The state crackdown on the spiritual practice of Falun Gong has been recognized by scholars as one of the worst instances of religious persecution in China since the Cultural Revolution*. Jiang Zemin, past leader of the Chinese Communist Party, ordered the large-scale clampdown on the popular meditation practice in 1999. According to a new report, the ongoing persecution has failed to achieve its goal, and millions of Mainland Chinese still adhere to the meditation practice that is reminiscent of Buddhist and Taoist traditions.
“Despite a 17-year Chinese Communist Party (CCP) campaign to eradicate the spiritual group, millions of people in China continue to practice Falun Gong, including many individuals who took up the discipline after the repression began,” said the report by U.S-based Freedom House nonprofit.
“This represents a striking failure of the CCP’s security apparatus,” it added.
While Falun Gong practitioners in China remain under severe persecution and remain at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution, the report said there has been evidence that there has been a decrease in the trajectory of the persecution.
— Freedom House (@freedomhouse) February 28, 2017
As part of this, Freedom House senior research analyst Sarah Cook said that one of the report’s more optimistic findings is that there are “cracks in the crackdown.”
“[President Xi Jinping’s] anti-corruption campaign kind of cut the top off some of the officials who were leading [the persecution],” Cook told The Wall Street Journal.
“And grassroots efforts by practitioners to talk to police are actually yielding fruit in terms of some police letting people meditate, [police] dragging their feet in terms of arresting people,” she said.
The report gave further examples that occurred across China, adding that that they were not isolated incidents, such as:
- Local officials refraining from persecuting Falun Gong residents
- Release of a veteran practitioner after only a few days detention
- Police permitting adherents to meditate in custody
- Police officers actively protecting people
Freedom House said that increasing numbers of non-Falun Gong practitioners in China — including human rights lawyers, family members, and neighbors — have joined practitioner’s non-violent efforts in fighting the campaign against them.
— Rise-Ascend (@RiseAscend) February 19, 2017
Despite the length and the severity of the persecution, millions of people inside China continue to practice Falun Gong, says the report.
“Given the force of the CCP’s crackdown, few observers inside or outside China would have expected Falun Gong to survive. Indeed, the conventional wisdom among many scholars, journalists, and policymakers is that it was successfully crushed inside China,” said the report.
“In an environment of long-standing repression, it is nearly impossible to know how many people practice Falun Gong in China today. Yet 17 years after it was banned, there is reason to believe that the number remains in the millions, and possibly the tens of millions,” it added.
The report estimated that 7 to 10 million people continue to practice Falun Gong in China, while Falun Gong sources outside of China give a figure of 20-40 million.
The report described Falun Gong as:
“…a spiritual practice whose key features are five meditative qigong exercises and teachings reminiscent of Buddhist and Taoist traditions, with particular emphasis placed on the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance (Zhen-Shan-Ren in Chinese). Adherents perform the exercises, study spiritual texts, and attempt to conform to these values — believed to be in harmony with the spiritual nature of the universe — in their daily lives, with the understanding that doing so leads to better physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual enlightenment. While Falun Gong includes some spiritual attributes of religion, it is loosely organized and lacks a professional clergy, formal membership, acceptance of donations, and specialized places of worship.”
— Freedom House (@freedomhouse) February 28, 2017
The report also acknowledged reports that Falun Gong practitioners have been targeted to be killed for large-scale forced organ harvesting.
“Freedom House reviewed available evidence compiled by other investigators (including phone calls made to Chinese doctors), interviewed former Falun Gong prisoners of conscience who provided detailed accounts of blood tests in custody, spoke to a Taiwanese doctor whose patients have traveled to China for transplants, and met with the friend of a military hospital employee who had firsthand knowledge of organ extraction from a Falun Gong detainee as recently as 2011. The above review found credible evidence suggesting that beginning in the early 2000s, Falun Gong detainees were killed for their organs on a large scale.”
The above information came from the 22 pages focusing on the persecution of Falun Gong in the report The Battle for China’s Spirit, which overall paints a grim picture of religious freedom in the country.
“At least 100 million people — nearly one-third of estimated believers in China — belong to religious groups facing ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of persecution (Protestant Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong),” was one of the key findings of the whole report.
In her interview, Cook told The Wall Street Journal why the Chinese government suppresses religious believers.
“The Chinese Communist Party get very nervous if anybody has an allegiance above themselves, above the Party,” Cook said.
— Sarah Cook (@Sarah_G_Cook) February 28, 2017
*This opening statement is based on a quote used in the report made by Professor André Laliberté, Ottawa University, leading scholar on religion in China.