On January 23, 2001, five individuals allegedly set themselves on fire in Tienanmen Square. Within hours, Chinese authorities flooded the state-run media with grisly photos of the event, claiming the self-immolators were Falun Gong practitioners. Days later, a Washington Post article revealed that at least two of the self-immolators had never been seen practicing Falun Gong. And further evidence uncovered in the subsequent weeks revealed the incident was staged.
Inside China, however, where state-run media was saturated with programs accusing the Falun Gong teachings of causing the tragedy, the incident became a key tool for Chinese authorities to bend public opinion against Falun Gong. The “self-immolation” infuriated a misled public whose anger, over time, was directed toward the group.
Whereas in years prior Falun Gong had generally been a house-hold name and widely respected in China, after months of media coverage of the "self-immolations," people changed from sympathizing with the Falun Gong to attacking the practice. Hate crimes targeting Falun Gong followers increased and Jiang’s faction within the Central Government also escalated its persecution.
The following is a sampling of the details, which raises questions about the validity of the Chinese regime's claims...
- Days after the incident, Washington Post reporter, Philip Pan, traveled to the hometown of two of the alleged self-immolators to investigate, finding no one had ever seen them practice Falun Gong.
- Police on Tiananmen Square were carrying numerous fire extinguishers, which were used to put out the fires of the self-immolators almost immediately. According to foreign reporters that have spent years on the Square, the police there normally never carry fire extinguishers. Additionally, the self-immolators were wearing heavy, protective clothing.
- Video footage taken from surveillance cameras show one policeman shooting the whole event up-close with a video camera. Again, according to reporters who have spent years covering events on the Square, the police normally don't carry video cameras with them. The up-close footage is later used in a barrage of propaganda against Falun Gong. Chinese authorities claim the up-close footage was taken by CNN, but CNN says they have no footage from the incident because their cameras were confiscated almost immediately after the incident began.
- National Taiwan University’s Speech Processing Laboratory, a world leader in the areas of Chinese language speech identification, synthesis, and verification, analyzed the voice of one of the self-immolators named Wang Jindong from a number of different interviews broadcast by China’s state-run television. The laboratory concluded that the Wang Jindong interviewed in one of the programs is a different person than the Wang Jindong appearing in the other programs, suggesting that the government hired different actors at different times.
- According to the Xinhua News Agency (the Chinese government’s news agency), the self-immolation incident took place at 2:41 p.m. After adding the 7 minutes it took to put out the fires and the 20 minutes that it normally takes for a vehicle to go from Tiananmen Square to Jishuitan Hospital, the ambulance should have arrived at Jishuitan Hospital between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. Yet several medical personnel at the hospital have confirmed that the ambulance didn’t arrive at the hospital until around 5:00 p.m. What happened during those hours of disappearance?
In November 2003, the English film “False Fire,” which examines the suspicious points of the Tiananmen “self-immolation” incident, won an honorary award at the 51st Columbia International Film Festival for its analytical approach and exposure of the tragic event.