Summary from Matthew Robertson in The Epoch Times (italics below added by me)
On April 25, 1999, the most “serious political incident” since 1989 occurred in China. Over 10,000 practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice, had quietly gathered on the streets of Beijing and silently stood and sat from morning to night, seeking to be allowed to practice their faith free from harassment.
The incident is often seen as the catalyst to what happened next: a nationwide Cultural Revolution-style persecution featuring incessant propaganda, cruel violence, labor camps, and thought reeducation campaigns that continues to this day. But a look at the three years that preceded that incident shows that rather than being the catalyst to the persecution, it was practitioners’ last-ditch effort to head off what hardliners inside the Communist Party had been hatching since 1996.
Exclusive interview with the author
I spoke with researcher and author Matthew Robertson about why this issue is still important—because it’s been 12 years since the incident on April 25, 1999, where 10,000-plus Falun Gong practitioners gathered outside the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing.
The reason this is important is because it affects how people understand the whole persecution [of Falun Gong]. If people understand it as a kind of action-reaction, and that Falun Gong got what was coming to them for protesting, then the attitude toward the persecution is different. If they understand that things had already started as early as ’95 or ’96, the whole perspective changes.
Robertson told me that he had to shorten his original article by about half to make it a suitable length for print. I asked him what got left out. He told me:
Ye Hao was the head of the Falun Gong Research Society and a director in the PSB (Public Security Bureau). He said that as early as 1995, the PSB said that they wanted to label Falun Gong a xiejiao—an “evil cult” or “heretical religion”—and ban it. But for whatever reason, that label didn’t get off the ground. But they had this plan in 1995.
The key that came out of this [research] is the ideological nature of the persecution and not the organizational fears. If you look at Western media, they emphasize that the CCP was scared of Falun Gong’s capacity to organize. But that really is just a superficial thing; that came much later. Since ’96 it was really an ideological struggle.
Like many practitioners said [to me], and especially what Ye Hao said, no one was saying the kinds of things Falun Gong was saying, about cultivating to buddhahood, about cultivation in other dimensions, and about the importance of morality, and all those things. It just wasn’t done in China. People wouldn’t say things like that publicly. So some people in the CCP hated [Falun Gong]. And it also had supporters. So that’s what took three years.
If there wasn’t all this kind of resistance [from supporters], the CCP might have tried to ban it in 1996. So what happened in 1999 was just the endpoint of what really began earlier. And that’s something that’s kind of being missed because Zhongnanhai (the protest on April 25, 1999) was such a dramatic event—so it steals the show. But this history is really the key to understanding the dynamic that led to the persecution.
For more info on what happened on April 25, 1999 and the CCP’s reaction, watch Part 2 of our award-winning documentary series, A Decade of Courage.