by Teng Biao
“Four electric batons began to shock me and I felt them as they hit their mark. It was as though my internal organs and all the muscles were jumping around underneath my skin, trying to escape or hide. I was rolling on the floor in agony. When Wang began to shock my penis, I begged him for mercy. My cries for mercy instead prompted laughter and even more flagrant torture.”
“Didn’t you say the CCP used torture? This time we’ll give you the full experience again. Torturing Falun Gong—that’s true, totally true. These twelve sets that we’re using on you, we learned from [torturing] Falun Gong. I’m not afraid of you speaking the truth— in fact I defy you to write it. The chances of you surviving to tell the tale are next to nothing. After we kill you, they’ll never find your body.”
“I lost track of time when someone began to urinate on my face. Three sets of electric batons shocked me as I rolled on the floor, bereft of dignity. After ten or so minutes, my entire body was shaking, unable to stop. Afterwards, I was shackled, kneeling on the ground as they used a toothpick to poke at my genitals. I cannot use language to express the hopelessness, pain and despair. In there, human language and emotion have not even the slightest power.”
Gao Zhisheng, lawyer
Silence in the Face of Horrendous Violence
The above is an excerpt of Gao Zhisheng’s description of the torture he suffered, written in his recent essay, “Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia.” Prior to his own persecution, Gao conducted numerous investigations into the facts and circumstances behind the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and had exposed his findings to the world in the format of open letters to Chinese leaders. Among the very few people who dared to speak out on the subject of Falun Gong’s persecution, Gao is one of the earliest and most courageous. As indicated above, his words are painful and his descriptions shocking. To be honest, I have had to stop reading on several occasions. How I wished the facts in Gao’s account were not true and I could just turn away and return to my comfortable, seemingly controlled existence. Yet, this was a reality I felt I could not ignore. A person’s ability to withstand torture is limited. As T. S. Eliot once said, “Humans cannot bear very much reality.”
In retaliation of Falun Gong and in order to force practitioners to renounce their faith, the CCP’s repression and torture of Falun Gong have reached the point of unscrupulousness. For the last 15 years, the well-ordered machine of the persecution, from the directives of the CCP’s highest leader to the lowly ranking personnel who carry out orders, Falun Gong practitioners face a huge human rights disaster. Before the persecution began on July 20, 1999, up to 100 million people were practicing Falun Gong, according to the government’s own estimates.
It has become an unwritten rule that Falun Gong practitioners killed by the “610 Office”—an agency created solely for the purpose of persecuting Falun Gong practitioners, and those who participate in the persecution of Falun Gong, are not subject to legal action. Moreover, arbitrarily kidnapping and detaining Falun Gong practitioners are not subject to any restriction or penalty. According to the Minghui website, a confirmed total of 3,795 Falun Gong practitioners have been persecuted to death as of November 2014, the actual number is estimated to be much higher. Gleaned from the large amount of reports with unbearably heartbreaking details of the slaughter, the atrocities can be compared to those at Auschwitz—where 1.1 million people perished. In 2007, David Kilgour, a former Canadian Secretary of State for the Asia Pacific region and former member of Parliament, together with David Matas, Canada’s international human rights lawyer, conducted an independent investigation and arrived at the conclusion that “there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners.” Moreover, the researchers noted that organ harvesting is happening in many Chinese provinces simultaneously. They described China’s crime of organ harvesting in China as “an unprecedented evil on this planet.”
I do not intend to go into any descriptive reiterations of the tragedies to which Falun Gong practitioners are subjected, as the facts can easily be found on the internet. Rather, my intention in this essay is to examine the world’s terrible silence in the face of these horrendous acts of violence.
Experiencing the Impassable in the Silence
In China, people keep silent about the Falun Gong issue as if nothing is happening. On the internet, searches on any information of Falun Gong come up empty, and there is hardly any discussion on this topic in any microblog or microchannel. No reporter will take a second to consider investigating or reporting news about Falun Gong, whether it is about one person being kidnapped or 100 people being killed. Intellectuals and pundits will not consider writing on this topic; scholars will not incorporate the facts of the persecution in their academic research. The vast majority of lawyers shun Falun Gong cases, and the self-proclaimed “Die Hard Lawyers” likewise refuse to represent Falun Gong. Even democratically-minded people, dissidents, and human rights workers never mention the Falun Gong issue, as if it has no relation to human rights.
The situation outside China is not much better. The mainstream media do not want to report news about Falun Gong. Politicians do not speak about Falun Gong. Writers do not write about Falun Gong. Scholars do not do research on Falun Gong. Even a considerable number of human rights organizations are reluctant to talk about Falun Gong.
Could it be that they do not know the truth? The problem may not be they do not know, but rather they do not want to know. The 1999 nationwide campaign-style crackdown descended on Falun Gong in a frenzy, utilizing the entire nation’s propaganda and media machines to criticize and demonize Falun Gong with trumped-up lies such as the staged event of self-immolation in Tiananmen Square, false reports that Falun Gong teachings forbid practitioners to seek medical treatment, and that practitioners have threatened the government, etc. The propaganda was and has been insidious; pervading all organizations and corporations as well as elementary schools and universities. I remember at the time I was working on my PhD at Peking University where every student had to submit a written report on their personal understanding of Falun Gong. Xu Zhiyong, another PhD student, and I attended a symposium where representatives from many Beijing universities and those from the liberal arts community were also in attendance. At the symposium, only Xu Zhiyong and I raised the subject regarding the government’s violation of the “rule of law” in their treatment of Falun Gong. Nobody else responded or made any comment whatsoever.
Even though information on Falun Gong has met with the most rigorous ongoing blockade by the Great Firewall of China (GFW), Falun Gong practitioners have invented a variety of easy-to-use software to break through the GFW. So, it is impossible for people who have the capability to “scale the wall” not to have come into contact with such information. Network administrators responsible for reviewing the networks would have been notified that terms such as “Falun Gong,” “Li Hongzhi” (founder of Falun Gong) and “live organ harvesting,” are all sensitive terms. Lawyers would have been notified that Falun Gong cases are sensitive cases. In fact, even without these notifications, people would instinctively know that these terms and topics are off-limits. According to the “spiral of silence” theory, everyone has a “quasi-statistical organ” similar to the “sixth sense,” so that even without public opinion polls, people still know what is overwhelmingly mainstream public opinion. As social beings, we fear isolation and will often avoid any activities that are likely to lead to disconnection. Highly sensitive topics including Tibet, the Uyghur conflict in Xinjiang, the corruption of Chinese officials, China’s black jails and the June 4th student massacre, are topics the Chinese people and many outside of China will not publicly address. At the top of the list is the persecution of Falun Gong. People know what happened to Gao Zhisheng, Li Hong, Wang Yonghang, and Liu Ruping. People know their classmates or neighbors who practice Falun Gong are kidnapped time and time again or later die mysteriously at brainwashing centers. People know that speaking up for Falun Gong will likely result in not being able to obtain a passport, losing employment, and even being sent to force labor camps or simply disappearing. People know that the wisest and safest approach is “don’t look, don’t listen, don’t speak.”
Turning the Silence
The shocking reality of the persecution is the elephant in the room; no one wants to deal with it. In his 2007 book, The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial on Everyday Life, Eviatar Zerubavel explains this as a matter of “We know but realize that we are supposed not to know.” This is similar to what George Orwell referred to as “doublethink”, in 1984. In a state of helplessness, where people feel that they do not have the power to change what needs to be changed, people are well aware that certain things which cannot be adequately addressed should remain private. People understand that Falun Gong is something the Chinese authorities do not want people to know about, and will go to any lengths to silence those who speak out. So the Chinese people know these words well: “Don’t say. Don’t look. Don’t ask. Don’t get curious.”
The Chinese people know that the persecution of Falun Gong is in itself too abysmal a topic to address. In 2007, when I was working on Wang Bo’s case, I came to appreciate how deeply disturbing this issue truly is. Inside and outside the courtroom, the air was filled with hostility and tension. After the court hearing, I was carried off by four bailiffs and thrown outside the Shijiazhuang courthouse. The street was heavily guarded, in dead silence. Such an atmosphere of terror was significantly stronger than when I had previously worked on any other human rights case. It can easily be imagined how the authorities were shocked and angry when we published on the internet our well-researched defense pleas that “constitution is supreme, faith is guiltless.” These defense pleas completely negated the legitimacy of the Chinese authorities for persecuting Falun Gong and exposed the crimes of the Chinese authorities for brutally trampling on religious freedom.
It takes courage to face the truth, and this is true for those in and outside of China. Journalist Ethan Gutmann’s book The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem exposes, in great detail, the truth about the persecution of Falun Gong. Jay Nordlinger, senior editor of the National Review, acknowledges his difficulties in reading Guttmann’s book: “[I] confess to skipping some pages and turning away from photos….” I remember to this day my similar reactions upon reading Gao Zhisheng’s candid and unsettling account: anxiety, depression, panic, and an attempt to deny what I read.
The persecution of Falun Gong is beyond human imagination. The details of the torture and of the cruelty exercised by the evil perpetrators are too horrible, far exceeding what most of us can accept. Our initial first reaction is invariably skepticism. Reports out of the early Soviet Union, Nordlinger writes, were dismissed as “rumors…[t]ales of the Holocaust were Jewish whining.” The possibility of such horrors is frightening.
This is a critical moment in our shared consciousness. To accept the horrors committed by the CCP, we want to regard such events as isolated and not recognize them as the massive crimes that they are. How else can we manage to deal with circumstances that we believe are beyond our control?
Yet, the only way for the persecution of Falun Gong to end is for any of us to face up to this extreme evil and extreme suffering. We cannot say that this is a rare occurrence in our history. We must acknowledge the seriousness of the government’s crimes, give these crimes their rightful attention and consider the implications of these crimes. Having endured tremendous mental or emotional shock, our hearts and spirit will become stronger. The crimes of the CCP and the suffering of its people will not cease to exist because we ignore them. On the contrary, our disregard is exactly the prerequisite needed for the perpetrators’arrogance.
Sometimes, we just need to listen to our inner voice, or reflect on things around us with a little curiosity. A friend once told me a story: after graduating from his university, hewent from Shandong to Guangdong to look for work. The work unit asked him to provide documents of verification that he had no criminal record and had never practiced Falun Gong. These documents were mandatory for obtaining a passport and for job applications. He had never heard of Falun Gong until then, and didn’t understand why it was necessary to have such proof, so he “scaled the wall” and learned about the government’s persecution of Falun Gong.
But to reveal publicly what one knows is not easy. There is the risk that this seemingly simple moral act will not only incite persecution at the hands of the authorities, but will also result in tremendous pressure from the visible and invisible “silent majority.” Exposing the truth will shed light on the government’s crimes and in doing so may interfere with the vested interests of certain parties; highlight the immorality of those who remain silent; and disrupt the safe and sweet rhythm of life that people hope to maintain. We like what is comfortable and controllable: “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” sweet lullabies, and films with a happy ending. We don’t like blood and tears, suffering and having to consider the finality that death brings. But, the more we face what is uncomfortable, the more precious our courage, and the more significant and impactful our truth-telling becomes for all of humanity. In places where silence is prevalent, in an era of rampant tyranny and lies, exposing the truth is not only the beginning of resistance, but is precisely what lies at the cornerstone of healing and change.
Dismantling the Reverse Causality
It is human nature to often view difference in others with apathy or even disdain. With the help of state-run media, Falun Gong practitioners in China are treated as enemies, cultists, lunatics and preposterous. These views are entertained in order to alleviate the psychological pressure of the evildoers and reduce the moral responsibility of the silent masses. Some even blame Falun Gong practitioners for the persecution! This kind of reverse causality equates to holding the unarmed students and citizens responsible for the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Using the media and its power to influence the international community, the CCP has manipulated how people in and outside of China view the nation. Consequently, people are awed by China’s magnificent skyscrapers and superhighways, rising incomes among a formerly impoverished population, the dexterity and skill of the nation’s Olympic gold medalists and the government’s pretenses of honoring traditional culture through the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the world. The sensitive topics are, for the government, conveniently dismissed or misunderstood.
While the CCP, including the originator of the persecution, former head of the Chinese government Jiang Zemin and Zhou Yongkang, once a top official in the CCP and the 610 Office, obviously hold primary responsibility for the persecution of Falun Gong, the world’s silence, this shameful co-conspiracy— bears the same inescapable moral responsibility. Without the hundreds of millions of people to participate in this “conspiracy of silence,” it would be almost impossible for the Falun Gong issue to not become the biggest elephant in the world.
Elie Wiesel said Auschwitz is “not only a political reality, but also a cultural fact,” and above all, it is “the vertex of irrational contempt and hatred.” The same is true with the persecution of Falun Gong. The facts of the Nazi Holocaust have been revealed to the world, the perpetrators have been punished, and people have given this episode of our shared history an invaluable amount of recognition and appreciation. Yet, the barbaric actions of the CCP, with the medieval forms of torture and the concentration camps reminiscent of the Nazi era are still rampant in today’s China. Falun Gong’s persecution continues, the perpetrators remain at large, and violence persists. Too many of us turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, failing to understand that our silence and indifference leads us to act as conspirators of these outrageous atrocities! We must remember that we pay the price for our actions as well as our inactions. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. act as an important reminder: “The day we see the truth and cease to speak is the day we begin to die.”