How to fool 1.3 billion people
Reminder for despots: know your audience.Tactics that work in one place do not work in another. For example, in 1999 the Chinese government decided to persecute those who practice the art of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement (somewhat akin to Yoga) based on movement and energies within the body (see our Jan. 17 article “Outlawed in China, legal in Vail Valley” at http://www.vailtrail.com). Many thousands of the pacifistic people who practice Falun Gong in China have been harassed, beaten, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of their beliefs.I don’t know exactly how many people have been killed or imprisoned, because the Chinese government isn’t willing to tell me what they’re actually doing to these people they haven’t shown me photos or papers documenting their internal human rights abuses.But I know. I have photos, first-hand accounts, and secondary sources as notable as The New York Times.Again, despots should know their tactics: In the U.S., violence and oppression against a pacifistic enemy will only grow their notoriety and strength, ala Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King.Apparently things work differently elsewhere.Here’s an example of some good-ol’ fashioned Chinese propaganda taken from a document released by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 1999, which I obtained for this follow-up column:”Since beginning the practice of Falun Gong, many people have lost their appetites, some appeared to be disorganized in words and behavior, and some became paranoid. Still others found themselves suffering from hallucinations. A number of people jumped into rivers or off buildings. Some even cruelly injured or killed relatives and friends.”Ma Jianmin, a retired worker from the Huabei oil field in north China, insisted that he had a “wheel of law” in his stomach. Then, one day in 1998, Ma died after he cut his abdomen with a pair of scissors to look for the wheel.”What are they condemning here, scissors or Falun Gong?In my book that’s not just propaganda it’s bad reporting (and pointless to boot). But apparently this stuff works pretty well when it’s backed by a state police force, and therefore most Chinese folks have a pretty negative attitude about going for enlightenment Falun Gong-style.After thorough research on Falun Gong, I felt extremely secure in my belief that Falun Gong is totally harmless and extremely non-violent. All materials and classes are free, there’s no one making money off of it, and the whole thing boils down to a few stretching exercises and three basic tenants: truth, compassion and tolerance.Armed with information that’s not available in China (since the government blocks all Falun Gong information from reaching the people by banning books, literature, flyers, discussion, and blocking all Web sites with any hint of Falun Gong information), I decided to give a call to the Chinese consulate in Chicago.In the past I’ve felt the phantom sensations of oppression during panicked nightmares, while thumbing through Kafka or Kundera, while listening to spine-chilling speeches from Hitler, looking at pictures of J. Edgar Hoover, or pondering the evil genius of the ruling few in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.But today I heard the voice of Mr. Ren Faqiang, who plays the role of American fingertip for the Chinese hand of propaganda.He wouldn’t discuss individual cases of torture, imprisonment or murder, but he did compare Falun Gong to the Branch Davidian cult made famous at Waco, Texas.I asked him if Falun Gong members have ever been known to stockpile arms and barricade themselves inside a fortress.He said no.”It is a heartbreaking story that this cult can cause so many unnatural deaths among our people,” said Mr. Ren, listing the number killed by Falun Gong at 1,600.He also denied the existence of a 1999 Chinese government survey that listed the number of practitioners at 70 million (out of 1.3 billion Chinese people). He said Falun Gong practitioners are guilty of “master worship” and that Falun Gong’s leader, Li Hongzhi, was making money off his teachings and not paying taxes, and he added that Falun Gong practitioners have the tendency to kill, commit suicide, go insane and refuse medicine when sick or injured.According to all other sources, he’s wrong on all points. For example, it is against the tenants of Felun Gong to “worship” anybody or anything. And that’s just for starters. Find out more at http://www.falundafa.org, or search the archives of our nation’s major newspapers.In a way, I admire my acquaintance Mr. Ren, because he has a very difficult job. It’s one thing to lie to the Chinese people through CCTV or other state-controlled media sources, because there’s no information coming from anybody but the government.Here in the U.S., however, we have something called freedom of the press. It ensures that I can do proper research, check my facts from multiple sources, and print my opinion in this newspaper. Mr. Ren has promised me that he will read my piece on our Web site (which, by the way, will be blocked and banned in China now), and I’m sure he won’t like what I’m saying here. But the fact of the matter is that the Chinese government is using violence and fear to force millions of people to renounce their beliefs.To close, I’d like to address Mr. Ren and his colleagues at the San Francisco, Houston, New York and Los Angeles consulates who insist on pointing the finger back at the U.S. by way of defense, claiming we abuse human rights in an equal or more blatant way than China.Sorry guys, around here we’ve got journalists, and our job is to go around fighting oppression and propaganda all over the world. We don’t care if it’s Chinese, American, Iraqi, Korean, or Laputian we don’t like it.Believe me, we spend plenty of time going after our own government: that’s what it means to be a free American, and that’s what journalism is all about. At least here, in the beautiful and free United States, we journalists can wake up every morning, do our job, and take an active role in making our nation a better place to be.Tom Boyd is a lifelong local and assistant editor atThe Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at (970) 390-1585 or email@example.com.