IT IS 20 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, and China's communist regime hasn't budged an inch.
The government has no reason to regret its murderous crackdown during "the political storm at the end of the 1980s," a foreign-ministry spokesman in Beijing told reporters last month. "China has scored remarkable success in its social and economic development. Facts have proven that the socialist road with Chinese characteristics that we pursue is in the fundamental interests of our people."
As a euphemism for dictatorial savagery, "the socialist road with Chinese characteristics" may not rise to the level of, say, "Great Leap Forward" or "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution." And certainly the material riches and capitalist bustle that characterize much of China in the 21st century are a far cry from the mass starvation and unspeakable chaos that devastated the country in the 20th. But make no mistake: The junta in Beijing is no kinder or gentler today than it was at Tiananmen 20 years ago, and no less prepared to crush anyone who resists its grip on absolute political power.
Perhaps nothing today so exemplifies the totalitarian implacability of China's rulers as their ruthless persecution of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious discipline of meditation and traditional breathing exercises, combined with moral teachings about truth, compassion, and forbearance. By civilized standards, it is incomprehensible that anything so innocuous and peaceable could provoke bloody repression. But China's uncivilized government fears any movement it does not control, and Falun Gong -- with its uplifting values so different from the regime's Stalinist ethic -- has attracted tens of millions of adherents, independent of the Communist Party and therefore intolerable to it.
There is nothing subtle about Beijing's decade-long campaign to suppress Falun Gong. At www.faluninfo.net/gallery/12, the Falun Dafa Information Center describes several of the torture techniques the government uses to break Falun Gong practitioners. Burning, for example. In hundreds of reported cases, police or labor camp authorities have used cigarettes, car lighters, or red-hot irons to sear Falun Gong believers on their faces, torsos, and genitals.
Other victims have been forced into water dungeons -- locked cages immersed in filthy water. "Some water dungeons . . . have sharp spikes protruding on the inside of cramped cages," the center reports. "Usually, the water dungeons are well-hidden rooms or cells where practitioners are forced to stay for days and nights on end in total darkness. The water is most often extremely filthy, containing garbage and sewage that leaves the victim with festering skin." Other torture methods include electric shock, brutal forced "feeding" with concentrated salt water or hot pepper oil, and injection of nerve-damaging psychotropic drugs capable of inducing "horrific states of physical pain and mental anguish."
Independent and third parties have raised numerous alarms about China's inhumane war on Falun Gong.
The UN's Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions has cited reports of "harrowing scenes" of Falun Gong prisoners dying from their treatment in government custody, and noting that "the cruelty and brutality of these alleged acts of torture defy description." Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly highlighted the agonies inflicted on Falun Gong practitioners. So have a handful of supremely courageous Chinese lawyers, among them Gao Zhisheng and Li Heping. In 2007 Canadian attorney David Kilgour, a former prosecutor and member of Parliament, co-authored a detailed report documenting the systematic harvesting of vital organs from imprisoned Falun Gong believers, in order to supply China's lucrative transplant industry.
All these atrocities, of course, account for only one narrow lane on that "socialist road with Chinese characteristics" that Beijing so adamantly defends. The government of China is no less vicious in its persecution of devout house Christians, of Tibetan Buddhists, of democratic dissidents who seek greater liberty, of journalists who fail to toe the Communist Party line, of the countless inmates enslaved in "re-education through labor" camps, or of women who wish to decide for themselves how many children to have.
Twenty years after the screams and blood and slaughter at Tiananmen Square, the People's Republic of China is still a great dungeon. "China is first and foremost a repressive regime," the noted China scholar Ross Terrill has written. "The unchanging key to all Beijing's policies is that the nation is ruled by a Leninist dictatorship that intends to remain such." That was the truth in 1989. It remains the truth today.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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