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My Question:
Why did China begin persecution of Falun Gong midway through 1999 following nearly a decade of tolerating the movement?


Freedom House - The Battle for China's Spirit Falun Gong
The Communist Party initiated the worst instance of religious persecution since the Cultural Revolution, with the clampdown against Falun Gong. – André Laliberté, Ottawa University, leading scholar on religion in China, 2015

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter 1943 to a Polish diplomat in reaction to being told by Jan Karski about the Holocaust. Frankfurter said:

"I did not say that this young man was lying. I said that I was unable to believe what he told me. There is a difference."

Ethan Gutmann an investigative journalist who has written many articles and books on the topic estimated in 2014 from 2000 to 2014 on any given day 450,000 to 1 million Falun Gong members are in prison in China and that from 2000-2006 100,000 were murdered for their organs. More recent studies have demonstrated that this process is still continuing today.

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Falun Gong is a modern Chinese movement founded by Li Hongzhi who introduced it in the early 1990s. It experienced a period of viral growth in the 1990's and was even embraced by some members of China's Communist party at that time. By 1998 Chinese government sources estimated that as many as 70 million people had taken up the practice.

Falun Gong is a physical fitness movement which practices rhythmic motion and meditation.

In early 2000s state sponsored persecution of Falun Gong first began to be reported. Persecution included extra legal detention, torture, re-education camps, execution and large scale organ harvesting.

Evidence

Documentaries on China's Organ Harvesting of prisoners of conscience.

The European Parliament passed a resolution in December 2013 on organ harvesting in China. That resolution, amongst other provisions, called for a full and transparent investigation by the European Union into organ transplantpracticesinChina

Bloody Harvest(2007) and the update Bloody Harvest: The Slaughter(2017) by

  • David Matas, human rights lawyer and the Director of the International Centre for Human Rights & Democratic Development.
  • David Kilgour - former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific)

Bloody Harvest
We have concluded that the government of China and its agencies in numerous parts of the country, in particular hospitals but also detention centres and 'people's courts', since 1999 have put to death a large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience. Their vital organs, including kidneys, livers, corneas and hearts, were seized involuntarily for sale at high prices, sometimes to foreigners, who normally face long waits for voluntary donations of such organs in their home countries.

How many of the victims were first convicted of any offence, serious or otherwise, in legitimate courts, we are unable to estimate because such information appears to be unavailable both to Chinese nationals and foreigners. It appears to us that many human beings belonging to a peaceful voluntary organization made illegal eight years ago by President Jiang because he thought it might threaten the dominance of the Communist Party of China have been in effect executed by medical practitioners for their organs.

Our conclusion comes not from any one single item of evidence, but rather the piecing together of all the evidence we have considered. Each portion of the evidence we have considered is, in itself, verifiable and, in most cases, incontestable. Put together, they paint a damning whole picture. It is their combination that has convinced us.

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United States Congress 2016 : Organ Harvesting an Examination of a Brutal Practice Recently US Congress issued S.Res.220 expressing solidarity with Falun Gong over persecution including forced organ donations. Freedom House has issued a report finding the persecution is ongoing. The UK Parliament: Debated China's Forced Organ Removal in China

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Freedom House - The Battle for China's Spirit Falun Gong

  • Orders for arrests continue to come down from high-level authorities, but sometimes the Public Security Bureau agents will say no, they are only exercising to be healthy. – Chinese human rights lawyer, 2013
  • The Communist Party initiated the worst instance of religious persecution since the Cultural Revolution, with the clampdown against Falun Gong. – André Laliberté, Ottawa University, leading scholar on religion in China, 2015


My Question:
Why did China begin persecution of Falun Gong midway through 1999 following nearly a decade of tolerating the movement?

Per pouts comment

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from Wikipedia: Rational

Foreign observes have attempted to explain the party's rational as a variety of Falun Gong's attributes:

  • popularity
  • independence
  • refusal to toe party line
  • internal communist power politics
  • their moral and spiritual content, which amounts to try to do the right thing.
  • the mere fact that it's promoted as a religion

Given political protests are wide spread in China. Given the only protest generally attributed to Falun Gong involved about .0001% of their membership and given 100's of such protests are daily events in china I find the fear of their protesting unlikely. Most most of the given attributes are also valid against Christian groups operating in China I think most of these explanations can be dismissed.

Comments

JAsia
I am surprised that you think Beijing's reaction is "hollow", or any governments' perceived threat should be so dismissed, given that you're asking about political history. I don't see why Western states would have a monopoly on unreasonable fear (e.g. Japanese internment WW2, McCarthyism, Yellow Peril, etc). My suggestion was intended to help you frame your question. However, if you've already decided, it would be pointless to say otherwise. I had thought you missed the earlier news reports. I did not realise you discarded this point of view. Maybe show this in question? – J Asia

I did not suggest Beijing's actions with regards to Falun Gong were "hollow". I said the claim Beijing's crackdown is based upon a a single protest seemed to me as a hollow claim. I said last time I checked China tolerated a fairly extensive amount of protests and demonstrations, as I recalled from decades ago. I cited a U.S. State Dept survey. Searching just now, I found sources which corroborate scores of significant demonstrations are tolerated in china daily.

Protest and dissent in China
In 2006, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated the number of annual mass incidents to exceed 90,000, and Chinese sociology professor Sun Liping estimated 180,000 incidents in 2010. Mass incidents are defined broadly as "planned or impromptu gathering that forms because of internal contradictions", and can include public speeches or demonstrations, physical clashes, public airings of grievances, and other group behaviors that are seen as disrupting social stability

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Why protests are so common in China
70,000 protests of 100 or more people over a three year period documented by a Chinese observer.

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JAsia
or any governments' perceived threat should be so dismissed, given that you're asking about political history. I don't see why Western states would have a monopoly on unreasonable fear (e.g. Japanese internment WW2, McCarthyism, Yellow Peril, etc).

What has occurred in China against the Falun Gong is closer to the scale of the Holocaust's six million jewish deaths rather than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans detained during WWII after the Pearl Harbor attack. Not to suggest Japanese detentions or Anti American trials were reasonable, but they didn't rise to the level of genocide.

There are creditable estimates which place the number of Falun Gong forced killed for their organs at 100,000 over the first 6 year period, with millions detained. We are now in year 18 or 19 and the policy is still ongoing. I think that goes beyond a security policy based on 1 demonstration involving less than .0001% of the Falun Gong membership. But I could be wrong. Write it up.

JAsia
My suggestion was intended to help you frame your question. However, if you've already decided, it would be pointless to say otherwise. I had thought you missed the earlier news reports. I did not realise you discarded this point of view. Maybe show this in question?

Thank you for your suggestion and I think they make the question strongeer. I did revisit and reframe my question. I have not already decided, but I do present I believe significant evidence that the Falun Gong genocide goes way beyond security concerns based upon a single demonstration. I presented evidence that membership in the group was 70 million when a single demonstration took place involving a few thousand Falun Gong. I also presented sources which show demonstrations such at those are daily occasions in China and tolerated generally. 100's of such demonstrations occur daily and have for decades. So my question infers there is another reason for the crack down.


Sources:

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    The only definitive answer will come from the Chinese State Government - good luck getting that, all else is speculation... – Solar Mike Jan 7 at 8:37
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    @JMS - What Beijing did, and is still doing, is not excusable. But taking on Beijing in China is suicidal. His power-play failed. You might want to read contemporaneous news reports, instead of just official NGO reports, such as "Cult protest in heart of Beijing" - Guardian (Apr1999) and "Silent Protest Draws Thousands to Beijing" - WaPo (April 1999). – J Asia Jan 7 at 16:03
  • @JAsia, Last time I had knowledge of political protests in China the late 90s. At that time the US State Dept was documenting about 1000 political protests daily in China. That Beijing cracked down on Falun Gong for political activities always struck me as hollow. Falun Gong has never been political and they had 70 million practitioners. If they wanted to be they could have made a considerable splash. Advocates to that position attribute a single relatively small demonstration to them. While I disagree with that answer if you believe it, write it up. – JMS Jan 7 at 17:31
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    @JMS - I am surprised that you think Beijing's reaction is "hollow", or any governments' perceived threat should be so dismissed, given that you're asking about political history. I don't see why Western states would have a monopoly on unreasonable fear (e.g. Japanese internment WW2, McCarthyism, Yellow Peril, etc). My suggestion was intended to help you frame your question. However, if you've already decided, it would be pointless to say otherwise. I had thought you missed the earlier news reports. I did not realise you discarded this point of view. Maybe show this in question? – J Asia Jan 11 at 10:41
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All the information you need is in your question; you just need to look at things from the perspective of a paranoid, totalitarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party.

Falun Gong is a physical fitness movement which practices rhythmic motion and meditation.

Initially Falun Gong was seen as a benign movement. However over a decade, it rapidly grew; becoming wary, the government attempted to control it through state-run organisations like the Qigong Association, however Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, chose to distance the movement from state control, and concurrently state-sponsored criticism of the movement appeared and grew. Why this happened is an interesting question but immaterial here.

By 1998 Chinese government sources estimated that as many as 70 million people had taken up the practice.

By comparison, there is upwards of 50 million Christians today in China, under tight control and partly driven underground.

A critical event occurred when "upwards of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners" staged a protest, the largest of its kind since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which involved hundreds of thousands at various stages.

From the CCP's perspective, there was a

  • rapidly-growing
  • organised mass movement
  • larger than any in China
  • outside state control
  • who were capable of mass protest on a scale rivalling the one that justified driving tanks down Chang'an Avenue

Furthermore, Falun Gong was seen as an easy target, as it was largely confined in China. Imagine the international backlash if the same persecution was carried out against Christians, or if they waited for Falun Gong to grow even more. Compare to the ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs, which is similar in scale.

Addressing a few more points:

Given political protests are wide spread in China ... 100's of such protests are daily events

Most of these are small scale, localised, and deal with issues that do not threaten the regime. Many are dealt with just as harshly, for example jailing the ringleaders, you just don't hear about them as much.

Given the only protest generally attributed to Falun Gong involved about .0001% of their membership

This is more of a reason to be paranoid; given their size, the fear was that they could easily stage much larger protests.

  • As you say China has tens of millions of Christians. Why aren't christians having their organs taken too? – JMS Jan 15 at 8:04
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    @JMS Christians have been facing suppression for decades. They also didn't suddenly alarm CCP leadership with sudden rapid growth. – Semaphore Jan 15 at 12:19
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    @JMS If you assume the CCP are ideologically anti-religious you'll draw the wrong conclusions. The CCP suppress those that they perceive as most threatening to their rule. That is the lens that you should view all their activities. The Christians don't have a single charismatic leader, are already under state control, and do not have a history of mass protest. Compare this against the Uyghurs, who are suppressed not so much because they are Muslim (although that contributes), but because they also have a history of (sometimes violent) protest. – congusbongus Jan 15 at 21:45

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