Background: By the end of 2000—a year and a half after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched the suppression of Falun Gong—the campaign had failed to garner support among many of the CCP’s rank and file. Then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin had toured southern provinces earlier in 2000 hoping to shore up more endorsement for the campaign among local leaders. Meanwhile, public support more broadly had waned. On January 23, 2001, five individuals allegedly set themselves on fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. The entire scene was caught on camera from multiple angles. Within hours, state-controlled media was flooded with reports that the self-immolators were Falun Gong practitioners. These reports included grisly footage of the victims, portraying Falun Gong teachings as directly responsible for the tragedy.
The Problem: In the weeks following the event, a wealth of evidence uncovered (including a Washington Post article finding that two of the self-immolators never practiced Falun Gong) indicates the entire incident was staged. Yet, while people inside China had no access to this information, the Chinese state-run media continued a blitz campaign to portray the "self-immolators" as Falun Gong practitioners. People across China changed from respecting and sympathizing with Falun Gong to becoming infuriated with and attacking the practice. Hate crimes targeting Falun Gong practitioners increased and the CCP escalated its persecution with intensifid arrests, torture, killing, and forced organ harvesting.
Why It Matters: With 70-100 million practicing Falun Gong in China, by 1999 the traditional discipline was largely a household name and a respected one at that. The staged "self-immolation," however, changed all that, and to this day remains the single most influential factor in garnering disgust, hatred, or fear toward Falun Gong among the Chinese people. The resulting apathy or hostility toward Falun Gong in China has greatly facilitated the regime's attempt to eradicate the practice, and is a primary cause for the tens of thousands of reports of abuse and torture.
This is the authoritative documentary on the suspicious points of the staged "self-immolation" incident. It won an honorary award at the 51st Columbus International Film Festival for its analytical approach and exposure of the tragic event.
Philip Pan from the Washington Post traveled to Kaifeng to investigate the history of two of the immolators who had died in connection with the event, Ms. Liu Chunling and her 12-year-old daughter. The report cast serious doubt as to whether the victims were actually Falun Gong adherents. “There was something wrong with her...She hit her mother. She hit her daughter too…No one ever saw her practice Falun Gong.”