Amidst Modern China Lies a Dark and Terrible Secret

China's ferocious campaign to take down one of its most popular civic groups, Falun Gong, gives us a look at what's dangerously missing from our perception of the Asian giant.

The struggle for
freedom of belief

In Tiananmen Square c. 1999, two plainclothes policemen strongarm an unarmed protester who moments before was holding a banner that read "Truth, Compassion, Tolerance."

The Li family survived the impossible

This is no ordinary family portrait. From 1999 until 2009, these parents withstood cruel conditions in Chinese prisons and labour camps for their beliefs and didn't know if they would ever see their daughter, or each other, again. Passing them in a park or on the subway in New York City where they've relocated, one could never imagine the hardship they've overcome.

For 18 years, a controlling regime has targeted its citizens and subjected them to harassment at work and school, random searches at home, abduction, imprisonment in labour camps, torture, and death. As we tell one of the defining stories of our age, a story that isn't over yet, we look at what sparked the persecution of Falun Gong, what it is, and what you need to know now.

Chapter 1: A Campaign of Violence & Terror

It began in the middle of the night, July 20, 1999. Across China under the veil of darkness, a Gestapo-like Chinese police force dragged hundreds of terrified residents from their beds and took them to holding centers and jails where they beat and tortured them for practicing one of China's popular early-morning exercise routines, Falun Gong. Those were the first hours of a permanent nightmare for the 100 million adherents of the traditional meditation practice, a dark period in China that's lasted 18 years and counting, killed hundreds of thousands of people, dehumanized countless more, and left the rest of the world with a chilling sense of dread. The Chinese Communist Party's largest political mobilization since the Cultural Revolution has grown into one of the world's worst crimes against humanity.

"The government has branded Falun Gong "dangerous" and "evil" and has mobilized thousands of security personnel and the state-run press to smash the group." — Washington Post, 12 Nov 1999

Imagine waking up one day to find that your thoughts had been literally outlawed. Imagine seeing orders for the public—broadcast on television, radio, posters, banners, and newspapers—to turn in people with your beliefs. Imagine that your neighbours, your employer, your children's teachers were all ordered to tell the police patrols where you lived.

Peaceful appeals meet with brutality

For centuries, Beijing has served the Chinese populace as a place to petition the ruler and realize justice. But under communist rule, the only thing the people are allowed to stand up for is the Party line.

Two days after the mayhem began, on July 22, 1999, television stations played anti-Falun Gong propaganda on a constant loop vilifying the practice. The Beijing Daily published demonizing headlines such as "Falun Gong is a rat crossing the street that everyone shouts out to squash." Official cadres visited villagers and farmers at home to explain "in simple terms the ‘harm' of Falun Gong to them" according to Amnesty International. Book burnings and other kinds of public mass destruction of materials were broadcast on the evening news.

Trucks with mounted bull horns drove through the streets of Beijing announcing the ban on the practice that tens of millions of people adhered to.

By July 30th, ten days into the campaign, over one million Falun Gong books and materials had been confiscated, according to the official state news agency, and hundreds of thousands had been burned and destroyed.

This violence was in stark contrast to the peaceful demonstration that took place three months earlier at the State Council Office of Petitions in Beijing. There, 10,000 practitioners assembled, stood quietly along the sidewalks keeping entrances and driveways clear, and waited for a response to their request that the prime minister lift the ban on Falun Gong books and allow them to practice without the government interference that they'd been experiencing on a small scale for two years. Then-prime minister Zhu Rongji made concessions towards and reassured the petitioners.

Practitioners quietly dispersed from what was the largest protest in China since 1989, feeling a sense of relief over this perceived victory. But within hours, the leader of the Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, expressed outrage towards the protesters, reversed the prime minister's assuaging position, and began plans for a nationwide campaign against the meditators.

Soldiers of a bloody cause

Since the Party came into power in 1949, it has tried several times to eradicate all expressions of religion inside its borders. To this day, any person of faith who doesn't belong to a state-sanctioned, state-run religious group is at constant risk of detention and torture.

Falun Gong exercises in the park

Starting in the 1980s, thousands gathered in China's parks to practice traditional methods of slow-moving exercises and energy channelling called "qigong." By 1999, government estimates say the practitioners of one type of "qigong" — Falun Gong — numbered between 70 to 100 million.

Despite Falun Gong's pacifism and lack of political interest, the numbers of practitioners made one party leader especially nervous, and some say, jealous.

Jiang led the crackdown

Tensions came to a head when then-Party leader Jiang Zemin accused his peers of weakness for allowing Falun Gong's early morning assemblies, Buddhist-style teachings, and the unprecedented crowd of petitioners to go unpunished. In July 1999, he ordered Falun Gong to be eradicated "within three months."

Jiang established a secret police force, the 610 Office, created for and dedicated to the sole purpose of eradicating Falun Gong. Reporting directly to Jiang, it would become the main weapon in the regime's struggle against the group. In his book A China More Just, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng describes being shocked by the extent of the 610 Office's operations.

"The immoral act that has shaken my soul most is the 610 Office and policemen's regular practice of assaulting women's genitals," Gao wrote. "Of those persecuted, almost every woman's genitals and breasts and almost every man's private parts have been sexually assaulted in a most vulgar fashion."

In addition to torture and sexual abuse, 610 Office agents also sentence the Falun Gong to labour camps, and abduct adherents from their homes and take them to brainwashing classes. Coercive thought reform is a central aspect of the agency's activities.

But its real power lies in its ability to direct the campaign against Falun Gong from behind the scenes. By employing quotas and incentive systems, as well as latching onto the Party's existing and pervasive bureaucracy, the 610 Office is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the campaign against Falun Gong: from controlling the criminal justice system, to gathering overseas intelligence through the Ministry of State Security, to infiltrating top Chinese universities.

Though Party officials have externally denied the 610 Office's existence, a broad range of public statements, internal documents, and testimonies refute such claims. Instead, available evidence paints a disturbing picture of a shadowy yet powerful entity that operates like the mafia but is officially sanctioned; an extremely violent organization that permeates Chinese society but is well-known only to those who control it, work for it, or are hunted by it.

The 610 Office's operations detained nearly 50,000 people in the first week of the crackdown. Many were never seen again.

Missing one by one

Professor He Haiying recounts his immediate family members being abducted in the crackdown and where they were taken.

Place of nightmares

Masanjia Labour Camp, Liaoning Province, China, was one of the country's most notoriously abusive and inhumane labour camps. Its guards' cruel treatment of women, including sexual abuse, was so horrific that one of China's news magazines, Lens, bravely published an article exposing it. Public awareness may have led to its closure in recent years, but shocking abuse continues in lesser-known locales.

Abducted into Camps

So what happened to the citizens who were abducted in those first frightening hours in July 1999, and the ones who continue to face persecution today? Their outcome bears a chilling semblance to another large-scale genocide.

From 1999 to 2014, there were between 200,000 and 2 million Falun Gong adherents held in China's vast system of "re-education through labour" camps, which administer tactics the regime honed during the Cultural Revolution. In 2014, current president Xi Jinping closed the labour camp system after international pressure mounted, but dissidents are still held illegally in brainwashing centres, prisons, and other unofficial jails where they're subjected to forced labour, torture, and abuse.

Many types of dissidents suffered in labour camps unjustly, but Falun Gong was by far the largest population of prisoners of conscience. According to a 2013 report by Amnesty International, Falun Gong practitioners "constituted on average from one third to in some cases 100 per cent of the total population" of certain re-education through labour camps. Denied a lawyer and a fair trial, labour camp detainees were often held indefinitely, sometimes up to 14 years.

When used against spiritual practitioners, the goal of re-education through labour was called "transformation"—forced conversion where practitioners agree to quit their faith and pledge loyalty to the Communist Party.

"The first thing they do is to take your human dignity away and humiliate you."

— from a labour camp survivor, CNN, 7 Nov 2013

The detained were forced to sit in front of TV screens for hours and watch loud brainwashing videos portraying them as "evil cult members" and slandering the practice and the founder of Falun Gong. Name-calling, falsehoods, threats, humiliations and vilification, all tactics meant to convince practitioners to recant their faith and pledge allegiance to the Party.

At other times, detainees were forced to work up to 20 hours a day, left outdoors in the Siberian-like winter of northeastern China or in unventilated rooms in southern China's suffocating heat, rooms filled with fumes from glue and feces. Those who refused to follow orders to assemble products were beaten, tortured, starved, or all three.

The truth will set them against you

Mr. Zhao refused to comply with the authorities who illegally sentenced him to forced labour and was punished severely for it.

While innocent people toiled desperately or endured punishment, the ones in charge of labour camps raked in profit off of the prisoners' free labour. With nothing more than a "Made in China" label, labour camp products were shipped to stores around the world, from Europe to South Korea to the United States.

Western distributors are prevented by law from purchasing any type of goods made from slave labour, but the shadowy inner workings of China's industrial complex and the Communist Party's acceptance of lying make it nearly impossible for Western buyers to discern where vast amounts of China's cheap goods really come from. By using shell companies and hiding the paper trail, products fabricated in labour camps often slipped into the marketplace and found their way onto our shelves. Most of the world's knowledge about the true picture of institutionalized slave labour comes from Chinese labour camp survivors and escapees.

  • Made in China, By Tortured Prisoners

    Shelled nuts, holiday decorations, toys, chopsticks… to learn which products familiar to North Americans have been known to come from China's forced labour camps

    Scroll right to learn more.

  • Shocking find pleads SOS

    In 2011, American Julie Keith found a handwritten note inside a box of Halloween decorations purchased from a K-Mart in Oregon. The note was penned by a former inmate of China's notorious Masanjia labour camp. The Falun Gong practitioner was forced to assemble the items, and subjected to the horrendous conditions and unending labour inside the camp for his belief in Falun Gong, as he grimly depicts in the note. Sun Yi was tracked down and later told the press that he wrote 20 different SOS letters during the two years he was imprisoned, hiding them in packages with English-language writing on them, in the hopes that they would be picked up in American stores.

  • Bad karma hidden in plain sight

    Huang Kui, an engineer now living in Illinois, was sentenced to a Chinese labour camp for his beliefs. "I was forced to assemble Christmas tree lights, Spider-Man toys, sweaters, and other goods consumers here would recognize."

    "Somehow we were even allotted the task of shelling pistachio nuts," Huang continues, "despite our utterly unsanitary conditions. Our sweat, blood, tears—and sometimes urine—seeped into the nuts. After escaping from China I saw some of these products in American stores, simply tagged "Made in China."

  • Horror imported

    When Jennifer Zeng was imprisoned in Beijing's Xin'an Labour Camp, she worked inhumanely long hours making toy rabbits for Beijing's Mickey Toys Co. Ltd, a project reportedly subcontracted from Nestle. After she was released and she fled to Australia, she was shocked to find the toys she had made being sold on store shelves there.

  • Abusing public trust

    One testimony from the website Minghui, tells of the "sanitary chopsticks" produced at a Daxing County labour camp in Beijing. The chopsticks were piled on the floor arbitrarily and often stepped on by workers. The inmates' job was to put the chopsticks into paper coverings labelled by the Department of Sanitary and Epidemic Prevention, though many of the inmates had skin diseases, scabies outbreaks, and some were drug addicts or diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases. The payment for the contracted forced labour became income for the policemen at the labour camps.

But many refuse to sign a "transformation guarantee," a contract stating they've renounced their beliefs. They see their steadfasteness as a powerful expression of freedom and a step toward the eventual undoing of hardline rule in China.

Unfortunately, labour camp guards subject the prisoners of conscience who don't recant to the next level of "persuasion" — diabolical, systematic torture methods.

"The crackdown has always been associated with police and prison brutality, but the adviser said it was only this year that the central leadership decided to sanction the widespread use of violence against Falun Gong members." — Washington Post, 5 Aug 2001

Torture

Cases of torture are reported yearly from nearly every country by organizations like Amnesty International, and the Falun Gong represent one of the largest and most frequently tortured groups in the world. In the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Torture's 2006 report, 66 percent of the torture cases listed for China were Falun Gong, with the next group being Uyghurs at 11 percent. Human rights organizations have documented over 87,000 cases of severe abuse or torture of Falun Gong adherents, but they estimate that the true number is actually much higher. Because China keeps these numbers secret, it's impossible to know the exact number of people who've been abused.

Human rights workers have also compiled over 100 methods of corporal torture used against the Falun Gong by the CCP. One horrific example is "water dungeons," where the detainee is immersed in chest-deep water inside a small cage in total darkness for days and days. Often the water is routed from sewage lines. Some detainees have died under such conditions, while others have been driven insane from this torture.

Tan Yongjie barely escaped with his life

The guards pressed the red-hot iron rod on his legs 13 times, spacing them out at regular intervals on his flesh, asking him all the while if he would renounce his belief in Falun Gong. Tan made a harrowing escape to the U.S., where he is pictured here in a Texas hospital.

Disfigured but not discouraged

The face of 36-year-old Gao Rongrong after guards severely disfigured her with high-voltage electric shock batons. Ms. Gao died from torture in 2005.

A New Holocaust

Ren Shujie spent two years in Chinese labour camps for her belief. When she returned home, she was in such a state that she could not recover. She died in 2005.

Nearly broken from exhaustion and abuse, practitioners who don't give in to forced-labour tactics suffer added psychological ploys designed to shatter their resolve. The lengths prison guards go to to fulfill their "Falun Gong transformation quotas" boggle the imagination.

Psychological breaking point

Junhua Wang spent years in a labour camp in China where her love and respect for her aging parents was used like a weapon against her in order to break her faith.

The line between mental and physical torture can be indiscernible, especially where sleep deprivation is concerned, as one ex-detainee found out.

Tortured in the camps

Cindy Song was a practising lawyer and Falun Gong practitioner when the persecution began. In 2012, she was tortured, deprived of sleep for weeks on end, and locked in a cellar, among other horrors. Five years after being released and immigrating to Canada, she is still healing.

Sadly, this routine and severe torture often ends in death. Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson was told by one Chinese official that Falun Gong deaths due to torture were not only expected by the regime, but tacitly encouraged. Johnson's Pulitzer Prize-winning article series on Falun Gong's plight recounts the memo handed down by the central government:

"No measures are too excessive to wipe out Falun Gong." — Wall Street Journal, 25 April 2000

His acclaimed five-part series is a hauntingly detailed portrait of one family's terror-filled life, senseless loss of their matriarch, and their unflagging determination to realize freedom.

Grandmother Chen

"She wasn't conscious and didn't talk, and only spat dark-coloured sticky liquid. We guessed it was blood. Only the next morning did they confirm that she's dying." Ms. Chen Zixiu, a victim of the persecution, with her grandchildren. — from the Wall Street Journal's Pulizter Prize-winning article, 25 Apr, 2000

Fatalities

China's state-ordered information blockade makes it nearly impossible for human rights groups to tally the true number of deaths. The Falun Dafa Information Center has confirmed the deaths of over 4,000 Falun Gong adherents as a direct result of the persecution. However, it is feared that the actual number of deaths from torture, malnutrition, exhaustion, and mistreatment in detention is already in the hundreds of thousands.

This number does not include as many as one-and-a-half million Falun Gong practitioners who have reportedly been killed in an even more sinister way. The first deaths of Falun Gong at the hands of the regime were a bleak sign of things to come.

The first known casualty was 17-year-old Chen Ying. Chen had gone to Beijing to ask the government to reverse the ban on Falun Gong. She was arrested, beaten, and threatened. On August 16,1999, she died while attempting to escape from police custody.

On October 7, 1999, Zhao Jinhua from Shandong Province was tortured to death in custody. Witnesses say she was deprived of sleep, beaten repeatedly with clubs and shocked with electric batons. As in other cases, her body was quickly cremated without an autopsy.

More killings followed as authorities tried to force Falun Gong practitioners to stop speaking out and to renounce their beliefs. Falun Gong practitioners come from all walks of life—teachers, engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, musicians. They're wives, husbands, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers.

  • In Memoriam

    Click to the right for a deeper look at fatalities of the persecution

  • Zhao Xin
    1968-2000
    32 years old
    Professor of Business

    Because of her persistence in cultivating Falun Gong, Zhao was brutally beaten by the police at the Haidian Police Substation in Beijing, resulting in the fracture of her neck vertebrae. Despite severe bodily injury, Zhao never renounced her faith. Struggling with extreme pain and suffering, she lived six months, a long time considering her condition. She passed away on December 11, 2000.

  • Xu Zhilian
    1972 - 2001
    31 years old
    Teacher

    After Falun Gong became the target of government harassment, Xu went to Beijing to appeal for justice and was arrested and released numerous times.

    At 11pm, June 28, 2001, police from Chengdu City surrounded Xu's home where she was with her family, fired three shots, then broke down the door and entered. During the chase, she fell to the ground and broke her neck. Four policemen lifted her off the ground and threw her into the police car, claiming they were going to bring her to the emergency room, but refused her family members' request to accompany her. The next day, Xu's family members were notified that she had passed away.

  • Zhang Xiaohong
    1974 - 2003
    29 years old
    Wood Carver

    Detained in labour camps for four years, Zhang was forced to work 12 hours every day, and at night, endure barrages of loud voices viciously slandering Falun Gong. Through all this, he adhered to his faith. In detention, he often stood up for his rights and was tortured as punishment: violently beaten, dragged outside and left in the scorching summer sun, denied water, denied sleep, electric shocks to body parts, and more, which led to an eventual deterioration of health and his subsequent death.

  • Huang Zhao
    1974 - 2004
    32 years old
    Employee of Qiaokou District Grain Administration in Wuhan City

    On April 1, 2004, police arrested Falun Gong practitioner Huang without giving any explanation as to why or revealing where she was being detained. On April 16, the police informed Huang's family that she died on the morning of April 16 in Wuhan City No. 1 Hospital. It had been only 15 days since her arrest. After her death, the police did not permit examination of her remains or allow her family to see her body.

  • Jiang Ruihong
    1941-2009
    68 years old
    Retired Administrator of Dalian City textile Bureau

    After she went to Beijing to petition for the right to practice Falun Gong, Ms. Jiang endured years of forced labour, beatings, torture, physical restraint, having her home ransacked, interrogation, and detention before dying as a result of persecution on Sept 16, 2009.

  • Li Yi
    1969-2011
    42 years old
    Occupation Unknown

    Li went to the provincial CCP Party Committee to appeal for Falun Gong and was arrested. In custody, several police officers cuffed Li's hands and forced him into a torturous position that broke his wrists and damaged other bones and ligaments. He could not straighten his back or walk without help. The excruciating torture continued. Because of the many times Li was detained, harassed and tortured during those years, his health suffered greatly and he could not recover. He died on March 26, 2011.

  • Liu Fengmei
    1971-2014
    43 years old
    Factory Worker

    Liu went to Beijing in September 1999 to appeal for the right to practice Falun Gong. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years of forced labour. Liu was deemed a major target in June 2000 for refusing to give up her belief. During a subsequent 13-year labour-camp sentence, her arm was dislocated, she was shocked with electric batons for long periods of time, lashed with steel wires, violently force fed, and among other horrors, left lying on the floor with untreated broken bones for 40 days. The long-term abuse continued even when she developed late-stage breast cancer, vaginal bleeding, and anemia. Seeing that she still refused to be "transformed" after her health was beyond repair, the authorities sent Liu home where she died on Dec 18, 2014.

  • In memory of the estimated millions who have died struggling for freedom of thought, belief and expression in China. You are not forgotten.

Nowhere to Hide

Even for those who escape torture and death, the persecution spreads out to their offices, sidewalks, and living rooms. They are the targets of a multifaceted plan designed to break practitioners and their sympathizers and terrorize them into submission and allegiance to the Party.

People who go underground about their beliefs are hunted. Early on, the entire population was mobilized with threats of prison for not turning in neighbours and family. Around the 2008 Beijing Olympics, citizens were bribed with up to 5,000 yuan per person for turning in Falun Gong practitioners to the police.

Checkpoints at train and bus stations are commonly set up where people cannot pass unless they repeat slander against Falun Gong to prove their loyalty to the Party. Their purpose is to catch practitioners and anyone else who supports them, and also to instill resentment of Falun Gong into the rest of the population.

Constant surveillance

Police checkpoints, heavy patrolling and surveillance are the norm for Chinese citizens.

Livelihood under threat

Almost a dozen Party cadres visited Ruyu Zhang, an early-childhood educator, at her workplace to try to brainwash and threaten her into renouncing her belief. That was only the beginning of the pressures she faced in her day-to-day life.

"Pure violence doesn't work. Just studying ‘reeducation' doesn't work either. And none of it would be working if the propaganda hadn't started to change the way the general public thinks. You need all three. That's what they've figured out, one government advisor said." — Washington Post, 05 Aug 2001

Propaganda Sways the Masses

By the end of the campaign’s first month, the People’s Daily newspaper, a mouthpiece for the Party, had carried a staggering 347 articles that contained false information about Falun Gong and its adherents. Propaganda marathons piped into homes everywhere via state-run television, branding Falun Gong a menace to society.

But the most notorious example of media fabrication against Falun Gong is known as the “Self-Immolation Incident.” In January 2001, when their anti-Falun Gong campaign was proving unpopular, the Party went so far as to coerce a handful of people into setting themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, yelling out pseudo-spiritual slogans with skewed mention of Falun Gong’s texts. The event was mysteriously captured on tape and broadcast, to the horror of the public.

"There was something wrong with her...She hit her mother. She hit her daughter too…No one ever saw her practice Falun Gong." — Washington Post, 04 Feb, 2001

Philip Pan from the Washington Post traveled to Kaifeng, China, to investigate the history of two of the immolators who had died in connection with the event, Ms. Liu Chunling and her 12-year-old daughter. The report contained evidence that cast serious doubt as to whether Liu was actually a Falun Gong adherent. Other evidence indicates that those involved were paid handsomely by the Communist Party to participate in the duplicitous event.

Multiple cameras already at the scene, policemen with fire equipment who helped victims only after key moments were filmed and other odd behavior caught on tape that day also comprise the evidence that has led analysts to widely accept this as a hoax. The “Self-Immolation Incident” turned public opinion against Falun Gong, thereby giving the authorities a free hand to intensify repression and torture of practitioners. The fallout from this piece of propaganda still exists today and has greatly shaped the hostility of Chinese people toward the meditators.

This video compiles the evidence

The Party’s multi-faceted approach at squashing Falun Gong led to an exodus. Ms. Ruyu, Mr. Zhao, Ms. Song, the Li family, and many of their countrymen have fled the persecution, some through dangerous escape routes. Wherever they go, their cause lives on and they continue to practice their meditation, exercises, and principles. They work tirelessly to put an end to the persecution.

  • What is Falun Gong?

    Click to the right to learn the history of the popular spiritual movement

  • A way of life

    You've probably heard of tai chi, the slow-moving exercises that increase energy by working on the flow of chi in the body. Tai chi is one example of an ancient Asian tradition whereby people cultivate their minds and bodies to greater refinement through methods like meditation and physical techniques. The umbrella term for this field in China is "qigong" (pronounced "chee-gong"). Practices like yoga aren't so different and would fall under the even broader category known as "self-cultivation." Reports of health improving, youthfulness and better well-being are beneficial side effects of these disciplines.

  • A gift from the past

    Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) is one style of qigong with a rare lineage, having been passed down in private from master to student for generations. Starting in the 1980s in China, scores of qigong masters began making their teachings public. In 1992, Li Hongzhi made Falun Gong readily available to anyone, without any formal organization, property or membership. Today, the practice is free of charge.

  • A state of mind

    What sets Falun Gong apart, and what seems to have set the regime against it, is that it goes beyond physical practice and requires an adoption of the moral principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Followers speak with disarming sincerity about wanting to adhere to a philosophy of selflessness, forgiveness, and acceptance of life's path. They can endure ups and downs, but in the spirit of the ancient Chinese, they uphold the practice of coming to the defence of those in need. That's why, within China, Falun Gong practitioners received citizen awards and were mentioned glowingly in newspapers up until the persecution began. Even the Chinese government lauded Falun Gong before 1999, praising it in state media, pointing out that practitioners who gathered in parks create "a morning exercise heaven." They even took credit for the explosion of Falun Gong, chalking it up to "recent hard work the government has put into public health activities."

  • Meteoric rise

    In the post-Cultural-Revolution 90s, China's spirit was suffering. When Falun Gong became available, many felt joy at having come across one of China's ancient traditions and felt it was a system that spoke directly to people's longing for a soulful connection and the type of enlightened lifestyle rooted in the traditional Chinese ways. That, combined with it being freely available, are likely what allowed the practice to grow from relative obscurity to something that one out of every 13 people in the country adopted within seven years. It attracted people from all walks of life, including members of the CCP.

    In 1999, government estimates put the number of practitioners at between 70 and 100 million people. That was more than the membership of the Communist Party at the time, a fact that threw its power-greedy cabinet into an existential crisis.

  • Monumental backlash

    Indeed the communist state's enforced atheism, culture of materialism, and widespread corruption couldn't stand this fast-growing alternative for very long. In the late 90s, rumblings of philosophical opposition began, as seen in a state-run newspaper article: "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."

    As the popularity of the movement kept growing, so did the concern from the communists and their mouthpiece, the state-run media. Eventually this came to a head in April 1999, when practitioners in Tianjin disputed an especially libelous article. This action was taken all the way to Beijing's government compound, Zhongnanhai, and became the April 25th incident, where 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners calmly assembled in defence of the practice's reputation.

  • The rest is history

    Soon after, the regime launched the persecution. Thus began two decades of oppression, peaceful appeals and resistance.

    The community of practitioners is still comprised of tens of millions of members worldwide and, despite suffering brutal treatment, it continues to persevere and share its message of compassion and well-being around the world.

Chapter 2: Resistance

With a tenacity born of spiritual conviction, Falun Gong adherents have peacefully defied Beijing's unjust edicts for 18 years through public protest and published exposés, orchestrated TV cable splicings, and underground print shops.

Resistance comes at a price

Falun Gong supporters overcome checkpoints, searches, and other tactics meant to intimidate and thwart their journey to the heart of Beijing. But they must also overcome the fear of being brutalized and even killed for the banners they raise, like those seen here in Tiananmen Square between 1999 and 2002.

The moment the regime banned Falun Gong, practitioners waged peace with words. Banners appeared on walls overnight, signs were hung from trees in villages. Most simply said "Falun Gong is good" or "Truth, Compassion, Tolerance." Some risked their lives to hand out flyers in their hometowns and tell passersby that Falun Gong practitioners are not villains, that the practice is simple and peaceful, and not to believe what they saw on TV. Officials responded by treating these actions like crimes. Charges included "jeopardizing national stability," "subverting state power," and other repressive accusations, suggesting that officials feared mobilization and rebellion.

In Tiananmen Square, Hope Rises Again

But the banners that the regime feared most were the ones held overhead at the infamous ground zero of a past protest-turned-massacre, a place that still represents hope for the common man… Tiananmen Square.

Since the dawn of the Chinese empire, there's been a system whereby citizens can "petition" the ruler, allowing ordinary citizens a means to express grievances and seek redress. When the persecution broke out, some chalked it up to a misunderstanding and sought to correct it. Others arrived to point out that the banning, violence and killing of Falun Gong contravenes China's constitution as well as international covenants signed by China.

Martial law

Banners like these were striking and memorable to visitors in 1999 in Tiananmen Square, and the government was determined to thwart them. To cut off the banner-wielders, Beijing came under martial law. Checkpoints were everywhere, plainclothes police conducted random searches on pedestrians, all in pursuit of yellow pieces of fabric bearing three or four characters like "honesty" and "kindness".

Flying the Flag

Tian Jing recounts her decision to protest in Beijing, one of the first known Falun Gong practitioners to do so. To defend her rights and those of her fellow citizens’, she stepped directly into the crosshairs of the police state, and paid dearly for it.

What adherents never imagined, however, was just how disinterested authorities were in hearing Falun Gong's concerns. In a reversal laden with irony, even walking towards a government appeal office with an intent to report wrongdoing by an official could land one in a labour camp. Untold thousands found themselves arrested for trying to petition. Jiang Zemin was said to have burned barrels of letters sent to him by beleaguered members of the group.

Once these normal channels of redress failed them, practitioners began spreading their efforts out to every city, street, alley and home. The few in government seemed unmovable, but the general public was confused about what was fact or fiction. Practitioners took it upon themselves to clarify things.

A poster on a street in Tieling City, Liaoning Province, that reads: "The world needs Truthfulness Compassion Forbearance." The small characters read, "Falun Gong is well-received throughout the world."

Underground Print Shops

As the number of incarcerations climbed steadily, so did the constant threat to practitioners. The only hope for freedom was in counteracting the vicious propaganda that was turning China against them.

Underground print shops started sprouting up across China as people sought to counter the attack one leaflet at a time.

Excerpt from one of the first handmade flyers photocopied and distributed by Falun Gong practitioners. All such information, describing Falun Gong's peaceful attributes and the state's lies, was outlawed. Anyone who possessed this information was at risk of imprisonment and torture.

One of the first posters made in English that appealed for help from the international community c. October 2001.

Roughly hewn, the print shops were often tucked away in the corner of a Falun Gong adherent's home. At their most basic, they would involve a printer of some sort, a copier, and possibly a computer. Here, in cramped quarters, the determined would assemble an array of homemade media—typically flyers, pamphlets, and CD-ROMs.

Across China and from other countries, adherents had also been placing volumes of phone calls—staggering in quantity—to those most directly responsible for the group's suffering: prison directors, known torturers and rapists, Party officials in charge of the persecution, police, and 610 Office officials.

TV Takeover

Taking things a step further, on March 5, 2002, Falun Gong adherents in the northeastern city of Changchun managed to tap into the lines of a major cable network and replace normal programming with an informational video about the persecution of Falun Gong. The feature ran on eight different channels and lasted fully 45 minutes. For thousands of city residents, it was the first time in three years they had encountered independent depictions of the practice and its plight—simply trying to read about Falun Gong online could land one in jail.

So shaken was the government by this brave act that martial law was ordered in Changchun and a manhunt began. Orders were to "shoot to kill" and "shoot on sight" anyone seen attempting another tapping. Those involved in the episode were eventually tracked down, tortured, and killed.

This wasn't a standalone incident. Inspired by Changchun's activists, more practitioners tapped TV cables in a half dozen provinces from 2002 to 2005. Each time, similar manhunts followed with many activists dying from brutal retaliation by state-appointed guards in detention.

Lei Ming before captivity

Lei Ming, 26 years old at the time, was the youngest among the group of Falun Gong practitioners in Changchun who tapped into TV cable networks to resist the Chinese regime's propaganda.

Lei Ming after captivity

Ming died in 2006 at age 30 from severe torture in prison after being illegally arrested following the Changchun tappings.

Mr. Liu Chengjun

In 2007, Australia’s Asia Pacific Human Rights Foundation honoured Mr. Liu Chengjun, an organizer of the first tapping incident, for broadcasting the true story to millions of TV viewers and setting an example for nongovernmental movements that protect human rights. The award was bestowed posthumously. Liu Chengjun died in 2003 at age 32 from extreme abuse in prison for having tapped Changchun’s TV station cables.

Meanwhile, overseas Chinese were also grappling with the question of where to focus their energy in order to end the persecution once and for all. One answer came in the form of an unprecedented expose: Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party.

Nine Commentaries: The Writing on the Wall

In 2004, an overseas Chinese-language newspaper known for exposing the Party's ills and for its independent news sources, The Epoch Times, published Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party. Shock waves were felt worldwide. The book-length series detailed the propaganda, persecution, famine, massacre, tyranny, and censorship of over half a century of communist rule. This was the first time many Chinese were given information that challenged the Party's own version of history.

"The CCP is responsible for the deaths of 60 million to 80 million Chinese people. This number exceeds the total number of casualties in both World Wars combined.... By understanding the true history of the Chinese Communist Party, we can help prevent such tragedies from ever recurring." — Nov 2004, Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party

A flood of Communist Party resignation letters soon began pouring into The Epoch Times office. In a short time, what were originally 100–200 daily withdrawals from the Party had swelled to thousands. In response, in December 2004, The Epoch Times set up the Tuidang Center. In Mandarin, tuidang means "quit the Party" or "withdraw from the Party."

"Dynamic Internet Technology's digital logs display party renunciations arriving at DIT's proxy Web sites at the rate of over 30,000 a month." — Forbes, Feb 27, 2006

From its inception in 1949 until about the early 2000s, the communist regime forbade almost all of its citizens from having passports or travelling overseas. When restrictions eased up, many took the opportunity to immigrate to free countries, only to find out that the communist regime was in charge behind the scenes there, too, via threats and bribes aimed at Chinese-language media outlets and their advertisers, immigration firms, event organizers, and other overseas Chinese community cornerstones. Even local Western governments received pressure. Chinese consulates and embassies are handed marching orders to carry out the persecution of Falun Gong and other spine-chilling policies under the noses of the world's democracies. Quitting the Communist Party is not a political action, insiders say, but a depoliticizing moment in many Chinese people's lives. And with over 260 million people having quit to date, it just may cut to the heart of what's driving the persecution of Falun Gong.

Global Response

You've probably seen groups of people sitting protesting outside Chinese consulates. This common sight is just one of many activities that overseas Falun Gong practitioners and their supporters have been doing for years, a sign of the peaceful measures taken to counteract the limitless violence.

Supporters have organized rallies in front of capitol buildings, torture demonstrations in squares and on sidewalks, petitions, testimony in Congress, investigations by organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN, World Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, and more.

While strong words have decried the persecution in powerful places, such as the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament, the urge to appease China holds stronger sway than the insistence on human rights.

Nonetheless, a positive foundation was laid early on with official condemnations and recommendations by authorities.

  • Global Response

    Click to the right to find out how the U.S. government and others have taken action.

  • US House Resolution 218, Nov, 1999:

    "Be it resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of the Congress that... the Government of the People's Republic of China should stop persecuting Falun Gong practitioners; and to release from detention all Falun Gong practitioners and put an immediate end to the practices of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against them and other prisoners of conscience."

  • President Clinton denounced China's crackdown on Falun Gong:

    On December 6, 1999, in his speech to proclaim Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week of 1999 in the U.S., President Clinton called the detention of Falun Gong practitioners "a troubling example'' of China's stifling "those who test the limits of freedom.'

  • Letter from Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada:

    September 3, 1999, "The Government of Canada regrets the detention of Falun Gong members and the banning of the organization. We are very concerned about this suppression of the basic rights of freedom of expression and spiritual practice and call on the Chinese government to respect these essential human rights."

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions to the 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 December 2003), listed 23 cases submitted to the Chinese government and stated:

    "The Special Rapporteur continues to be alarmed by deaths in custody in China. Reports describe harrowing scenes in which detainees, many of whom are followers of the Falun Gong movement, die as a result of severe ill-treatment, neglect or medical attention. The cruelty and brutality of these alleged acts of torture defy description."

Despite pleas like these, between 2000 and 2006, Jiang Zemin and his proteges such as Zhou Yangkang and Bo Xilai were already carrying out a "final solution," a deadly secret they hoped would wipe out the tenacious civil group once and for all.

Chapter 3: Profit and a Problem Solved

In 2006, an investigative journalist and a former employee of the state-run Sujiatun Thrombosis Hospital in Shenyang began disclosing to international media something extremely shocking.

What these witnesses divulged had traumatized them, including how “patients” came to appear on operating tables, and what happened to their bodies after.

Transplant tourism spiked

Around 2006, thousands of people suddenly began coming from other countries for expensive organ transplant surgeries that would otherwise reqire them to wait months or years back home. With no effective organ donation program in China, the world is wondering where this transplant hospital gets its thousands of organs from.

There had been rumours circulating of holocaust-like genocide happening in Chinese hospitals.

But a story as graphic as executing prisoners of conscience by removing their healthy organs, selling the organs to transplant tourists, then incinerating the bodies by the thousands was too hard to believe. So the EU, U.S. Congress, British Parliament and others waited until volumes of evidence were amassed before publicly confirming and condemning China for the crime.

"Therefore, be it resolved, that the [United States] House of Representatives calls on the Government of the People's Republic of China and Communist Party of China to immediately end the practice of organ harvesting from all prisoners of conscience." — United States House Resolution 343, 2016

To this day, over 60 pieces of evidence have been compiled to support the allegation that, starting as early as 2000, the Chinese government has been forcibly removing organs from prisoners of conscience, mostly Falun Gong practitioners but also Uighur Muslims, House Christians, and Tibetans, and is selling them to transplant tourists for great profit.

To hell and back

Two Canadians, a former Member of Parliament and a renowned human rights attorney, volunteered to independently investigate allegations of organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience. In this July 2006 press conference, they announce their findings.

The Reluctant Truth

David Matas, Esq. and Hon. David Kilgour, Esq. hoped that their research would come up empty—that there was no such thing as organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience in China. But the facts painted a picture that was undeniable: the atrocity is happening and it's being carried out by the state. Their innovative investigation techniques allowed them to reach past the usual barriers encountered when investigating China’s government: total non-cooperation, hostility and denials from officials, inability to travel there, few interviewees willing to testify, and more. Their report is titled Bloody Harvest.

After Matas and Kilgour were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee made a documentary about the unprecedented twists and turns they uncovered during their investigation. The film, Human Harvest, went on to win the prestigious Peabody Award and was aired on television stations in more than 25 countries, setting the stage for a higher level of awareness and concern around the world.

This chapter outlines the most compelling pieces of evidence found in Human Harvest and Matas’ and Kilgour’s Bloody Harvest.

It's time for the civilized world to say "no" to the monsters that are tearing apart people in China and enriching themselves from others' bodies. — U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher

Chilling Testimony

In 2006, a witness came forward and described gruesome surgeries, done without anesthesia, on healthy, living Falun Gong practitioners inside China's state-run hospitals. Her courageous testimony introduced the world to this horror and sparked the first investigation.

She goes by "Annie." Annie was a nurse and her husband was a surgeon in a hospital in China. Annie recounted what she and her husband experienced that left them in crippling shock and gave them guilt-ridden nightmares. They both escaped China and now live in Canada.

Listen to her testimony here:

Multiple Motives

Falun Gong adherents' organs are of a sought-after quality: these people don't smoke, don't drink or use drugs, and the Chinese believe their qigong practice helps purify their bodies. Since one healthy heart fetches about $130,000 USD on the world market, there were billions to be made.

According to a U.S. Department of State Congressional-Executive Commission, by 2005, as many as half of China's labour camp population was nameless Falun Gong practitioners. Most did not disclose their identity, hometown, or family in order to protect others. Party Leader Jiang and his cronies had hundreds of thousands of anonymous detainees to deal with.

Since these unwilling donors were already incarcerated, and the desire to exterminate the group was already a large focus for the Party, the added financial benefit left only question for Jiang: "How soon can we start?"

Mysterious Transplant Boom

Something else unexpected led researchers to their awful conclusion: simple arithmetic. China claims that death-row prisoners guilty of capital crimes are the source of the organs that transplant tourists receive. But there's a problem: Amnesty International estimates that China executes as many as 1,700 criminals per year, more than the rest of the world combined. But the number of organs being transplanted in China per year is between 10,000 to 60,000, according to researchers. One Chinese surgeon at an international conference described over 1,000 transplants taking place in a single hospital in one year, prompting those listening to ask, "Where are all these organs coming from?"

And what about every other country's source of transplants—organ donations? They're nearly non-existent in China. The Red Cross had only 37 organ donors on file in 2007. Chinese strongly believe in keeping the body whole, even in death. In the UK, where there are 18 million organ donors, only a few hundred organ transplants are conducted per year, and recipients there normally wait up to two years or more for an organ that matches their blood and tissue type. Suspiciously, in China, large numbers of recipients wait two to four weeks for an organ transplant, sometimes less.

"Those numbers were shocking"

Dr. Torsten Trey, a surgeon and the executive director of Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, recounts the moment when his suspicions were first piqued at an international transplant conference.

Finding a Match

There's another reason why recipients normally have to wait so long. Blood and tissue types are rarely compatible, even among siblings. Even close matches are commonly rejected by patients' bodies—so commonly, in fact, that a rule of thumb in the medical community is that it takes ten donors to find a successful match for one recipient. This is why, out of millions of registered donors in the West, only a few hundred per year become successful transplants.

In China, those numbers are turned on their head. Recipients with special needs receive two, three, even seven organs before one is successful, and these organs have already gone through a rigorous narrowingdown process.

This woman travelled from Taiwan with her husband, who received a transplant. Listen to her story.

Heart-Stopping Admissions

Investigators Matas and Kilgour used the Chinese public's tragically ironic belief that Falun Gong practitioner's organs are desirous to extract one of the most compelling pieces of evidence so far: telephone recordings of Chinese hospital personnel admitting to selling Falun Gong organs.

The researchers' Chinese-speaking assistants would call medical doctors at hospitals in China to inquire about organ transplants, and posing as potential customers, wanted to know if they could get the best organs—Falun Gong prisoner organs.

The doctors from 17 hospitals replied that they had organs from Falun Gong practitioners available, some of them describing the organs as being "fresh." They also stated openly that these organs were healthier than those from other prisoners.

Listen to actual recordings of the investigative calls placed to Chinese hospitals. In all, the investigators collected admissions like these from about 15 percent of all the hospitals they called.

Biomedical Profiling

"I'm not sick, I don't need a blood test," I told the doctor in the detention centre. He barked back at me "If you don't agree, people will hold you down and I'll use a huge syringe to drain lots of your blood!" — Testimony from labour camp survivor Cindy Song

Over and over, investigators came across something curious as they interviewed Falun Gong practitioners who survived labour camps and detention centres—healthy detainees had their blood tested and ultrasounds performed on them. Other prisoners did not—only Falun Gong practitioners. And it obviously wasn't out of concern for them, as they were also being physically tortured.

David Matas recounts that interviewees didn't think it was important to talk about these odd procedures at first, since it didn't hurt them—they wanted to talk about how they had been tortured. But biomedical profiling would become a keystone piece of evidence that organ harvesting is really happening. The prison-to-hospital overseers need a profile of each organ's blood and tissue type. And they got it. To create their database, they force Falun Gong practitioners to undergo these tests.

Zhao Shuhuan was in and out of numerous labour camps because she practices Falun Gong, and she reported being blood tested, a prerequisite for organ matching. "Every labour camp I went to, they would take our blood and test it."

Liu Guiying, who was also detained for her belief, not only had her blood tested but also her urine. "I understood they were testing our urine and blood for liver function."

Falun Gong practitioner Yijie Zhang survived her time in a labour camp. "We were all puzzled as to why they drew so much blood."

Reports of inmates undergoing ultrasounds have become more common and add to the evidence that the Chinese military hospital system is biomedically profiling healthy Falun Gong detained there.

But new evidence is surfacing that profiling prisoners for future organ extraction is not enough for the perpetrators.

Finding a match

Ethan Gutmann, nominated in 2017 for the Nobel Peace prize for his research and authored works that expose the persecution of Falun Gong, has heard of accounts suggesting the use of further medical profiling.

Find out what he learned in this short interview:

In 2016, Matas, Kilgour, and Gutmann updated their independent investigations and estimated that up to 1.5 million Falun Gong practitioners have died at the hands of state-appointed surgeons between 2000 and 2016.

"The report exposes the Chinese government's efforts to enforce a systemic cover-up of the whole thing. It is an industrial-scale enterprise involving the trafficking of tens of thousands of organs intended for transplant every year—at least 15 times as many as claimed in official government statements." — National Post, June 22, 2016

The world has started to pay attention. Leaders of the free world have started writing legislation to combat China's organ harvesting.

  • The World Reacts to Forced Organ Harvesting

  • The United Nations requested a report in 2006 in order to ensure that those responsible for transplant abuses in China are prosecuted and punished.

  • The European Parliament expressed concern over reports of organ harvesting in 2006 and asked the Commission to present a report on these allegations in 2009. In 2012, organ pillaging in China was among the main topics in a hearing at the European Parliament on Human Rights in China. David Matas testified.

  • Spain criminalized the illegal trafficking of human organs as a felony in 2009, punishable by up to 12 years in prison—for encouraging, promoting, facilitating or advertising the procurement of illegal human organs.

  • The Taipei Bar Association issued a statement in 2013 condemning organ harvesting in China.

    In 2015, Taiwan’s legislature outlawed transplant tourism to China. Taiwanese who are found guilty of procuring an organ from an unknown source or offering payment to receive a vital organ can be jailed for five years and fined approximately $49,000 USD. Additionally, doctors involved in illegal organ transplants could lose their licenses.

  • The Australian Health Ministry abolished training programs for Chinese doctors in organ transplant techniques in 2006 and banned joint research programs with China on organ transplantation.

    The Australian Senate unanimously passed a motion in 2013 on organ harvesting. The motion recognizes and opposes forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience by the Chinese regime, supports the actions by the Council of Europe and United Nations to combat organ trafficking and recommends implementing new Australian visa requirements that would help identify whether an applicant has participated in forced organ harvesting.

  • Senators introduced into the Belgian Parliament in 2006 a law which addresses organ transplant tourism.

  • Legislation was proposed in Canada's House of Commons in 2008 that would ban transplant tourism and penalize any transplant patient who receives an organ without consent of the donor, where the patient knew or ought to have known of the absence of consent.

    In 2017, the proposed legislation was revived and is making its way through due process.

  • A law was proposed in France's Parliament that requires every French citizen who obtained an organ transplant abroad to show proof that the organ was donated without payment.

    The proposed law in turn requires France's Biomedical Agency to report to the country's Public Department any person about whom there are reasonable grounds to believe he or she was involved in a financial transaction to obtain an organ.

  • Israel passed a law banning the sale and brokerage of organs. The law also ended funding, through the health insurance system, of transplants in China for Israeli nationals. Dr. Jay Lavee, in his contribution to the book State Organs, explains this law as a reaction to transplant abuse in China.

  • U.S. Congress held a hearing on organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in 2006, where four witnesses testified.

    In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that expresses concerns over China's organ procurement from non-consenting prisoners of conscience including from "large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups." Among its recommendations, the resolution requests that the House of Representatives encourages the United States medical community to help raise awareness of unethical organ transplant practices in China."

  • Forty-one Members of British Parliament signed an Early day motion in 2016 condemning forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong in China, and recommending a travel ban on any British citizen wishing to travel to China for organ tourism. The motion "calls on the Government to give urgent consideration to other measures it could take to hold China to account for this practice and demand an end to it."

  • Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) is a nongovernment organization founded by medical doctors who were alarmed by the forced organ harvesting from prisoners and prisoners of conscience in China.

    In August 2006, the New York-based National Kidney Foundation issued a statement expressing deep concerns over allegations that large numbers of Falun Gong practitioners were being executed for the purposes of organ donation, as well as opposition to such a scheme and to organ transplant tourism generally.

    In 2007, the Transplantation Society introduced new policy on interactions with China, against using organs from prisoners.

    The policy of the World Medical Association now includes a paragraph that organ donation from prisoners is not acceptable in countries where the death penalty is practiced.

Chapter 4: Is the Tide Turning?

The mothers of two high-profile Falun Gong practitioners stand beside the lawyers who defended their children last year, a married couple, in Tianjin, China. The court's rare tolerance of the lawyers' hourlong arguments for freedom of belief represents a new benchmark in China's struggle for civil rights and freedom.

Despite the judge's consideration that day, he ultimately sentenced the practitioners to detention under the persecution even though they had committed no crime according to China's constitution.

Upholding the law

Beginning about three years ago, a wave of lawyers have stood up to defend human rights in China, but the backlash they've endured from the Communist Party has been violent.

Here, a group of Chinese lawyers who went on a hunger strike in front of Jiansanjiang Detention Center urged authorities to release four rights lawyers illegally detained for defending Falun Gong practitioners.

From the outside, it looks as though nothing has changed. Last year, nearly 250 human rights lawyers were detained in a crackdown that left the worldwide legal community reeling; accounts of harassment, detention and torture of dissidents still pour in monthly.

However, there's never been a better moment for the world to push China to step into the 21st century and become part of the free world rather than merely posturing. From three different angles, cracks appear to be forming in the Party's assault on Falun Gong: Chinese citizens are beginning to exercise their constitutional rights in an unprecedented way; under some of China's leaders, including current president Xi Jinping, a little more space is appearing in the Party's official stance towards Falun Gong; and lawyers in China are risking everything to attempt what few have ever accomplished.

Jiang Zemin's Feet to the Fire

In the past, trying to file a lawsuit against a Chinese official would have been an immediate ticket to jail for Chinese citizens, but now that's changing. In a dangerous and novel move in communist China, people across the country affected by the persecution have been filing lawsuits and submitting petitions with thousands of signatures demanding that officials release Falun Gong practitioners who are wrongfully held in detention. And, thanks to legal reform that began in May 2015, hundreds of thousands have formally opened lawsuits against Jiang Zemin, naming him responsible for crimes against humanity committed against Falun Gong practitioners for the last 18 years.

A radical new move: petitions against Jiang Zemin accepted by China's courts

On May 15, 2015, Zhang Zhaosen, a Falun Gong practitioner from the province of Hubei, handed a criminal complaint against Jiang to a representative from the state prosecutor in the middle of his trial. He was being tried for "disseminating information about Falun Gong on the Web." The court received the documents and in a rare victory for justice, sent Zhang home unharmed. The same month, a memorandum was issued by China's courts that gave plaintiffs more rights and protection to sue.

Proof that the courts received the lawsuits

Inspired by Zhang's success, Falun Gong practitioners across the country sent their own legal complaints to the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate. Since then, over 200,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the former leader Jiang, instigator of the persecution. These complaints include accounts of persecution that individual practitioners or their kin had suffered, a list of crimes that Jiang has perpetrated, and the specific Chinese constitutional and criminal laws that Jiang has violated while executing his persecution campaign. The fact that courts are accepting these complaints instead of turning them away or arresting the plaintiff is historic.

Lawyer David Matas believes this legal groundswell could help end the worst of the crimes committed against Falun Gong practitioners: forced organ harvesting. "If you start bringing perpetrators to justice for this type of organ transplant abuse, that would be effective in stopping it, because people would say, ‘Look, we run the risk of prosecution ourselves if we continue to do this.'"

Writing the wrongs

Huang Kui along with 34 others affiliated with the prestigious Tsinghua University, "China's MIT," is filing a lawsuit against Jiang Zemin for wrongs Huang experienced, such as abduction, torture, and brainwashing.

Huang has placed his hopes in China's new president, saying, "Xi has more power than anyone in China to change the country's trajectory and hold people like Jiang to account. Let's encourage him to do so. May my lawsuit and the thousands more like it help change history."

New Leader, Different Tune

As we've seen, the Communist Party's campaign to wipe out Falun Gong has been a lost cause. But it gained momentum like a freight train in the last two decades, which means the chances of the Party suddenly halting it are slim. Eventually, one hopes its leaders will be forced to answer for their actions the way Nazis were forced to answer for theirs. Plenty of Party insiders have seen this atonement coming and have started to take steps in order to distance themselves, and if not to reverse the policy to persecute, at least to downplay or disempower it. The current president Xi Jinping appears to be one of them.

Each of China's core leaders, from Mao, to Deng, to Jiang, and now Xi, have risen to their posts through championing one or another political philosophy. Jiang bolstered himself and tested his proteges using the persecution of Falun Gong. Xi's popularity grew because his political motives are distinct from Jiang's; dismantling Jiang's legacy appears to be on his list.

Since 2012, when Xi came into such vast power, he's culled some of China's previous strongmen, which has underlined a growing disdain of officials who spearheaded the Falun Gong persecution. While there are many reasons for these oustings—and from what we've seen, progress will be slow—expectations are being floated about Xi's potential to realize true progress for China as this Economist article points out:

"Mr. Xi is making some of the right noises… [he] last month urged foot-dragging officials to ‘dare to break through and try' reform." — The Economist, 18 September, 2014

The one to watch

Current Chinese president Xi Jinping may prove to be a bird of a different feather when it comes to policy surrounding the persecution of Falun Gong. Even though some of the regime's moves during Xi's time in office have furthered Jiang Zemin's legacy of heavy repression toward the group, other moves suggest a small but symbolic softening.

Under Xi's command, the notorious labour camps that drew intense international criticism have been closed. But analysts warn not to see this move as a turnaround nor become too hopeful just yet. The Party promised to eliminate the 1960s-style "re-education through labour" system in 2007 but then let innocents suffer there for years. Indeed, prisoners of conscience are still subject to much of the same punishment they've always been dealt, albeit in a different building under a different name.

In September 2016, the General Office of the Communist Party issued a classified document to local government offices that reportedly recognized "Falun Gong practitioners had been treated unjustly for the last 17 years" and that the Party would "relax pressure and relieve constraints on them." Although the acknowledgement is a big step, the precondition for this relief is, again, to "renounce Falun Gong" which illustrates the campaign isn't over.

But this new high-water mark in the judicial system is bolstering an already-mobilized contingent: human rights lawyers.

Lawyers Take a Stand

Despite official policy banning lawyers from defending Falun Gong practitioners, in the last few years, a wave of human rights attorneys has begun openly challenging both the legality and execution of the persecution policy, delivering rousing arguments in public courts in support of the freedoms of belief, speech, assembly, and a right to fair trial found in China's own constitution. These attorneys prepare more than their statements; they must prepare themselves to be arrested, jailed, and even tortured for defending dissidents. Nevertheless, they continue.

Lawyer Tang Jitian spends his life in and out of prison for calling the Party out on its wrongs. Although his mother, wife, and son worry about his health and safety, he remains dispassionate towards his current treatment and takes the long view instead.

"Every time these judges or their backroom manipulators convict a Falun Gong practitioner, or a political prisoner, or a civil rights activist," Tang told The Epoch Times in an interview, "and write detailed verdicts, they are in fact preparing documentation for their future conviction. In the meantime, we have to prepare the ground for an environment where fair trial is possible."

Attorney Tang Jitian in a photo he shared online calling for dissident Guo Feixiong's release.

Leader and legend

For decades, lawyer Gao Zhisheng's outspoken commitment to China's freedom of belief, his international recognition, and his yearslong torture at the hands of his oppressors has inspired today's wave of self-sacrificing rights attorneys. Here, in a photo taken during a brief visit by his family, he's in prison for defending religious believers in China.

  • Attorneys Under Attack

    To read accounts of recent injustices happening to human rights defenders in China, scroll to the right.

  • Fighting corruption

    Nearly 250 Chinese human rights lawyers and activists were targeted by police in a nationwide crackdown which began on July 9, 2015. All told, more than 300 Chinese lawyers have been rounded up by the regime in the last 18 months. They suffered forcible questioning, house arrest, surveillance, and were prevented from leaving the country. One year later, supporters staged a protest in Hong Kong, shown here, to call for the lawyers' release.

  • Legal protest

    Chinese human rights lawyers Jiang Tianyong, Zhang Junjie, Wang Cheng, Tang Jitian and stand outside a brainwashing center in Heilongjiang Province while trying to free Falun Gong practitioners held there illegally. Just after the photo was taken, all four were arrested for trying to expose the secretive centre and defend the innocent.

  • Demanding due process

    A week before lawyer Wang Yu's arrest in 2015, she was roughed up and physically thrown out of court in Hebei Province in northern China for insisting on defending her client, a Falun Gong practitioner. After she spent a year in prison on unconstitutional charges of "subversion of state power," the regime saddled her with the possibility of life in prison for her actions. Her whereabouts remain unknown.

  • Rebel with a cause

    Lawyer Wang Quanzhang began defending Falun Gong practitioners as a law student in 1999. Despite warnings from the regime, searches, beatings and detainment where he was not allowed to see his wife and child, nor allowed legal counsel, he remained committed to the cause. International pressure led to his temporary release in 2013, but in January 2016, he was charged with "subversion of state power" and remains locked up.

Celebrity Champions

Blind lawyer Chen Guangchen, renowned for defending China’s dispossessed, was illegally held in a prison with Falun Gong adherents and he has commended practitioners for their tenacity. He was under house arrest for defending dissidents when the actor Christian Bale travelled with a CNN news crew to his home in China. The alarming treatment Bale was shown by government employees, who punched, pushed and forced him away before he reached Chen’s door was captured on tape and grabbed the public’s attention.

This small but symbolic action on Bale’s part was the first time many in the mainstream had heard of Chen’s plight. It may have been one of the first times such injustice in China was put into such stark relief since the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Popular culture holds powerful potential to spread awareness.

Click below to watch the full video.

Champion of the cause

Canadian actress Anastasia Lin is a human rights activist, Falun Gong practitioner, and two-time Miss World Canada. She was barred from entering China for the 2015 Miss World Pageant because of her outspoken criticism of the regime’s forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience. She continues to make waves outside of her native China.

Boost from an Unlikely Source

No one has catapulted the persecution of Falun Gong into the world's spotlight quite like Anastasia Lin. The Canadian actress and activist began her career by starring in films that bring to light state-sponsored atrocities committed in her native China.

In 2015, she became Miss World Canada and her global message to end forced organ harvesting put the Chinese government in the hot seat like never before. Lin told reporters that Beijing responded by sending officers to threaten her father in China. She was then famously banned from entering China to compete in the Miss World final.

In 2016 in an unprecedented move, she attempted the crown again in Washington, DC. This time, according to a Boston Globe reporter, the Miss World Pageant organizers tried to stifle her access to the press. She was prevented from attending the US premiere in Washington of the film she stars in, The Bleeding Edge, a thriller which explores the Chinese communist regime’s involvement in censorship and persecution. NBC, The New York Times, and other outlets were on hand again to report on the incident. Under intense media pressure, she finally received the organizers’ blessing to attend the event and speak freely. Not so coincidentally, the Miss World Organization is sponsored by Chinese businesses.

"It was very difficult. I felt like giving up. I knew Chinese people were going to watch, and I said I had to stick in there till the end." — Anastasia Lin speaking to NBC News, Dec 21, 2016

Despite all that, Miss Lin has has persevered and succeeded in bringing to powerful places her signature mixture of intelligence, experience, altruism and the pledge to end forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong.

She has been invited to speak about her experiences and the persecution at events such as the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Oxford Union, the Oslo Freedom Forum, and the Geneva Human Rights Summit at the United Nations. With her newfound clout and with the stakes now intensely personal, by many measures, Miss Lin's message has made a difference.

"If I allow myself to be intimidated, then I am complicit in continued human rights abuses. If I and others who share my concerns allow ourselves to be silenced, the Communist Party will continue abusing its people with impunity." — Anastasia Lin for the Washington Post, June 26, 2015

London calling

Ms. Lin was invited by the BBC to talk about forced organ harvesting and her starring role in a film that depicts it. In The Bleeding Edge, Lin portrays an imprisoned Falun Gong practitioner. The film was screened in Britain's House of Parliament in Sept 2016, hosted by the Speaker of the House, the Rt. Hon. John Bercow.

Not only was it a successful screening, but it sparked an Early day motion in British Parliament that condemned forced organ harvesting in China and recommended legislation banning British citizens from travelling there to receive organs. The high-profile screening led to others like it across Europe and proved to be a powerful way to push the topic onto the world's stage and strengthen the chorus of voices demanding that China change its ways.

Lin wants to inspire others to stand up and speak out for those who can't. Even though she's a victim of China's threats towards other nation's citizens, she's still hopeful. "We have way more leverage than we think we do."

Awareness: the most likely path toward change

Today a growing group of prominent activists are bringing this subject to the mainstream. These people work tirelessly to break down the persecution of Falun Gong in China by eliminating the ignorance around the topic and by challenging the West's unwillingness to meaningfully confront the CCP.

In 2016, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting (DAFOH) was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since reports of organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience first surfaced, these doctors have been on the front line of raising awareness and encouraging international governments to pass laws that will thwart China's organ harvesting scheme. The nomination is an acknowledgement of their work in directing the world's attention to gross violations of medical transplant ethics in China.

Modern China's secret is out. But despite all of this, the nightmare that began in 1999 hasn't ended. The perpetrators continue their crime because they think the world won't find out and won't stand up to stop it. But like the collapse of the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of persecution in China may be one significant push away. Here's how you can help.

Visit these websites to learn more about the most current and effective ways to raise awareness:

At FalunInfo.net you can:

Sign a petition to the United Nations.

Watch and share films about the cause:

  • Human Harvest: The Peabody-winning feature documentary about organ harvesting.
  • The Bleeding Edge: A thriller starring Anastasia Lin about censorship and the victims of organ harvesting.
  • Films for Freedom: A collection of short films designed to create awareness.

Join international organizations that help the cause: