VII. ANALYSIS OF THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE
This chapter looks in some detail at two important features of the Chinese leadership's response to Falungong. It examines first of all the reasons Beijing decided almost immediately following the April 25, 1999 demonstration outside Zhonganhai to eradicate Falungong rather than coopt and regulate it, a strategy the government continues to employ effectively in dealing with the five religions it regards as legitimate. Secondly, the chapter examines the Party's decision to craft a series of laws, decisions, explanations, and interpretations to justify and implement the crackdown. The calculated use of a so-called rule of law campaign to further the anti-cult crackdown has much to say about the Party's manipulation of the legal system in China at present.
Two political considerations appear to have underlain the decision of the Chinese leadership, led by President and Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin, to mount a full-fledged campaign to eradicate Falungong and to allocate the necessary manpower and financial resources. One such consideration was the alleged danger posed by Falungong to social stability and thus Communist Party power, both already eroded by urban unemployment, widening income disparities, rural poverty, and corruption. The other was Jiang's preoccupation with his own political influence and his historic reputation after he steps down as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CCP at the 2002 Party Congress and as president of China in 2003.
The linkage of stability and Party power to the demise of Falungong was readily apparent at the February 2001 Central Work Conference described above. At Jiang's insistence, some 2,000 Party leaders listened to each of the seven members of the Standing Committee-China's de facto rulers-testify in turn to the need to eradicate the movement.57 Noting the importance of stability and Party unity, the seven emphasized to those in attendance how critical it was for recalcitrant local leaders to participate wholeheartedly in an accelerated drive against Falungong.
Preoccupation with stability was also evident at the 2001 National People's Congress (NPC) meeting in March with almost every speaker stressing its importance for China's development, and with many pointing out what they saw as Falungong's destabilizing effects and its collusion with China's alleged internal andexternal enemies.58 Premier Zhu's "Report on the Outline of the 10th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development" addressed social stability and Falungong in the same paragraph:
We need to improve public order through comprehensive measures and crack down on criminal activities that pose a threat to social order and national security. We must crack down according to law on ethnic separatist activities, religious extremist forces, violent and terrorist activities, cults, and illegal activities carried out under the guise of religion. We need to continue our campaign against the Falungong cult, and further expose and condemn its antihuman, antisocial and anti-science nature, and its reactionary feature of letting itself become a tool used by domestic and overseas hostile forces to oppose our socialist government. We need to mete out severe punishment in accordance with the law to the small number of criminals while making unremitting efforts to unite, educate and rescue the vast majority of people who have been taken in.59
President Jiang, discussing Falungong in general and Hong Kong in particular, said: "I have to make it very clear the Falun Gong is an evil cult... Stability is overriding. Any countries or societies will have no prospects if they have no stability. Only stability will make the economy develop and prosper."60 The message was clear: Falungong membership impedes China's growth and modernization; patriotic Chinese will avoid any and all ties to the organization and will assist in its demise.
There is considerable evidence that China's leaders were genuinely concerned with stability and feared that more and more urban disaffected might join an already large and highly organized movement whose political motives were unclear. By 1999, when Falungong members appeared en masse outside Zhongnanhai, thedismantling of state-owned enterprises had fueled untold numbers of protests, some violent, by the unemployed and by forcibly retired workers who were receiving neither back wages nor full pensions.61 Farmers, the poorest group in China, were facing new barriers in their efforts to supplant falling farm incomes through temporary work in urban areas.62 In their home villages, faced with exorbitant and illegal fees which the government repeatedly promised but then failed to rectify, they persistently expressed their dissatisfaction, sometimes violently.63 Projectionsthat conditions would worsen for both workers and farmers once China joined the World Trade Organization added to official unease that larger, better organized protests across provincial lines might occur.64
Political and religious dissidents, with overseas ties and some degree of organization, also remained a source of official disquiet, adding to the worry that increased population mobility, job flexibility, and advances in communications technology could make it easier for formerly disparate groups with similar grievances to join together in protest.
Given the potential for more, bigger, and better organized protests, China's leadership undoubtedly was concerned with the reliability of its security apparatus. Falungong's April 25, 1999 Zhongnanhai demonstration, coming as it did with no advanced warning to China's top leadership, likely fueled that anxiety. Although no figures have ever become available, it is believed that significant numbers of police and army officers were practitioners. The supposition is supported by Falungong's daring to mount so large a demonstration, daring to choose a time so close to the tenth anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing, and daring to choose Zhongnanhai, the most sensitive site in Beijing.
Despite the factors described above, not all China's leaders opted to eradicate Falungong. Some preferred to implement a program of co-optation that would bring Falungong under strict bureaucratic control analogous to the way China treats religious believers and institutions. Many enterprise managers and bureau chiefs reportedly were less than enthusiastic about the crackdown. So long as followers were willing to go about their practice quietly, the responsible authorities in many of these units were satisfied with pro forma recantations and ready to look the other way when practice continued.
President Jiang Zemin apparently thought otherwise. He treated the April 25 protest as if it were a personal political insult as well as a threat to social stability. By insisting on harsh repression, Jiang could accomplish two ends: demonstrate his ability to bend the Party to his will and eliminate what he considered a potential threat to his rule and his legacy.65 But he had to move quickly. Only three-and-a-half years would separate the Zhongnanhai event and the Party Congress in 2002, and political jockeying would begin long before the meeting itself.
Many commentators have suggested that if after his retirement Jiang were to succeed in retaining behind the scenes power and realizing his hoped-for place in history, he would have to ensure the Party remained strong and recovered ideological legitimacy.66 Leftist elements in the Party, which had never been enthusiastic about economic, much less political reform, were seeking to derail Jiang's plans and sideline his proteges. Should the economy falter, social order deteriorate badly, or China's rise to global prominence slow, Jiang would be held personally responsible, and he likely concluded he could not afford to risk a vibrant Falungong, whose leadership had at one time allied itself with conservative forces, whose membership had not benefitted from economic reform, and whose ultimate goals were obscure.
It is less clear why Jiang did not opt for a policy of aggressive co-optation of Falungong, such as the leadership had used with relative success against established religions. Several factors most probably played a role. For one, a policy of co-optation was risky for reasons related to the size and structure of Falungong, the allies each side could muster, the sophisticated use of mass communications technology available to practitioners, and the almost impossible task of monitoring believers in an era of relaxed restrictions on mobility. In addition, China's leaders had had sufficient experience with campaigns and co-optation programs to judge with some degree of sophistication whether such methodology was likely to succeed.
Co-optation takes time and Jiang did not have much time. The religious policy in place by the end of 2000 had evolved over a period of at least forty years, beginning shortly after the founding of the PRC.67 Furthermore, Falungong's decentralized structure combined with one-and only one-inspirational head whowas out of reach of Chinese security officials, made a co-optation strategy problematic. For co-optation to work it would have been necessary to identify popular Falungong leaders willing to work within government strictures. There was sufficient factionalism among religious leaders to make such a strategy tenable. Some Protestant leaders, for example, wanted to distance themselves from evangelical Christians who regularly defied China's religious regulations, and willingly cooperated with the government. Falungong did not have comparable doctrinal schisms.
Furthermore, the seemingly sudden emergence of Falungong and the outpouring of followers on April 25 contributed to the perception that its threat to stability and to the CCP was immediate. Falungong's essentially Chinese character, unlike that of Western religions, and qigong's nationwide popularity had contributed to extraordinary growth over a short period of time and there was reason to believe the movement would continue to attract followers. To meet the immediate threat and forestall still more growth, the central leadership determined on what was in essence a short-cut, a reversion to a campaign similar in some ways to the Cultural Revolution.
Finally, the intensity of the crackdown was fueled by miscalculations on both sides. At first, the Chinese leadership failed to grasp Falungong's organizational depth, its practitioners' devotion, and the imagination and resourcefulness of followers inside and outside China dedicated to keeping the movement alive. Nor did the Chinese leadership fully understand that, with the modern communications available to them, Falungong's leaders could turn victims of Chinese abuse into instant and inspirational martyrs to followers within China who might have turned instead to other exercise-meditation regimes. Once the decision to fully dismantle Falungong was made, the Chinese leadership could not reverse course without damage to its collective image. By not wavering, Falungong's leaders pushed Beijing into an ever-harsher campaign that might have backfired for the government had it not been for the suicides in Tiananmen Square on January 23, 2001.
Those deaths may have indirectly reflected Li Hongzhi's own miscalculation. His repeated warnings, one as recent as August 16, 2001, that practitioners who do not sufficiently "safeguard" Falungong will fail to reach "consummation," and his exhortations to them to do more even at the risk of increased hardship, were prone to misinterpretation.68 An earlier message entitled "Beyond the Limits of Forbearance," coming several weeks before the suicides and mentioning disciples' "need to let go of all attachments amidst ordinary humans" may also have beenmisunderstood.69
The spectacle on Chinese television of a young girl burning gave China's leaders "proof" they could offer to the public and to recalcitrant officials that Falungong, as they had said all along, was an extreme danger to public order, health, and morals and had to be rooted out once and for all. At this writing, the government was on the offensive and there was increasing evidence that Falungong's moral suasion was losing its effectiveness against China's determined campaign.
A "rule of law" veneer
In contrast to earlier campaign-style crackdowns, Chinese leaders have justified their campaign against Falungong by citing their determination to advance the "rule of law" in China and to strengthen the Chinese system of "socialist democracy."70
Between August 3-11, 1999, two to three weeks after Falungong was banned, Chinese media published a series of comments characterizing the campaign as "a struggle between rule by law and anti-rule by law" and expressing the opinion that the struggle had to be handled "according to law"71 Articles in Xinhua andPeople's Daily described in great detail the constitutional provisions and laws and regulations Falungong had failed to uphold. (See Appendix I-II.)
As a Xinhua commentator noted:
The constitution and laws of our country have explicitly stipulated that the state must strengthen the building of socialist spiritual civilization and oppose capitalist, feudal and other decadent ideologies. Citizens must observe public order and social ethics. Any action of undermining and disrupting social order must be banned. However, Li Hongzhi has disregarded the basic principles and stipulations of our constitution and laws by concocting the so-called Falun Dafa, establishing an illegal organization, and wantonly propagating feudal, superstitious and anti-scientific false reasoning and heretical ideas. He has brazenly formed an illegal association, assembled a crowd to make trouble, and illegally sold books and journals, audio-visual products and other propaganda publications, which propagate the Falun Dafa, to seek exorbitant profits, harm people's health, and severely disrupt social order. All these have constituted a heinous crime. Therefore, our struggle against Li Hongzhi and the Falun Gong organization manipulated by him is not only a serious ideological and political struggle, but also a struggle between rule by law and anti-rule by law. We not only must ideologically understand the illegal nature of the Falun Gong, but also take legal measures to resolutely punish the crimes of Li Hongzhi and his illegal Falun Gong organization. We must apply laws as weapons to win a victory [in] the struggle against the Falun Gong.72
Officials emphasized that Falungong followers were punished not for being practitioners, but for violating Chinese law. Some of the laws and regulations used against Falungong were in place when the crackdown began; some were newly enacted or reinterpreted and applied ex post facto. Some new legal standards were specifically directed at Falungong; others, in particular new restrictions on Internet usage, could profitably be used to curb Falungong's communications network even though they were designed with a larger target population in mind.
Human Rights Watch and other commentators have criticized China's judicial system as being driven by the aims of the ruling party, for failing to upholdinternational legal standards and applying new laws ex post facto, for standards that are so broad and vague that they invite arbitrary application, and for its administrative and inherently arbitrary system of reeducation through labor, used extensively to hold Falungong practitioners. In many respects, the government's tactics are strikingly similar to the various extrajudicial campaigns the Chinese Communist Party previously waged against "traitors," "counterrevolutionaries," "imperialists," "rightists" and landlords, among others. Coerced confessions under torture, insistence on recantations (reminiscent of earlier "criticism-self-criticism" sessions), and use of those who recant to "break" others, often leaves those who "broke" with an investment in upholding the government's version of Falungong as an evil cult.
Thus, China's legal system is best characterized as "rule by law," in which law is a malleable weapon against individuals whose opinions China's leadership dislikes or organizations it wants destroyed, rather than "rule of law," in which law is supreme and the leadership accountable to it. By altering laws and creating new laws with the expressed intention of dismantling Falungong, the Chinese leadership has succeeded only in undermining its claim that the judicial system is rooted in a "rule of law" principle. Interpretations of rights guaranteed in China's constitution, freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, procession and demonstration (article 35), and freedom of religious belief (article 36), are subject to situationally-based interpretations rather than being rooted in a body of principles. Their application is politically driven. There is, for example, a set of regulations requiring that a social organization register in order to be legal. But Chinese officials may deny registration because the organization's purpose is to expose a social problem, for example, environmental degradation, to a greater extent than the government considers desirable; because the organization espouses a principle, such as establishment of a two-party system, which the Communist Party rejects;73 or, as in the case of Falungong, because it legitimizes an organization the government fears.
If at the start of the crackdown against Falungong, China's leadership wanted only to punish public order infractions, shut down dangerous health practices, or stop fraud or subversion, there was an extant body of Chinese law available to deal with these offenses. But that was evidently not the leaders' intent. The means they used show instead that they wanted to thoroughly discredit Falungong in the process of dismantling it and that they employed rule of law and justice rationales as a cover and as an excuse.
57 Vivien Pik-kwan Chan, "China's Leadership Pushes for Unity," New York Times, March 9, 2001;"New phase in fight against sect," South China Morning Post, February 13, 2001.
58 "China Opens Annual Legislative Session, Falun Gong Attacked," Agence France-Presse, March 3, 2001; "Falun Gong ban attacked," South China Morning Post, March 3, 2001; "Li Peng Says China to Continue Work Against Abuse of Power, Falungong," FBIS, March 9, 2001, from Xinhua, March 9, 2001; Vivien Pik-kwan Chan, "Law chiefs get tough on state graft," South China Morning Post, March 11, 2001.
59 "Report on the Outline of the 10th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development," Xinhua, March 16, 2001, in "Comparison -- Full Text of Zhu Rongji's 10th Five-Year Plan Report," FBIS, March 16, 2001.
60 "President Jiang Zemin said yesterday Beijing would leave dealing..." South China Morning Post, March 6, 2001.
61 "AFP Reports on Worker Discontent in China's Shandong, Sichuan, Shaanxi," FBIS, April 3, 2001, from Agence France-Presse, April 2, 2001; "Workers Block Roads in Protest Over Unpaid Benefits," Agence France-Presse, March 26, 2001; "Thousands of Chinese Miners Clash With Police Over Layoffs," Agence France-Presse, March 9, 2001; "Farmers Recruit Urban Laborers," FBIS, March 1, 2001, from Xinhua, February 28, 2001; "Workers Block Railway Over Pay," Reuters, December 5, 2000; "Angry Workers Besiege City Hall," Reuters, May 17, 2000. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security admitted on April 30, 2001, that the "reemployment rate for retrenched workers in China hit a historic low in the first quarter of the year." See "What's News," South China Morning Post, http://www.scmp.com/, May 2, 2001, from China Central TV. To further complicate the employment picture, some three million laid-off workers reclassified as unemployed in June 2001 had their monthly stipends reduced. In August, Xinhua reported that job searches were becoming more competitive with 2.2 million people registered at employment centers and only 1.54 million jobs available. See "What's News," South China Morning News, http://www.scmp.com/, August 24, 2001, from Xinhua; Vivien Pik-kwan Chan, "Looming danger of the `newly' jobless," South China Morning Post, June 5, 2001; "China's Premier Zhu says reforms to slow," Reuters, June 8, 2001; Clara Li, "More jobs lost than created, says expert," South China Morning Post, June 29, 2001. Endemic corruption, benefiting officials and enterprise managers at the expense of rank-and-file workers, continued to be another destabilizing factor. See Chan, "Law chiefs get tough...," South China Morning Post; Mark O'Neill, "Dismal story of Hua Lu's asset-stripping finally revealed," South China Morning Post, April 16, 2001.
62 "Major Event Affecting General Situation of National Economy," People's Daily Online, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200103/23/eng20010323_65808.html, March 23, 2001; "Wen Jiabao On Importance of Lightening Peasant Burdens," FBIS, September 29, 2000, from Xinhua, September 27, 2000; "UN says graft foils eradication of poverty," Reuters, April 7, 2000; "China Fails to Raise Farmers' Incomes Threatening Stability," Agence France-Presse, July 18, 2001.
63 "Cadres strike hard at peasants' pockets," Associated Press, June 5, 2001; "Ringleaders jailed over riot against levy," Agence France-Presse, June 14, 2001; "Tax increase stirs banana farmers' fury," South China Morning Post, November 16, 2000; "20,000 farmers riot over taxes," South China Morning Post, August 30, 2000; Jasper Becker, "Hidden rural income crisis set to strike home, experts warn," South China Morning Post, June 30, 2001; "Seven Types of Actions Involving Agricultural Prices and the Collection of Fees Specified as Illegal," Xinhua, July 14, 2001, in "7 Types of Illegal Agri-Related Fees To Be Cleaned Up in 2d Half of 2001," FBIS, July 17, 2001; Daniel Kwan, "Premier's rural tax experiment falters," South China Morning Post, July 23, 2001; "Chinese Premier Urges Steady Progress on Rural Tax Reform," People's Daily Online, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/20017/23/eng20020723_75575.html, July 23, 2001; "China's Premier Zhu says...," Reuters, June 8, 2001.
64 "China's Farmers to Feel Full Force of WTO Entry," Reuters, August 7, 2001.
65 Mary Kwang, "A tough stand to show tough hand," Straits Times, July 24, 1999; Susan V. Lawrence, "China -- Jiang's Two Faces: Who is China's president? For all Jiang's courage in securing the WTO deal, his handling of Falun Gong suggests fear is getting thebetter of his appetite for political reform," Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2, 1999; John Pomfret, "Cracks in China's Crackdown; Falun Gong Campaign Exposes Leadership Woes," Washington Post, November 11, 1999.
66 "Jiang sets stage for eminence grise role,"Yomiuri Shimbun, October 18, 2001; Ching Cheong, "Jiang's legacy not assured ...yet," Straits Times, September 28, 2001; "DATELINE: CHINA: Shades of red," AsiaWeek, September 7, 2001; Bruce Gilley, "China -- Jiang's Turn Tempts Fate: The leader of the ruling Communist Party is encountering growing criticism from a revitalized left wing as he moves the party further to the right," Far Eastern Economic Review, August 30, 2001; "Beidaihe beach blues," The Economist, August 11, 2001; Hugo Restall, "Examining Asia: China's New Leaders," Asian Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2001.
67 See Chapter 2, "Freedom of Belief in China."
68 "Master Li's New Article: Dafa Disciples in the Fa-Rectification Period," Falun Dafa Clearwisdom.net, http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2001/8/16/12965.html.
69 "Beyond the Limits of Forbearance," Falun Dafa Clearwisdom.net, http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2001/1/2/6668.html.
70 "China: Cult ban in line with Democracy," World Reporter (TM) - Asia Intelligence Wire, from China Daily, November 24, 1999. See also "Highlight Rule of Law and Punish Cult: People's Daily," Xinhua, source: World Reporter (TM), October 30, 1999. A March 1999 amendment to the Chinese constitution stipulated, "The People's Republic of China shall be governed according to law and shall be built into a socialist country based on the rule of law." "Text of PRC Constitution Amendment," FBIS, March 16, 1999, from Xinhua, March 16, 1999.
It is important to note that the Chinese phrase, yifazhiguo, is variously rendered as "rule of law," "rule by law," and "according to law." Furthermore, the term's meaning varies with the speaker. Thus, it is important to look at what is actually happening under an yifazhiguo rubric. The term can refer to a system where law becomes a tool of governance (commonly referred to as rule by law), or to a system in which government is held equally accountable for its actions and which incorporates respect for internationally recognized human rights (rule of law). Evidence from the crackdown against Falungong indicates that Chinese officials are using it in the former sense.
71 "Applying Law as Weapon to Win Victory in Struggle Agaist Falungong," Xinhua, August 3, 1999 in World News Connection, August 3, 1999, source: World Reporter (TM); "The Socialist Legal System is Sacred and Inviolable -- On the Illegality of the `Falun Gong' Organization and its..." Legal Science Subgroup of the Chinese Academy of Social Science Comprehensive Research Group on the "Falun Gong" Phenomenon, Renmin Ribao, in "Renmin Ribao Lists Falun Gong Illegality," World News Connection, August 11, 1999,source: World Reporter (TM); "Cass Official Xia Yong On Falungong, Rule of Law," World News Connection, August 3, 1999, source: World Reporter (TM).
72 Xinhua, "Applying Law as Weapon to Win Victory in Struggle Agaist Falungong," in World News Connection, August 3, 1999.
73 "Chinese authorities will not permit opposition parties: Li Peng," Agence France-Presse, December 1, 1998.