April 25, 1999: What Happened and Why Does It Matter?
What happened that day?
On April 25, 1999, in early morning in Beijing, some 10,000 Chinese people, urban and rural, young and old, gathered. They were practitioners of Falun Gong.
They had come to the country’s Central Appeals Office to ask the government to stop its escalating harassment—including the beating and arrest of over 40 practitioners in the nearby city of Tianjin the day before—and to allow an open environment for their practice.
They stood in an orderly line. Some meditated; others chatted quietly.
It was the largest and most peaceful protest in Beijing in years.
The Chinese premier, Zhu Rongji, came out to meet with Falun Gong representatives. That evening, their concerns were met and everyone went home. But then-head of the CCP Jiang Zemin had other plans. Three months later, he launched a massive persecution campaign.
When the state-run media’s propaganda apparatus went into full swing, the April 25th gathering was quickly re-characterized. It was not depicted as the peaceful appeal it was, but rather as Falun Gong “laying siege” to the central government compound. This false account was used to portray Falun Gong as a provocative political group and to justify the horrific persecution Jiang had just unleashed.
Why Does It Still Matter Today?
Blaming the victim: The CCP’s “blame-the-victim” framing of the persecution continues to be used inside China in an effort to defend it. It has also spread outside China and still surrounds reporting on Falun Gong, making some who would otherwise support Falun Gong lose sympathy. In truth, however, the behind-the-scenes repression of Falun Gong had already been underway since 1996, and the large-scale persecution campaign that was soon unleashed and continues to this day would have happened anyway. The April 25 appeal was simply a convenient excuse. It was certainly not the cause.
The 610 Office: One of the legacies of Jiang’s reaction to the April 25th appeal is something that happened on another fateful date—June 10, 1999—the establishment of the 610 Office, a special CCP police force tasked with overseeing the effort to wipe out Falun Gong. Since then, agents of the 610 Office, operating outside the law and with impunity, have scarred an untold number of lives with their cruelty, abductions, and surveillance.
Party infighting: As the fierce maneuvering and disagreement within the top echelons of the CCP are making headlines around the world today, it is helpful to realize that the inner divisions of the Party—between hardline and not-so-hardline cadres—date back to April 25, 1999. According to experts and inside sources at the time, some members of the Politburo, including then-Premier Zhu Rongji and former president Hu Jintao, were opposed to Jiang’s decision to suppress Falun Gong. In the current political turmoil, victims of Jiang’s gang are on the receiving end of arbitrary repression.
Peaceful perseverance: A more hopeful legacy of the April 25th appeal has been Falun Gong practitioners’ continued commitment to nonviolence. In an environment where public appeals like the one on April 25th are impossible, Falun Gong practitioners across the country have established what has become the largest grassroots, underground media in human history.
Category: Peaceful Appeal of April 25, 1999