Did you know that there is a genocide going on in China at the moment? I did not until I recently attended a Human Rights Conference in Glasgow. Now you are probably thinking China’s horrendous human rights record is not exactly a secret; the author must surely be exaggerating to get attention by throwing the word “genocide” in. However, I deliberately use this term to refer to the systematic large-scale persecution and killing of a nonviolent religious group through torture, forced labour, and organ harvesting in detention camps. I was deeply shocked and touched to meet a young girl whose parents are currently both living under such conditions simply for practicing a peaceful form of meditation based on three core values: truth, compassion, and tolerance.
The Falun Gong (alternatively Falun Dafa) movement came about in 1992, three years after the Tiananmen Square massacre. It is part of the qigong boom, a trend to reconnect the Chinese population with its spiritual roots and Confucianist traditions. Falun Dafa rapidly spread all across China. The growth of the movement inevitably attracted government attention. After a detailed investigation, the Communist Party came to the conclusion that the practice was beneficial to the health, happiness, and productivity of their citizens. Therefore, the government initially welcomed and even promoted the practice. However, when the number of Falun Gong followers was rumoured to exceed Chinese Communist Party membership, the government suddenly turned around and launched a colossal persecution campaign. In news reports, the practice was now labelled an evil cult that needed to be eradicated from the minds of the Chinese population. On national television, the need for re-education was proclaimed, which translates to non-judicial arrests and innovative torture procedures.
Yet the cruelty does not end here. Why not capitalize on the detainees through slave labour and organ harvesting?
There is extensive evidence that the Chinese state exploits Falun Gong followers to produce goods for export to western markets. Many of those products sold around the world are “toxic, germ-infested, or of very poor quality.” Large Multinational Co-operations such as Disney, Nestlé, McDonald’s and Adidas have their toys, sporting equipment, and shoes produced by slave labourers. Hey, can’t get any cheaper than that in terms of production costs! Hip hip hooray to international capitalism and the growth of the Chinese economy! (Here is a list of some of the products concerned)
A further well documented trouble is organ harvesting. Even though China has admitted that most of their transplant organs come from death row prisoners, no attempt has been made to explain the phenomenon that the number of organ transplants vastly exceeds the number of criminal executions or how it is possible that organs can be promised to patients in hospitals within a week’s notice. “More than 40,000 additional unexplained transplants have been recorded recently in China since 2001.” According to demand, adolescents with healthy organs are specifically selected and killed for their bodies. “Cao Dong told me that after his best friend disappeared from their prison cell one evening, he next saw his dead body in the morgue with holes where body parts had been removed.” David Kilgour describes the procedure: “They take both kidneys, then the heart and the skin and the corneas and the liver, and your body is then thrown in the incinerator.”
Furthermore, systematic violence against women is common in the persecution of Falun Gong followers. “Women have been exposed to the most horrific assault, including rape; they have been humiliated in front of males by being stripped of their clothes, forced to have late term abortions and beaten beyond recognition.“
But what are the reasons behind such a drastic persecution campaign and why did the Chinese government turn around so suddenly after its initial support for the movement?
An authoritarian regime typically aims to prevent the loss of control over people’s lives, opinions, and behaviours. Traumatized by the Tiananmen Square incident and the negative international reputation the Chinese government consequently earned, the Communist party was afraid to provide the platform for another oppositional movement, similarly to what had occurred at the end of the Cold War in many satellite states of the Soviet Union.
Initially the aim seemed to be to systematically destroy the movement by identifying the ring-leaders, intimidate and/or kill them. However, soon common practitioners followed. People started to disappear all across China. Victims have reported that they were physically and psychologically tortured through very creative, inhumane methods until their will was broken. They would then have to publicly renounce Falun Gong and denounce fellow practitioners. This demonstrates the government’s fear of the spread of a non-party ideology very well. Naturally, with mass arrests, there was a lot of “collateral damage”. This begs the question of whether the real motivation behind the persecution was only to eliminate the ideological basis of the movement or also to support the growth of the Chinese economy and meet the western demand for cheap labour in times when Multinational Co-operations had already started looking into moving production sites to locations with lower environmental standards and better exploitation conditions than China’s.
Just because we are dependent on trade with China does not mean we can tolerate or even deny these Human Rights violations. We cannot just pick and choose where and when to intervene based on economic interests. As we all are very likely to consume slave labour products on a daily basis, the issue stands in direct relation to our lives. The international community needs to finally step up and fight for the protection of these people. Around 100 million people are directly affected. Globalization, advanced communication, and transport technologies make it possible for us to learn about these atrocities. This gives us the moral responsibility to stand up against them.