Why Falun Gong Was Banned In China
The Death of 1,404 Falun Gong Practitioners
According to the Chinese government, 1,404 Falun Gong practitioners died unnecessarily before the ban in July, 1999. These deaths were caused mainly for two reasons: not seeking needed medical treatment and suicide. As documented in the book Li Hongzhi & His "Falun Gong": Deceiving the Public and Ruining Lives, the deaths took place in 29 provinces or cities in China. Among these deaths, 1,218 practitioners died because they did not seek medical treatment when needed, 37 died during practicing the exercises, 109 committed suicide and 40 died of other causes.1
On the 23rd of July, one day after the Falun Gong was banned, Li Hongzhi in New York issued the following statement:
I have enabled more than 100 million people to achieve health. Countless terminally ill patients have recovered and have become healthy. This is a fact. As for those who are critically ill or mentally ill, I have always advised against them learning Falun Gong. Yet some people nonetheless insisted on learning it without my knowledge. In those situations, is it fair to say that this kind of individual who died of his own illness was actually a practitioner of mine?2
While Li takes credit for helping countless “terminally ill patients” to become healthy, he argues that those other 1,404 critically ill or mentally ill patients who died were not qualified to be his practitioners, therefore he shouldn’t be responsible for their deaths.
The Harassment of Innocent Critics of the Falun Gong
“Seriously disrupting public order” was the other main charge the Chinese government used to justify its ban on the Falun Gong. According to the government these serious disruptions included blocking “government institutions and news agencies.”11 Although no list was made of these disruptions, the protest on April 25, 1999, in which more than 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners surrounded the Chinese leaders’ compound in Beijing, was certainly one of them.
Falun Gong practitioners claim that their April 25, 1999 protest was a response to the government’s mistreatment of the group. Citing the banning of Falun Gong books in July 1996, and an investigation of the group in the early 1997, practitioners claim that their mistreatment was directed by some “communist leaders” who were concerned about the Falun Gong because of its popularity. According to this view, the April 25th protest was the only way for the practitioners to express their concern.
Were Falun Gong practitioners being mistreated by the government before the protest on April 25th? Published information indicates that the Chinese Culture and Publication department did ban Falun Gong books, as well as other books, on July 24, 1996 because they violated the law against spreading superstition, and that the Public Safety Bureau had investigated the activities of the Falun Gong in 1997. However the ban of Falun Gong books was not enforced and these books continued being printed and sold throughout China. The investigation by the Public Security department ended within the same year without taking any action against the Falun Gong.
The best evidence to prove that before April 25th Falun Gong practitioners were freely practicing their exercises without mistreatment from the government can be found on the Falun Gong websites. In one article – published five months before the April 25th protest by a major newspaper in China – the public was told about an event involving 5,000 practitioners doing their morning exercises in a park, while city officials visited the practice site.12 Further evidence of an environment friendly to the Falun Gong is demonstrated by a March 4, 1999 award given by the Harbin Public Safety Bureau to a Falun Gong general assistant center located in the provincial city of Harbin. This public award, crediting Dafa practitioners for not keeping found money, was given less than two months before the April 25th protest.13 With examples like these showing that Falun Gong was being freely practiced in China at the time we have to ask the question: Why did 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gather to protest in Beijing on April 25, 1999?
During the Qigong boom of the 80’s and 90’s hundreds, if not thousands, of Qigong masters emerged. Because of the popularity of Qigong, many masters gained fame and fortune, especially those who claimed to have supernatural power. Li Hongzhi was surely the most prominent among these masters. His claims were beyond all others, and his group was the most visible. While positive reports and advertisements of these Qigong masters flooded the media, there were concerned people trying to warn the public about the fraudulent claims being made by these masters. Many of these Qigong critics were religious scholars, scientists and doctors who were outraged by the masters’ claims and their potential for doing harm. Unfortunately these critics were not organized or well funded, therefore their voices were seldom heard.
Although their voices were faint, the critics of fake Qigong masters did manage to get some publicity for their point of view from time to time. On April 11, 1999, a retired theoretical physicist, professor He Zuoxiu, published a short article which charged that by practicing Falun Gong a young student he knew suffered mental illness. The article appeared in Science and Technology for Youth, an obscure magazine published by Tianjin College of Education, 100 miles southeast of Beijing. Eight days after its publication, Falun Gong practitioners whose feelings had been hurt by this “extremely irresponsible article” besieged the publisher’s office in a protest.14 They presented three demands to the magazine company: 1) publicly apologize to the Falun Gong organization, 2) retrieve all magazines and destroy them, 3) publish an announcement to stop anyone from reprinting the article. Days went by and, in response to a total refusal by the publisher to meet their demands, the Falun Gong protesters increased their numbers dramatically.
By April 23rd, with more than 6,000 Falun Gong practitioners now encircling its offices, the publishing company had met its breaking point – they called in the police. Later that afternoon about four hundred police came and forced the Falun Gong practitioners to leave. About one dozen practitioners who refused to leave were arrested, but the conflict didn’t end there. That night and the next day about 2,500 Falun Gong practitioners encircled the Tianjin city hall demanding the release of those practitioners. After their demand was refused they and many others went to Beijing on the 25th, directly putting pressure on the central government leaders by surrounding their compound. According to the report of one of the practitioners’ representatives who talked to the government official on that day, their demands were that the central government: 1) require the Tianjin police to release the Falun Gong practitioners as soon as possible, 2) lift the ban against publishing Zhuan Falun, 3) allow a fair and lawful environment to practice Falun Gong.15
These demands from the practitioners clearly show that the Beijing protest was triggered by the Tianjin incident. While the practitioners demanded a “fair and lawful environment,” what they really were demanding was that the government use it’s power to stop anyone from criticizing Li Hongzhi and the Falun Gong. Yet they have never acknowledged that what they did was a violation of the law. Their prolonged protest against the Tianjin magazine company amounted to harassment against one of its critics and it was illegal.
The Tianjin incident was not the first time that Falun Gong practitioners had harassed critics before the April 25th protest. Ever since June 17, 1996, when the Guangming Daily published a critical article about the Falun Gong, practitioners had been harassing their critics by besieging media companies and demanding apologies. As reported by the Asia-week magazine, there were 77 incidents in China where Falun Gong practitioners had literally besieged their opponents over what they said was unfair coverage.16 Although these protests were not violent, they did interfere with business activities, while also issuing a veiled threat – no one can criticize master Li and the great law he teaches without suffering the consequences.