State media seized upon Li's writing in which he expressed that illnesses are caused by karma, and that Li has stated on several occasions that the sign of a true practitioner is to refuse medicine or medical care.[74] The authorities claimed over 1,000 deaths because practitioners followed Li's teachings and refused to seek medical treatment, that several hundred practitioners had cut their stomachs open "looking for the Dharma Wheel" or committed suicide, and that over 30 innocent people had been killed by "mentally deranged practitioners of Falun Gong."[75] Li was portrayed as a charlatan, while snapshots of accounting records were shown on television, "purporting to prove that [he] made huge amounts of money off his books and videos."[10]

Ching (2001) states that "evil cult" was defined by an atheist government "on political premises, not by any religious authority", and was used by the authorities to make previous arrests and imprisonments constitutional.[45] Most social scientists and scholars of religion reject "brainwashing" theories and do not use the term "cult" to describe Falun Gong. Chan claims that Falun Gong is neither a cult nor a sect, but a New Religious Movement with cult-like characteristics.[76] Other scholars avoid the term "cult" altogether because "of the confusion between the historic meaning of the term and current pejorative use"[77][78] These scholars prefer terms like "spiritual movement" or "new religious movement" to avoid the negative connotations of "cult" or to avoid mis-categorizing Falun Gong as a "cult" if it doesn't fit mainstream definitions.[79] Nevertheless, many scholars, including notably Palmer (2007) and Ownby (2008), use the words "moralistic" and "apocalyptic" to describe its philosophy.[80]

Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident

On the eve of Chinese New Year on 23 January 2001, seven people attempted to set themselves ablaze at Tiananmen Square. The official Chinese press agency, Xinhua News Agency, and other state media asserted that the self-immolators were practitioners while the Falun Dafa Information Center disputed this,[81] on the grounds that the movement's teachings explicitly forbid suicide and killing,[82] and further alleged that the event itself never happened, and was a cruel but clever piece of stunt-work.[83] The incident received international news coverage, and video footage of the burnings were broadcast later inside China by China Central Television (CCTV). Images of a 12 year old girl, Liu Siying, burning and interviews with the other participants in which they stated their belief that self-immolation would lead them to paradise were shown.[81][84] Falun Gong-related commentators claimed that the main participants' account of the incident and other aspects of the participants' behaviour were inconsistent with the teachings of Falun Dafa, and some third-party commentators have also pointed out discrepancies in the government's version of events, and alleged that the incident was staged in order to turn public opinion against the practice[85] and build public support for its persecution.[86][87][88][89] Time reported that prior to the self-immolation incident, many Chinese had felt that Falun Gong posed no real threat, and that the state's crackdown had gone too far. After the event the media campaign against Falun Gong gained significant traction.[63]

Internet restrictions

Analyst James Mulvenon of the Rand Corporation stated that the Chinese Ministry of Public Security uses cyber-warfare to attack Falun Gong websites in the United States,[90] Australia, Canada and England, and blocks access to internet resources about the topic.[91][92]

Interference with foreign correspondents

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China have complained about their members being "followed, detained, interrogated and threatened" for reporting on the crackdown on Falun Gong. Many foreign journalists attending a news conference organised by practitioners which took place in Beijing on 28 October 1999, were accused by the Chinese authorities of "illegal reporting." Others have been punished for communicating with the foreign press or for organising the press conferences. Journalists from Reuters, the New York Times, the Associated Press and a number of other organisations were interrogated by police, forced to sign confessions, and had their work and residence papers temporarily confiscated.[6] Correspondents also complained that television satellite transmissions were interfered with while being routed through China Central Television. Amnesty International states that "a number of people have received prison sentences or long terms of administrative detention for speaking out about the repression or giving information over the Internet."[6]

The 2002 Reporters Without Borders' report on China states that photographers and cameramen working with foreign media were prevented from working in and around Tiananmen Square where hundreds of Falun Gong followers have demonstrated in recent years. It estimates that at least 50 representatives of the international press have been arrested since July 1999, and some of them were beaten by police; several Falun Gong followers have been imprisoned for talking with foreign journalists." Ian Johnson, The Wall Street Journal correspondent in Beijing, wrote a series of articles which won him the 2001 Pulitzer Prize. Johnson left Beijing after writing his articles, stating that "the Chinese police would have made my life in Beijing impossible" after he received the Pulitzer.[93]

Entire news organizations have not been immune to press restrictions concerning Falun Gong. In March 2001, Time Asia ran a story about Falun Gong in Hong Kong. The magazine was pulled from the shelves in Mainland China, and threatened that it would never again be sold in the country.[94] Partly as a result of the difficult reporting environment, by 2002, Western news coverage of the suppression within China had all but completely ceased, even as the number of Falun Gong deaths in custody was on the rise.[95]

Reports of violence and abuse

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment


Zhang Zhong upon release from police detention. Zhang, rearrested when his case was brought under international attention, died while in police custody.[96]

Robert Bejesky, writing in the Columbia Journal of Asian Law, wrote that China uses forced labor to re-educate those seen as "disrupting social order," "endangering national security," or "subverting the socialist system". Such forced labor is outside the criminal justice system, and is intended to rehabilitate "agitators".[97] Up to 99% of long term Falun Gong detainees are processed administratively through this system.[97] Outside access is not given to the camps. Prisoners are forced to do heavy work in mines, brick factories, and agriculture. A figure from 2004 set the number of Falun Gong deaths in these institutions at 700, according to Bejesky.[97]

Torture in custody

A 2001 article by John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan in the Washington Post said that that no practitioner was to be spared coercive measures in an attempt to make them renounce their faith. According to their source in the security apparatus, the most active are sent directly to labor camps, “where they are first 'broken' by beatings and other torture.”[98] They write that some local governments had tried brainwashing classes before, but only in January 2001 did the “secret 610 office, an interagency task force leading the charge against Falun Gong, order all neighborhood committees, state institutions and companies to start.”[98]

The Falun Gong website Clearwisdom report numerous cases of extreme psychological and physical torture, accompanied by testimonies and details of identities of the victims, resulting in impaired mental, sensory, physiological and speech faculties, mental trauma, paralysis, or death. Over 100 forms of torture are purported to be used, including electric shocks, stress positions, branding, force-feeding, and sexual abuse, with many variations on each type.[99]

Since 2000, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations highlighted 314 cases of torture, representing more than 1,160 individuals, to the Government of China. Falun Gong comprise 66% of all such reported torture cases, 8% occurring within Ankangs.[100] [101] The Special Rapporteur refers to the torture allegations as "harrowing" and asks the Chinese government to "take immediate steps to protect the lives and integrity of its detainees in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners"[102] Corinna-Barbara Francis of Amnesty says Falun Gong's (death toll) figures seem a little high because they are not the result of formal executions.[91]

Organ harvesting

In March 2006 the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times published a number of articles alleging that the China was conducting widespread and systematic organ harvesting of living Falun Gong practitioners.[103] The website alleged that practitioners detained in labour camps, hospital basements, or prisons, were being blood and urine tested, their information stored on computer databases, and then matched with organ recipients.[104] Within one month, third party investigators including representatives of the US Department of State, said that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation.[57] Former Canadian Secretary of State David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas were commissioned by Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong to investigate the allegations. In July 2006, they published "Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China",[105] which concluded that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners were victims of systematic organ harvesting throughout China, whilst still alive.[106]

In August 2006, a Congressional Research Service report said that some of the key allegations of the Kilgour-Matas report appeared to be inconsistent with the findings of other investigations.[57] In November 2008 the United Nations Committee Against Torture called for the Chinese state to immediately conduct or commission an independent investigation of the claims of organ harvesting, and take measures to ensure that those responsible for any such abuses are prosecuted and punished.[107]

Psychiatric abuse

Falun Gong and human rights observers began reporting widespread psychiatric abuse of mentally-healthy practitioners since 1999. Falun Gong says that thousands have been forcefully detained in mental hospitals and subject to psychiatric abuses such as injection of sedatives or anti-psychotic drugs, torture by electrocution, force-feeding, beatings and starvation.[108] It also alleges that practitioners are involuntarily admitted because they practice Falun Gong exercises, for passing out flyers, refusing to sign a pledge to renounce Falun Gong, writing petition letters, appealing to the government etc. Others are admitted because detention sentences have expired or the detainees have not been successfully “transformed” in the brainwashing classes. Some have been told that they were admitted because they had a so-called “political problem”—that is, because they appealed to the government to lift the ban of Falun Gong.[109]

Robin J. Munro, former Director of the Hong Kong Office of Human Rights Watch, drew worldwide attention to the abuses of forensic psychiatry in China in general, and of Falun Gong practitioners in particular.[109] In 2001, Munro alleged that forensic psychiatrists in China have been active since the days of Mao Zedong, and have been involved in the systematic misuse of psychiatry for political purposes.[110][111] He says that large-scale psychiatric abuses are the most distinctive aspect of the government’s protracted campaign to "crush the Falun Gong."[112] Munro notes a very sizeable increase in Falun Gong admissions to mental hospitals since the onset of the government's persecution campaign.[113] However, Stone said that Munro's allegations were constructed from "his layman's reading and tendentious extrapolations of Chinese psychiatric publications".[114]

Munro claimed that detained Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and subject to electroconvulsive therapy, painful forms of electrical acupuncture treatment, prolonged deprivation of light, food and water, and restricted access to toilet facilities in order to force "confessions" or "renunciations" as a condition of release. Fines of several thousand yuan may follow.[113] Lu and Galli write that dosages of medication up to five or six times the usual level are administered through nasogastric tubes as a form of torture or punishment, and that physical torture is common, including binding tightly with ropes in very painful positions. This treatment may result in chemical toxicity, migraines, extreme weakness, protrusion of the tongue, rigidity, loss of consciousness, vomiting, nausea, seizures and loss of memory.[109]

Stone[115] said that the pattern of hospitalisation varied from province to province, and did not suggest any uniform government policy was in force. After having been given access to and examining several hundred cases of specific Falun Gong practitioners in named psychiatric hospitals, the medical personnel), "a significant number of the reported cases... had been sent on from labor camps where they... may well have been tortured and then dumped in psychiatric hospitals as an expedient disposition.[114]


The Falun Dafa Information Center reports that over 3,400 Falun Gong adherents have been killed as a result of torture and abuse in custody, typically after they refused to recant their belief in the practice, though these numbers are impossible to independently corroborate. The preponderance of reported deaths occur in China’s Northeastern provinces, Sichuan Province, and areas surrounding Beijing.[116]

Among the first torture deaths reported in the Western press was that of Chen Zixiu, a retired factory worker from Shandong Province. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the suppression of Falun Gong, Ian Johnson reported that labor camp guards shocked her with cattle prods in an attempt to force her to renounce Falun Gong. When she refused, officials “ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood...She crawled outside, vomited, and collapse. She never regained consciousness.” Chen died on Feb 21, 2000.[117]

On 16 June 2005, 37-year-old Gao Rongrong, an accountant from Liaoning Province, was tortured to death in custody. Two years before her death, Ms. Gao had been imprisoned at the Longshan forced labor camp, where she was tortured and badly disfigured with electric shock batons. Gao escaped the labor camp by jumping from a second-floor window, and after pictures of her burned visage were made public, she became a target for recapture by authorities. She was taken back into custody on 6 March, 2005, and killed just over three months later.[118]

On 26 January, 2008, security agents in Beijing stopped popular folk musician Yu Zhou and his wife Xu Na while on their way home from a concert. The 42-year-old Yu Zhou was taken into custody, where authorities attempted to force him to renounce Falun Gong. He was tortured to death within 11 days.[119]

Societal discrimination

Academic restrictions

According to Falun Gong lobby group World Organization for the Investigation Persecution of Falun Gong (WOIPFG), examinations contained questions with anti-Falun Gong content, and incorrect answers had serious repercussions.[120] WOIPFG claimed that students who practiced Falun Gong were barred from schools and universities and from sitting exams, and that "guilt by association" was assumed: family members of known practitioners were also denied entry.[121] There were anti-Falun Gong petitions.[8]

Outside China

In 2004 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution condemning the CCP’s attacks on Falun Gong practitioners in the United States; it reported that Party affiliates have “pressured local elected officials in the United States to refuse or withdraw support for the Falun Gong spiritual group,” that Falun Gong spokespeoples’ houses have been broken into, and individuals engaged in peaceful protest actions outside embassies have been physically assaulted. It called on the Chinese government to “immediately stop interfering in the exercise of religious and political freedoms within the United States.”[122]

Recent campaigns

Although not as high-profile as it once was, the suppression of Falun Gong in China has continued largely unabated in recent years, with new strike-hard campaigns launched periodically against the group, particularly around sensitive events and anniversaries.


The Congressional Executive Commission on China reported that “the central government intensified its nine-year campaign of persecution against Falun Gong practitioners in the months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games.” The 6–10 Office issued an internal directive mandating that local governments take steps to prevent Falun Gong from ‘‘interfering with or harming’’ the Games. Public Security Bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai issued directives providing rewards for informants who report Falun Gong activities to the police.[123]

In the months leading up to the Olympics, the Falun Dafa Information Center reported that over 8,000 Falun Gong adherents were abducted from homes and workplaces by security agents.[124] The Center reported that many of these practitioners were later sentenced to lengthy prison terms—some in excess of 15 years—and that several were tortured to death in custody. Amnesty International observed that Falun Gong was among the groups most harshly persecuted in 2008, and reported that during the year over 100 Falun Gong practitioners died as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody.[125]

International response

Falun Gong's ordeal has attracted a large amount of international attention from governments and non-government organizations. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have raised acute concerns over reports of torture and ill-treatment of practitioners in China and have also urged the UN and international governments to intervene to bring an end to the persecution.[6][126]

The United States Congress has passed six resolutions - House Concurrent Resolution 304, House Resolution 530,House Concurrent Resolution 188, House Concurrent Resolution 218, - calling for an immediate end to the campaign against Falun Gong practitioners both in China and abroad. The first, Concurrent Resolution 217, was passed in November 1999.[127] The latest, Resolution 605, was passed on 17 March 2010, and called for "an immediate end to the campaign to persecute, intimidate, imprison, and torture Falun Gong practitioners."[128]

Response from Falun Gong

File:Falun gong in new york city.jpg

Falun Gong practitioners enact torture scenes in New York City

Falun Gong practitioners and supporters report torture and ill-treatment of practitioners in mainland China.[129][130] After 1999 practitioners also began holding frequent protests, rallies, and appeals outside The People's Republic. Some Falun Gong support groups and activists outside of China published "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party", and initiated a worldwide "Three Renunciations" Campaign. The video "False Fire: Self-Immolation or Deception?", was broadcast on Chinese television by hackers.[131][132] Liu Chengjun, named as the instigator of the television hacking, was sentenced to 19 years in prison. The Falun Gong website stated that he died after 21 months in Jilin Prison, on 26 December 2003.[133]

Further reading



  1. Lum, Thomas (25 May 2006 (updated)). "Congressional Research Service-The Library of Congress: Report for Congress: China and Falun Gong". Congressional Research Service. Retrieved 16 October 2009. "In the 109th Congress, H.Res. 608, introduced on 14 December 2005, would condemn the “escalating levels of religious persecution” in China, including the “brutal campaign to eradicate Falun Gong.” H.Res. 794, introduced on 3 May 2006, would call upon the PRC to end its most egregious human rights abuses, including the persecution of Falun Gong."
  2. "A Chronicle of Major Historic Events during the Introduction of Falun Dafa to the Public". Retrieved 31 October 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 People's Daily Online, China Bans Falun Gong, 30 July 1999
  4. 4.0 4.1 "China Bans Falun Gong: Law Sure to Beat Cults: Article". People's Daily Online. 29 December 1999. Retrieved 16 October 2009.
  5. Thomas Lum (25 May 2006). "CRS Report for Congress: China and Falun Gong" (PDF). Congressional Research Service.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "China: The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called "heretical organizations"". Amnesty International. 23 March 2000. Archived from the original on 11 July 2003. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  7. United Nations (4 February 2004) Press Release HR/CN/1073, retrieved 12 September 2006
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Mickey Spiegel, "Dangerous Meditation: China's Campaign Against Falungong", Human Rights Watch, 2002, accessed Sept 28, 2007 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "dangerous" defined multiple times with different content
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  11. A Chronicle of Major Historic Events during the Introduction of Falun Dafa to the Public, Clearwisdom
  12. David Ownby, "The Falun Gong in the New World," European Journal of East Asian Studies, Sep2003, Vol. 2 Issue 2, p 306
  13. Palmer (2007), p. 247.
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