Does China’s ‘superb’ tolerance extend to imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners?

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By Michelle Klepper, August 13, 2012

Flicking through newspapers I missed while on holiday, I’ve come across an article in The Telegraph by Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to Britain, under the heading ‘Tibet is a better place than it used to be’ (26/07). In it, he implies that Westerners are basically dummies whose ‘…knowledge of Tibet stops at the fictional Shangri-La and the so-called Han invasion’. He adds that, contrary to what many of us seem to think, China demonstrates ‘a superb example of religious diversity and tolerance’ that would seem to rival Eden itself.

Logically, Mr Xiaoming’s dewy-eyed fondness for the ‘throngs of pilgrims of different ethnic groups’ who pray for blessings at holy sites, and his newly-announced appreciation of Tibetan culture ‘including Buddhism’ must mean that the Communist Party’s ideology that ‘Religion is poison’ no longer holds sway?

It would also seem fair to suppose that this ‘superb’ tolerance extends to all other spiritual groups – i.e. the Christians, Muslim Uighurs and particularly, Falun Gong – a discipline of meditation and slow exercise routines that came into being in the early ’90s.

Superb’ tolerance: Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, pictured with the Prince of Wales, used a newspaper article to defend his government’s actions in Tibet.

Initially accepted by the Communist Party, the latter’s death knell was sounded when its adherents reached the millions. In 1999 Chairman Ziang Zemin deemed devotion to the spiritual practice such a strong threat to the Motherland that he ordered its practitioners to be ruthlessly crushed – which they have been. Given their devotion to the tenets of ‘Truthfulness, Compassion and Forbearance,’ it’s easy to see why the PRC leaders feared Falun Gong members so much.

In fact, hundreds of thousands of old and young practitioners were famously rounded up in China’s parks and imprisoned in ‘reform through labour’ camps, where many remain today. Falun Gong members, like others in Chinese prisons for religion-related ‘crimes’, are not allowed legal counsel. It is estimated that at least 250,000 of them – starved, beaten and tortured (often to death) are now – according to independent humanitarian groups – also having their organs unwillingly harvested and sold.

In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution requesting an end to the then decade-long persecution against Falun Gong, but their condition and standing remains the same. Until now, that is – because surely, if China has really become the haven of religious and cultural tolerance Mr Xiaoming claims, no further campaigning by humanitarian groups will be necessary. Falun Gong practitioners, along with other religious groups, will be free to practice.

Isn’t it a pity we didn’t see through our ‘misconceptions’ about China’s treatment of its citizens sooner? Clearly the BBC, CNN, various other Western media agencies, thousands of native Tibetan witnesses, foreign tourists, and Chinese dissidents who have managed to wriggle free from the grasp of their great benefactors – should take the blame. They must all be fibbers.

Thankfully, we’ve had Mr Xiaoming to put us straight. And as well as being a high ranking Chinese official, he went on vacation to Tibet for several days.

The Chinese Ambassador to Britain’s statement on the u-turn of Communist Party ideology must be true, and his government are no doubt backing up his statement. Otherwise, China’s going to look pretty foolish if stories of military crackdowns on its people start to emerge.

Persecuted: Gao Rongrong lost her job due to her Falun Gong membership, and was sent to Longshan forced labour camp (picture courtesy of the Falun Dafa Information Center)
Torture: In 2004, Gao Rongrong was beaten by two camp officials and left with severe burns. She died in hospital in June 2005 (photo courtesy of the Falun Dafa Information Center)

Presumably the Chinese government has begun the process of freeing and rehabilitating the hundreds of thousands of its religion-based prisoners… and naturally, we are likely to be hearing – seeing even – news of Falun Gong members once again openly practicing in China’s parks, adding to the ‘superb’ pool of diversity the nation now values so highly?

Of course, there are downsides. This is bound to mean job losses. After all, there will no longer be a requirement for ‘re-education’ programmes to eliminate the scourge of religion, and many prison staff, torturers and executioners may find themselves without jobs.

The number of crimes incurring the death penalty in China was recently cut from 68 to 55. Evidently the country is becoming quite a liberal place to live, and the mobile execution trucks (used in the same way as we in Britain use mobile libraries) may not be zipping through the streets of mainland China and Tibet with the urgency they once did. Apparently folk are no longer being executed for not paying their electricity bill. Not on paper anyway.

To address the point Mr Xiaoming makes in his article about the influx of Han Chinese being paid to relocate into Tibetan settlements in their thousands. Tsk! What should it matter that Tibetans are becoming minorities in their own towns. As the Chinese Ambassador quite rightly says, here in Britain we’d never ‘…only allow Scottish people to live in Scotland while rejecting others from England, Wales and Northern Ireland’.

In fact I reckon the PRC are onto something. It’s getting rather crowded here in London… perhaps our government could pay a few hundred thousand of us to, say, relocate to Glasgow? The locals wouldn’t need to worry that the English would then outnumber the Scots in that city because we’d still be decent enough to sell their clobber in our shops and give them jobs… so long as they learnt to speak properly that is. Any aspects of their culture we didn’t agree with we could breed out of them in time; and the more tolerable bits we’ll stick in tourist theme parks – just like the ones the Chinese are opening around Tibet.

What a brilliant idea, let’s put it to Parliament. I’m sure there’s a bit of paper lying around that says we owned Glasgow at some point or other… The region even has a few resources worth claiming: clean water, whisky… And who needs to hand out the death penalty when the locals are frying Mars Bars?

Immigration: Chinese people currently outnumber Tibetans in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, by at least 2:1.

I’m sold. Let’s re-locate to Glasgow. In time, we’ll be the best of mates, especially once they realise how we’ve liberated them.

Mr Xiaoming – you cannot be serious?

The Chinese government requires Tibetans to renounce their loyalty to the Dalai Lama (Reuters)

China goes to great lengths to keep out Western media and, when it’s not convenient for them to be around, tourists too – yet the Ambassador bleats about our apparent misconceptions. He talks of a land of tolerance and harmony, yet in recent months the self-immolation of over 40 Tibetans, the witness statements of refugees and dissidents, and the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners have entirely contradicted this.

If Mr Xiaoming had even the most basic understanding of or respect for Tibetan culture and Buddhism, he would know that the Dalai Lama, who his government entirely rejects and demonises, is central to both.

As it stands to this day, Tibetans who will not disavow their loyalty to their spiritual leader are placed in ‘patriotic re-education’ centres to be tortured and imprisoned until they comply. If they outwardly hold onto their faith, they are often put to death.

Within Tibetan Buddhism, the importance of the Dalai Lama exceeds even that of the Buddha himself – because, in practical terms, he is physically present to guide his followers. Respect for Tibetan culture and faith, therefore, does not exist without acceptance and respect of their spiritual leader. That Mr Xiaoming and his government fail to acknowledge this either highlights their deception or just an embarrassing level of ignorance on the subject.

And while many Westerners’ knowledge of Tibet may, indeed, stop at the fictional place of Shangri-la… very many, like myself, have vast knowledge and experience on this issue – despite China’s best efforts to prevent this. On the contrary, Mr Xiaoming’s idyllic, travel guide representation of the tinder box that is Tibet places him firmly in La-La Land.

If the Chinese Ambassador to Britain – who went on vacation to Tibet for several days – wishes to be taken seriously, the answer is simple: encourage your government to open dialogue with the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay; stop cowering behind a wall of lies, repression, secrecy and deception; stop the intimidation of your own people and allow foreign media and tourists open access into China and Tibet.

I look forward to receiving my visa to visit the idyllic holiday destination you describe.

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