China and Falun Gong
CRS Report for Congress
China and Falun Gong
Updated August 11, 2006
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
China and Falun Gong
In 1999, the “Falun Gong” movement gave rise to the largest and most
protracted public demonstrations in China since the democracy movement of a
decade earlier. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government, fearful of a
political challenge and the spread of social unrest, outlawed Falun Gong and carried
out an intensive, comprehensive, and unforgiving campaign against the movement.
Since 2003, Falun Gong has been largely suppressed or pushed deep underground in
China while it has thrived in overseas Chinese communities and Hong Kong. The
spiritual exercise group has become highly visible in the United States since 1999,
staging demonstrations, distributing flyers, and sponsoring cultural events. In
addition, Falun Gong followers are affiliated with several mass media outlets.
Despite the group’s tenacity and political activities overseas, it has not formed the
basis of a dissident movement encompassing other social and political groups from
The State Department, in its annual International Religious Freedom Report
(November 2005), designated China as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for
the sixth consecutive year, noting: “The arrest, detention, and imprisonment of Falun
Gong practitioners continued; those who refused to recant their beliefs were
sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons and reeducation-through-labor
camps, and there were credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse.” In March
2006, U.S. Falun Gong representatives claimed that thousands of practitioners had
been sent to 36 concentration camps throughout the PRC. According to their
allegations, at one such site in Sujiatun, near the city of Shenyang, a hospital has been
used as a detention center for 6,000 Falun Gong prisoners, three-fourths of whom are
said to have been killed and had their organs harvested for profit. American officials
from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulate in Shenyang visited the area
as well as inspected the hospital on two occasions and “found no evidence that the
site is being used for any function other than as a normal public hospital.”
Since 1999, some Members of the United States Congress have made many
public pronouncements and introduced several resolutions in support of Falun Gongth
and criticizing China’s human rights record. In the 109 Congress, H.Res. 608,
agreed to in the House on June 12, 2006, condemns the “escalating levels of religious
persecution” in China, including the “brutal campaign to eradicate Falun Gong.”
H.Res. 794, passed by the House on June 12, 2006, calls upon the PRC to end its
most egregious human rights abuses, including the persecution of Falun Gong. In
January 2006, U.S. citizen Charles Li was released from a PRC prison after serving
a three-year term for “intending to sabotage” broadcasting equipment in China on
behalf of Falun Gong.
This report will be updated periodically.
Basic Descriptions and Major Events..................................2
What is Falun Gong?...........................................2
Formation and Organization.....................................2
Master Li Hongzhi ............................................3
The 1999 FLG Demonstrations and PRC Government Crackdown.......3
Falun Gong Activities Underground and Overseas and Continued
Interruption of Television Broadcasts..............................6
Alleged Concentration Camps and Organ Harvesting..................6
The Kilgour-Matas Report...................................7
Falun Gong Activities Overseas..................................8
The United States..........................................8
Implications for PRC Politics.......................................11
U.S. Government Actions..........................................11
China and Falun Gong
Since July 1999, when the Chinese government began detaining thousands of
Falun Gong (FLG) adherents, the spiritual exercise movement has gained the
attention of many U.S. policy makers, primarily as an international human rights
concern. Many FLG practitioners reportedly have died or remain in PRC prisons or
other forms of detention. In 2005, the United States Commission on International
Religious Freedom recommended that China remain as a “country of particular
concern” (CPC) and stated that crackdowns on the group have been “widespread and1
violent.” On the basis of this recommendation, the State Department, in its annual
International Religious Freedom Report (November 2005), designated China as a
CPC for the sixth consecutive year, noting: “The arrest, detention, and imprisonment
of Falun Gong practitioners continued; those who refused to recant their beliefs were
sometimes subjected to harsh treatment in prisons and reeducation-through-labor
camps, and there were credible reports of deaths due to torture and abuse.”2
The PRC government appears to have been largely successful in not only
suppressing FLG activity in China but also discrediting Falun Gong in the eyes of
PRC citizens and preventing linkages between Falun Gong and other social protest
movements. Nonetheless, FLG followers have displayed a remarkable tenacity and
dedication both domestically and abroad. They have become a recurring irritant in
China’s efforts to project an image of a peaceful world power that abides by
international norms, and have raised suspicions among some PRC leaders that the
U.S. government is colluding with them. On April 20, 2006, at the official
welcoming ceremony of PRC President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington, D.C., Ms.
Wang Wenyi, a reporter for the Epoch Times, interrupted Hu’s speech by shouting
in support of Falun Gong for more than two minutes before being hustled away by
U.S. security agents. Although ostensibly not a political movement, Falun Gong
practitioners in the United States have become visible and vocal, particularly in major
U.S. cities and in Washington, D.C., in criticizing the PRC government and
publicizing human rights abuses against their fellow members in China. The PRC
government reportedly also has been aggressive abroad, attempting to refute FLG
claims and counteract their activities.
1 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, May
2 Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International
Religious Freedom Report 2005 — China (November 2005).
Basic Descriptions and Major Events
What is Falun Gong?
“Falun Gong,”also known as “Falun Dafa,”3 combines an exercise regimen with
meditation, moral values, spiritual beliefs, and faith. The practice and beliefs are
derived from qigong, a set of movements said to stimulate the flow of qi — vital
energies or “life forces” — throughout the body, and Buddhist and Daoist concepts.
Falun Gong upholds three main virtues — truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance
(zhen-shan-ren) — which may deliver practitioners from modern society’s
“materialism” and “moral degeneration.”4 FLG adherents claim that by controlling
the “wheel of dharma,” which is said to revolve in the body, one can cure a wide
range of medical ailments and diseases. They believe that by practicing Falun Gong,
or “cultivation,” they may achieve physical well-being, emotional tranquility, moral
virtue, an understanding of the cosmos, and a higher level of existence or salvation.5
Some observers maintain that Falun Gong resembles a cult and refer to the
unquestioning support given to its founder, Master Li Hongzhi, departure from
orthodox Buddhism and Daoism, and emphasis on supernatural powers. Others
criticize the spiritual practice for being intolerant or exclusive. The PRC government
charges that Falun Dafa has disrupted social order and contributed to the deaths of
hundreds of Chinese practitioners and non-practitioners by discouraging medical
treatment and causing or exacerbating mental disorders leading to violent acts. FLG
followers counter that the practice is voluntary and that levels of faith and
involvement vary with the individual practitioner. They also emphasize that Falun
Gong is not a religion — there is no worship of a deity, all-inclusive system of
beliefs, church or temple, or formal hierarchy.
Formation and Organization
During the mid-1990s, Falun Gong acquired a large and diverse following, with
estimates ranging from 3 to 70 million members, including several thousand
practitioners in the United States.6 Falun Gong attracted many retired persons as well
as factory workers, farmers, state enterprise managers, entrepreneurs, intellectuals,
and students in China. The practice’s claimed healing powers became especially
attractive as economic reforms caused many citizens to lose medical benefits and
services. In addition, Falun Gong reportedly was embraced by many retired and
active Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and government cadres and military officials
3 The literal meanings of “Falun Gong” and “Falun Dafa,” respectively, are “law wheel
exercise” and “great way of the law wheel.”
4 According to Falun Dafa, examples of moral degeneration include rock music, drug
addiction, and homosexuality.
5 See [http://www.falundafa.org] and [http://www.faluninfo.net] See also Li Hongzhi, Falun
Gong (rev. ed.) (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2001).
6 One estimate put the number of adherents in China at “several million” members. See
Craig S. Smith, “Sect Clings to the Web in the Face of Beijing’s Ban,” New York Times,
July 5, 2001.
and personnel. In 1999, then Vice-President Hu Jintao stated that of 2.1 million
known members of the Falun Gong group, one-third belonged to the CCP.7
Falun Gong’s apparently loose but effective organization has remained
somewhat mysterious. During the early phase of the crackdown, adherents of Falun
Gong generally characterized their objectives as personal and limited in scope. They
described their movement as being loosely organized and without any political
agenda beyond protecting the constitutional rights of practitioners in China.
According to some analysts, however, the movement was well organized before the
crackdown in 1999. After the government banned Falun Gong, a more fluid,
underground network, aided by the Internet, pagers, and cell phones, carried on for
over two years.8
Master Li Hongzhi
Li Hongzhi (“Master Li”), a former Grain Bureau clerk, developed Falun Gong
in the late 1980s, when qigong began to gain popularity in China. In 1992, Li
explained his ideas in a book, Zhuan Falun. Falun Gong was incorporated into an
official organization, the Chinese Qigong Association, in 1993 but separated from
it by 1996.9 Around this time, Li reportedly left China.10 Since 1999, Li, who lives
with his family outside New York City, has remained in seclusion, but has made
occasional appearances at Falun Gong gatherings. In 2005 and 2006, Li gave lectures
to followers in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Some reports
suggest that Li Hongzhi has directed his adherents from behind the scenes and that
his public statements are interpreted by many Falun Gong practitioners as
The 1999 FLG Demonstrations and PRC Government
On April 25, 1999, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 Falun Gong practitioners
from around China gathered in Beijing to protest the PRC government’s growing
restrictions on their activities. Some adherents presented an open letter to the Party
leadership at its residential compound, Zhongnanhai, demanding official recognition
and their constitutional rights to free speech, press, and assembly. Party leaders
reportedly were split on whether to ban Falun Gong and conveyed contradictory
7 The practice reportedly enjoyed a strong following among soldiers and officers in some
northeastern cities, while the PRC Navy published copies of Zhuan Falun. According to
one source, there were 4,000-5,000 Falun Gong “sympathizers” in the PLA air force. See
David Murphy, “Losing Battle,” Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb. 15, 2001. See also
John Pomfret, “China Takes Measured Steps Against Sect,” Washington Post, Aug. 6,
8 Ian Johnson, “Brother Li Love: In China, the Survival of Falun Dafa Rests on Beepers and
Faith,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2000.
9 Reports differ on which group, Falun Gong or the Qigong Association, initiated the split.
10 FLG founder Li Hongzhi was reportedly en route from Hong Kong to Australia when the
April 1999 demonstrations broke out and denies that he instigated them.
messages.11 Premier Zhu Rongji reportedly met with a delegation of practitioners
and told them that they would not be punished. By contrast, President Jiang Zemin
was said to be shocked by the affront to Party authority and ordered the crackdown.
Jiang was also angered by the apparent ease with which U.S. officials had granted Li
Hongzhi a visa and feared U.S. involvement in the movement. The government
produced circulars forbidding Party members from practicing Falun Gong. Security
forces collected the names of instructors, infiltrated exercise classes, and closed book
stalls selling Falun Dafa literature. Tensions escalated as followers engaged in 18
major demonstrations, including occupying a government building in the city of
Nanchang and demonstrating in front of China Central Television Station in Beijing.
The official crackdown began on July 21, 1999, when Falun Gong was outlawed
and an arrest warrant was issued for Li Hongzhi. On October 30, 1999, China’s
National People’s Congress promulgated an “anti-cult” law (article 300 of the
Criminal Law), effective retroactively, to suppress not only the Falun Gong
movement but also thousands of religious sects across the country. However, Ye
Xiaowen, director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, stated that police would
not interfere with people who practiced alone in their own homes.12 In Beijing alone,
public security officers closed 67 teaching stations and 1,627 practice sites.13 In the
immediate aftermath, the state reportedly detained and questioned over 30,000
followers nationwide, releasing the vast majority of them after they promised to quit
or identified group organizers.
Under article 300, cult leaders and recruiters may be sentenced to 7 or more
years in prison, while cult members who disrupt public order or distribute
publications may be sentenced to three to seven years in prison.14 During the first
two years of the crackdown, between 150 and 450 group leaders and other members
were tried for various crimes and sentenced to prison terms of up to 18-20 years.
Estimates of those who have spent time in detention or “labor reeducation” range
11 Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan, “Sect Ban Rumour Not True — Beijing,” South China Morning
Post, June 15, 1999; John Pomfret, “Jiang Caught in Middle on Standoff,” Washington
Post, Apr. 8, 2001.
12 The PRC government has not carried out a consistent policy regarding practicing in
private. According to the State Department, the mere belief in the discipline (without any
public manifestation or practice) has been sufficient grounds for punishment ranging from
loss of employment to imprisonment. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices — 2005 (China), March 8,
2006. See also Matt Forney, “Beijing Says Changes in Economy Helped Spur Falun Dafa’s
Growth,” Wall Street Journal, Nov. 5, 1999.
13 Before the crackdown, there were approximately 39 “teaching centers,” 1,900 “instruction
centers” and 28,000 practice sites nationwide. See John Pomfret and Michael Laris, “China
Expands Sect Crackdown,” Washington Post, July 25, 1999; and John Wong and William
T. Liu, The Mystery of Falun Gong (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. and
Singapore University Press, 1999).
14 Statement of Gretchen Birkle, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau for
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Joint Hearing before the
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, Falun Gong
and China’s Continuing War on Human Rights, July 21, 2005.
from 10,000 to100,000 persons.15 According to estimates by the State Department
and human rights organizations, since 1999, from several hundred to a few thousand
FLG adherents have died in custody from torture, abuse, and neglect. Many other
followers have been suspended or expelled from school or demoted or dismissed
from their jobs.
It took the PRC government, employing methods of social control that have
deep roots in both Chinese Communist Party practice and Chinese history, over two
years to subdue the Falun Gong organization. Incremental improvements in the rule
of law in China in the past decade have had little if any effect in protecting the
constitutional rights of FLG followers. In 1999, the central government reportedly
combined an intensive propaganda campaign with stern internal party directives and
reliance upon a system of informal control at the local level. At first, the local
enforcement of government decrees, such as those requiring universities, employers,
and neighborhood committees to obtain individual repudiations of Falun Gong, was
often lax.16 Some reports suggested that local officials had hoped that they could
persuade Falun Gong members to give up the practice or at least refrain from
engaging in public protests in the capital. However, between July 1999 and October
2000, many Falun Gong adherents continued to journey to Beijing and staged several
large demonstrations (involving several hundred to over a thousand persons) — many
participants were sent home repeatedly or evaded the police. As Falun Gong
demonstrations continued, the government crackdown took on a greater sense of
urgency. The PRC leadership employed a traditional method of threats and
incentives toward lower authorities to prevent public displays of Falun Gong,
particularly demonstrations in Beijing. Central leaders turned a blind eye to local
methods of suppression against unrepentant practitioners, including the reported use
of torture. The largest memberships and severest human rights abuses have been
reported in China’s northeastern provinces.17
Falun Gong Activities Underground and Overseas
and Continued Government Repression
There has been little, if any, FLG activity reported in the past year, although the
State Department reported that in 2005, there were still hundreds of thousands of
15 “Labor re-education” is a form of “administrative punishment” for non-criminal acts (such
as “disrupting public order”) that lasts between one and three years and does not require a
trial. See Craig S. Smith, “Sect Clings to the Web in the Face of Beijing’s Ban,” New York
Times, July 5, 2001; Mary Beth Sheridan, “Falun Gong Protests on the Mall,” Washington
Post, July 20, 2001; Paul Vallely and Clifford Coonan, “China’s Enemy Within: The Story
of Falun Gong,” The Independent, April 22, 2006.
16 See John Pomfret, “China’s Steadfast Sect,” Washington Post, Aug. 23, 2000.
17 Ian Johnson, “Death Trap: How One Chinese City Resorted to Atrocities to Control Falun
Dafa,”Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2000; Charles Hutzler, “Falun Gong Feels Effect of
China’s Tighter Grip,” Asian Wall Street Journal, Apr. 26, 2001; John Pomfret and Philip
Pan, “Torture Is Breaking Falun Gong,” Washington Post, August 5, 2001; “China’s
Heilongjiang Records Highest Falun Gong Death Toll,” BBC, Dec. 6, 2003.
practitioners in the country.18 Many FLG followers are believed to be still practicing
in their homes or meeting secretly. One source estimates that there are 60,000 FLG
practitioners left in China: half of them are still in detention while the other half
remain under surveillance.19 According to another expert, there are between 15,000
and 25,000 political or religious prisoners in China, half of whom are linked to the
Falun Gong movement.20 FLG members in the United States claim that adherents in
China continue to disseminate written information about the practice.
Interruption of Television Broadcasts
Between 2002 and 2005, in about a dozen reported cases, Falun Gong members
interrupted programming in several large Chinese cities and broadcast their own
images, possibly with the aid of sources outside the country.21 In 2002, PRC courts
sentenced 27 practitioners to prison terms of 4 to 20 years for carrying out these
activities. In July 2005, satellite broadcasts reportedly were interrupted by a 15-
minute FLG video.22 On May 19, 2003, U.S. citizen Charles Li was sentenced to
three years in prison for “intending to sabotage” Chinese television broadcasts. Li
returned to California after he was released in January 2006. U.S. consular officials
had maintained regular contact with Li through his detainment. In a letter that he sent
while under incarceration, Li reportedly wrote of physical and mental abuse in prison.
Alleged Concentration Camps and Organ Harvesting
In March 2006, U.S. Falun Gong representatives claimed that thousands of
practitioners had been sent to 36 concentration camps throughout the PRC,
particularly in the northeast, and that many of them were killed for profit through the
harvesting and sale of their organs. Many of these claims were based upon
allegations about one such camp in Sujiatun, a district of Shenyang city in Liaoning
province. The Epoch Times, a U.S.-based newspaper affiliated with Falun Gong, first
reported the story as told by a Chinese journalist based in Japan and a former
employee of a Sujiatun hospital that allegedly operated the camp and served as an23
organ harvesting center. According to Epoch Times reports, of an estimated 6,000
18 Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International
Religious Freedom Report 2005 — China, op. cit.
19 Statement of Yonglin Chen, Joint Hearing before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global
Human Rights and International Operations, Falun Gong and China’s Continuing War on
Human Rights, July 21, 2005.
20 Terence Chea, “Former American Businessman Lobbies for China’s Political Prisoners,
San Diego Union-Tribune, August 28, 2005.
21 The satellite interference may have originated overseas. The Taiwanese government has
denied any involvement.
22 “China Condemns Alleged Falun Gong Satellite ‘Attack,’” Dow Jones International
News, July 6, 2005.
23 Brian Marple, “Secret Chinese Concentration Camp Revealed,” The Epoch Times, March
10, 2006; Ji Da, “New Witness Confirms Existence of Chinese Concentration Camp,” The
Epoch Times, March 17, 2006. The hospital worker’s ex-husband, a former surgeon at the
Falun Gong adherents detained there, three-fourths allegedly had their organs
removed and then were cremated or never seen again.24 American officials from the
U.S. Embassy in Beijing and the U.S. consulate in Shenyang visited the area as well
as the hospital site on two occasions — the first time unannounced and the second
with the cooperation of PRC officials — and after investigating the facility “found
no evidence that the site is being used for any function other than as a normal public
hospital.”25 Amnesty International spokespersons have stated that the claims of
systematic organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners cannot be confirmed or
The PRC government has rejected claims about live organ harvesting of Falun
Gong practitioners. In December 2005, Chinese officials reportedly confirmed that
executed prisoners had been “among the sources of organs for transplant” and
admitted that a market for such organs had existed, but denied that they had been
removed without consent.26 In March 2006, the Chinese Ministry of Health
announced stricter regulations that would require written consent from organ donors,
ban the sale of human organs, and limit the number of hospitals allowed to perform
The Kilgour-Matas Report. On July 6, 2006, two Canadian investigators,
former Liberal Member of Parliament David Kilgour and David Matas, an
international human rights attorney, published Report into Allegations of Organ
Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China. The report concludes that the
allegations that “large numbers” of Falun Gong practitioners in the People’s Republic28
of China (PRC) have been victims of live organ harvesting are true. For the most
part, however, the report does not bring forth new or independently-obtained
testimony and relies largely upon the making of logical inferences. The authors had
conducted their investigation in response to a request by the Coalition to Investigate
the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China (CIPFG), a U.S.-based, non-profit
organization founded by the Falun Dafa Association in April 2006. In addition to
interviewing the same former Sujiatun hospital worker as featured in the Epoch
Times, Kilgour and Matas refer to recordings of telephone conversations provided by
CIPFG. In these recorded calls that CIPFG members allegedly made from locations
outside China to PRC hospitals, police bureaus, and detention centers, telephone
same hospital in Sujiatun, reportedly confided to her in 2003 that he had performed cornea
removal operations on approximately 2,000 Falun Gong prisoners.
24 “U.S. Presses China for Probe on Falun Gong Organ Harvesting Claim,” Agence France
Presse, March 31, 2006.
25 “U.S. Finds No Evidence of Alleged Concentration Camp in China — Repression of
Falun Gong, Reports of Organ Harvesting Still Worry Officials,” Washington File, April 16,
26 Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices — 2005 (China), op. cit.
27 Christopher Bodeen, “China Bans Sales of Human Organs,” Seattle Times, March 29,
28 The Kilgour-Matas report is available at [http://www.investigation.redirectme.net/].
respondents reportedly indicated that organ harvesting of live Falun Gong detainees
Although many claims and arguments in the Kilgour-Matas report are widely
accepted by international human rights experts, some of the reports’s key allegations
appear to be inconsistent with the findings of other investigations.29 The report’s
conclusions rely heavily upon transcripts of telephone calls in which PRC
respondents reportedly stated that organs removed from live Falun Gong detainees
were used for transplants. Some argue that such apparent candor would seem
unlikely given Chinese government controls over sensitive information, which may
raise questions about the credibility of the telephone recordings.
Falun Gong Activities Overseas
Hong Kong. Practicing Falun Gong is permitted in the Hong Kong Special
Administrative Region (HKSAR) and local members, which number an estimated
500, frequently stage protests against PRC policies toward Falun Gong on the
mainland. In November 2004, a Hong Kong appeals court reversed convictions for
“obstructing a public place” against sixteen Falun Gong members who had
participated in a demonstration in March 2002. The judges ruled that the defendants
had been exercising their right to demonstrate. In May 2005, the Court of Final
Appeal overturned the convictions of eight other protesters for assaulting and
obstructing police, stating that “the freedom to demonstrate peacefully is protected30
by law.” The HKSAR government reportedly has occasionally barred entry to
foreign Falun Gong adherents. In February 2006, 83 overseas Falun Gong
practitioners, mostly from Taiwan, were refused entry prior to a conference organized
by the Hong Kong Association of Falun Dafa, leading some to speculate that PRC31
authorities keep tabs on overseas and Taiwan FLG members.
The United States. There are an estimated several thousand Falun Gong
practitioners in the United States and similarly large numbers of adherents in other
countries with large ethnic Chinese populations. The movement has become highly
public in the United States. Members regularly stage demonstrations, distribute
flyers, and sponsor cultural events. In addition, FLG followers are affiliated with
several mass media outlets, including Internet sites. These include The Epoch Times,
a newspaper distributed for free in eight languages and 30 countries (with a
distribution of 1.5 million); New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV), a non-profit
Chinese language station based in New York with correspondents in 50 cities
worldwide; and Sound of Hope, a northern California radio station founded by FLG32
members. These media outlets report on a variety of topics but emphasize human
29 See also the U.S. State Department’s discussion of Falun Gong, Country Reports on
Human Rights Practices — 2005 (China), op. cit.
30 Albert Wong, “Falun Gong Victory on the Right to Protest,” The Standard, May 6, 2006.
31 “Falun Gong Blacklist Theory Raised,” South China Morning Post, February 8, 2006.
32 See [http://www.falundafa.org]; [http://faluninfo.net]; [http://www.clearwisdom.net];
[http://www.epochtimes.com]; [http://www.ntdtv.com]; KTVO AM 1400. Vanessa Hua,
rights abuses in China, particularly against Falun Gong members, and publish mostly
negative or critical reports on PRC domestic and foreign policies.
Two U.S. Internet companies founded by Chinese Falun Gong practitioners,
Dynaweb Internet Technology Inc. and UltraReach Internet Corporation, have been
at the forefront of overseas Chinese and U.S. efforts to breach the PRC “Internet
firewall.” They have each developed software to help Chinese Web users —
estimated at 111 million in 2005 — to circumvent government censorship and access
websites which the PRC government has attempted to block. The United States
Broadcasting Board of Governors has provided funding to these companies in order
to help sustain their efforts in enabling Web users in China to freely access the
Internet, including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia websites.33
On behalf of plaintiffs in China, Falun Gong adherents in the United States have
filed several civil complaints in U.S. federal courts against PRC leaders for violations
of the Torture Victim Protection Act, the Alien Tort Claims Act, and other “crimes
against humanity.”34 In September 2003, a U.S. District Court judge in Chicago
dismissed a lawsuit filed against former PRC President Jiang Zemin, on the basis of
lack of jurisdiction and sovereign immunity. In December 2004, a U.S. District
Court in San Francisco ruled that Beijing Party Secretary and former Beijing mayor
Liu Qi had broken U.S., international, and PRC law for his role in violating the
human rights of Falun Gong practitioners.35
PRC officials in the United States have engaged in a public relations blitz to
counter FLG efforts. In 2001, over one dozen U.S. mayors reported pressure from
PRC officials urging them not to give public recognition to Falun Gong.36 In 2002,
according to Falun Gong practitioners, PRC consulates sent approximately 300 letters
to local U.S. officials, including mayors and the governor of Washington state,
asking them not to support Falun Gong.37 The Wall Street Journal wrote: “Chinese
diplomats spend a lot of time writing letters and making visits to governments, local
“Culture and Religion: Dissident Media Linked to Falun Gong,” SFGate.com, December
33 For further information, see CRS Report RL33167, Internet Development and Information
Control in the People’s Republic of China, by Thomas Lum.
34 Under U.S. law, foreigners accused of crimes against humanity or violations of
international law can be sued in federal court by U.S. citizens or aliens in the United States.
The accused individual must be served a civil complaint in the United States.
35 Liu was served with legal papers in 2002 in San Francisco while en route to the Salt Lake
City Winter Olympics. The Court ruled that Liu appeared to have violated Chinese law and
was thus not entitled to sovereign immunity. The plaintiffs did not receive damages but hope
to bar Liu from visiting the United States again. Vanessa Hua, “Beijing Official Liable in
Falun Gong Case,” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 24, 2004.
36 Helen Luk, “China Steps up Efforts Against Sect,” The Patriot-News, July 9, 2001.
37 Steve Park, “Officials Ask U.S. Cities to Snub Sect,” The Washington Times, April 8,
newspapers and television outlets, politicians and others...warning them about the
Since 2001, Falun Gong plaintiffs have filed several lawsuits in federal courts
claiming that the PRC officials in the United States have been responsible for dozens
of isolated incidents of physical and verbal harassment, eavesdropping, and
destruction of property of Falun Gong adherents and supporters in the United States.
However, plaintiffs often have possessed little evidence of direct involvement by the
Chinese government in the alleged incidents. PRC consular officials deny
participation in such criminal activity in the United States and claim that they are
entitled to diplomatic immunity. In November 2002, the Circuit Court of Cook
County charged a PRC immigrant with battery for having physically assaulted a
Falun Gong hunger striker in front of the Chinese Consulate in Chicago in September
2001.39 In February 2005, Falun Gong members in the United States reported that
a coordinated, world-wide campaign (in over 20 countries) of telephone harassment
against them had taken place.40 This telephone harassment allegedly consisted of
pre-recorded anti-Falun Gong messages in both English and Chinese, some
purportedly originating in China.
In May 2005, Mr. Chen Yongli, a political officer at the PRC Consulate General
in Sydney, Australia, defected and requested political asylum on the grounds that he
would be persecuted if sent back to China.41 On June 4, 2005, Chen made a public
appearance at a rally in Sydney to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the 1989
Tiananmen Square military action. In his speech, Chen declared that Beijing had
directed the PRC consulate to identify and harass members of the Australian Chinese
community who belonged to groups that the PRC deems subversive, such as
democracy activists and Falun Gong practitioners. As a consular official, Chen
reportedly resisted orders to provide extensive details about FLG adherents in
Australia.42 Chen alleged that the PRC government had deployed a network of 1,000
agents and spies in Australia to discredit Falun Gong and to spy on its members, and
that the number of such agents in the United States was likely higher. In July 2005,
the Australian Immigration Department granted permanent protection visas to Chen,
his wife and daughter.
38 Pui-Wing Tam, Ian Johnson and Li Yuan, “China’s Diplomats in U.S. Act to Foil Falun
Gong Protesters,” Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2004.
39 Lydia Polgreen, “On New York Streets, Warning of a Crackdown by China,” New York
Times, November 22, 2004.
40 The information source for this is Jeff Chen, spokesman for the Washington D.C. Falun
Dafa Association. See also “Attorney General Asked to Investigate Massive Harassment
Calls,” U.S. Newswire, March 2, 2005.
41 Although Chen’s request for political asylum was rejected, the Australian government
granted Chen and his family permanent protection (immigration) visas in July 2005.
42 Simon Kearney, “Falun Gong Paying Defector’s Expenses,” The Australian, July 13,
2005; Janaki Kremmer, “Chinese Defector Details Country’s Espionage Agenda,” Christian
Science Monitor, June 20, 2005.
Implications for PRC Politics
The Chinese government reportedly referred to Falun Gong as “the most serious
threat to stability in 50 years of [Chinese] communist history.” The practice’s
popularity in China’s northeast and other economically depressed areas was
especially worrisome to the Party because of the fear that “religious fever” combined
with economic unrest could spark widespread political protests. Some observers
noted that the crackdown on Falun Gong deepened anti-government sentiment among
not only adherents but also non-adherents, including many reform-minded
intellectuals. However, there has been little indication that Falun Gong has become
a rallying cry for other disaffected social groups or China’s small number of political
activists. Many Chinese, either because of government propaganda or their
indifference toward Falun Gong, have become critical toward the movement or
apathetic about the crackdown. Some have charged that Li Hongzhi has exploited
vulnerable people and caused their suffering by exaggerating the healing powers of
Falun Gong or by encouraging followers in prison to attain full enlightenment by
exercising “forbearance” or refusing to recant.43 The January 2001 self-immolations
of six purported Falun Gong members on Tiananmen Square was exploited by the
official media, further alienating many PRC citizens.
U.S. Government Actions
Since 1999, some Members of the United States Congress have made many
public pronouncements and introduced several resolutions in support of Falun Gong.
In the 109th Congress, H.Res. 608, agreed to in the House on June 12, 2006,
condemns the “escalating levels of religious persecution” in China, including the
“brutal campaign to eradicate Falun Gong.” H.Res. 794, passed by the House on
June 12, 2006, calls upon the PRC to end its most egregious human rights abuses,
including the persecution of Falun Gong. H.Con.Res. 365, introduced on March 28,
2006, would urge the PRC government to allow civil rights attorney Gao Zhisheng
to continue practicing law. PRC authorities reportedly revoked Gao’s license after
he provided legal assistance for peasant demonstrators, Christian house church
worshipers, Falun Gong practitioners, and others. For six consecutive years (1999-
2004), the U.S. Department of State has designated China a “country of particular
concern” for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” including its
persecution of Falun Gong. An ongoing ban on the export of crime control and
detection instruments and equipment to China satisfies the requirements of P.L. 105-
292, the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act of 1998, which authorizes the
President to impose sanctions upon countries that violate religious freedom. In April
2006, prior to PRC President Hu Jintao’s visit to the United States, 81 Members of
Congress reportedly co-signed a letter written by Representative Dana Rohrabacher
43 See “Master Li Hongzhi’s Lecture at the Great Lakes Conference in North America, Dec.
Mar. 9, 2001; and Ian Johnson, “As Crackdown Grows, Falun Gong’s Faithful Face a New
Pressure,” Wall Street Journal, Mar. 27, 2001.
to President Bush in support of an investigation into the allegations of organ
harvesting of Falun Gong adherents in China.44
44 Falun Dafa Information Center, Falun Gong News Bulletin, April 24, 2006.