The English word “cult” conjures images of sinister organizations performing Jim Jones-led mass suicides. So the Chinese regime took full advantage of the power of the cult label to launch one of the most vicious hate campaigns in its history.
In the late summer of 1999, then-Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin had a public relations problem. Beginning on July 20 he had convulsed China with mass arrests of practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong, followed by round-the-clock propaganda, book burnings, and the purging of Party members.
But to the outside world, there was no clear rationale for the violence the dictator had unleashed on a peaceful group of meditators.
Falun Gong, with Buddhist and Taoist moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, was introduced to the public in China in 1992. Those who took up the practice reported improvements in health, better relations with family members and colleagues, less stress, and new insight into the meaning of life. It spread rapidly by word of mouth, and a 1999 state survey estimated 70 to 100 million adherents in China.
The Falun Gong practice was independent of Party control, something unheard of in China. In 1997 and 1998 the Party ordered the Public Security Bureau to conduct nationwide investigations gathering evidence of the harm done by Falun Gong. On both occasions, the investigators came back empty-handed.
In the latter half of 1998 the formerly high-ranking official Qiao Shi organized retired cadres to do their own investigation of Falun Gong. Qiao had previously served for ten years on the Standing Committee of the Politburo—the highest ranking body in the CCP—and had headed the domestic security apparatus. According to his study, Falun Gong had brought “hundreds of benefits” to Chinese society, and “not a single harm.”