The persecution campaign against Falun Gong in China has devastated the lives of tens of millions of people. Yet, because the Chinese Communist Party considers any information leaked about this campaign a "state secret," Western journalists over the years have encountered much difficultly capturing the full scope of the crisis.
The following are a few key indicators assembled from Western journalists and overseas human rights workers.
70-100 Million Falun Gong Practitioners
There were 70-100 million people practicing Falun Gong in China before July, 1999. While some have attributed this estimate to Falun Gong sources, the number actually originates from Chinese authorities. Specifically, these numbers come from a survey conducted by the Chinese government in the latter part of 1998, and were cited on multiple occasions by Western media outlets such as the New York Times and Associated Press prior to the ban in July 1999, and even sporadically in the months that followed.
The following are some of the sources for this figure
- December 1998: A study conducted by China’s State Sports Commission estimates that over 70 millions persons are practicing Falun Gong in China.
- February 14, 1999: An official from China’s National Sports Commission, speaking with U.S. News & World Report, says that as many as 100 million may have taken up the practice. The official highlights the costs the practice is saving China’s national health care system, declaring that, “Premier Zhu Rongji is very happy about that.”
- April 26, 1999: The Associated Press publishes “Growing group poses a dilemma for China,: by Renee Schoof, which states: “But with more members than the Communist Party – at least 70 million, according to the State Sports Administration – Falun is also a formidable social network…”
- April 27, 1999: The New York Times publishes “In Beijing: A Roar of Silent Protestors,” by Seth Faison, which states: “…the Government’s estimate of 70 million adherents represents a large group in a nation of 1.2 billion.”
- April 27, 1999: The New York Times publishes “Notoriety Now for Movement’s Leader,” by Joseph Kahn, which states: “Despite that elusiveness, or maybe because of it, Mr. Li has become a guru of a movement that even by Chinese Government estimates has more members that the Communist Party. Beijing puts the tally of his followers at 70 million. Practitioners say they do not dispute those numbers, but they say they have no way of knowing for sure, in part because they have no central membership lists.”
Interestingly, China’s own state-run T.V. aired a news program before July 1999, in which the anchor tells the audience “over 100 million people are practicing Falun Gong.” — a number corroborated by China’s National Sports Commission official interviewed by U.S. News & World Report.
Shortly after the launch of the persecution, however, the Chinese regime changed their estimate dramatically to 2 million as part of its propaganda campaign and a means of downplaying the scale of violations. This is noted in a New York Times article, “Banned Movement’s Heads Urges Talks with China” published on July 24, 1999.
Not all media followed Beijing’s propaganda point.
On November 13, 1999, the Associated Press published “4 From Chinese Spiritual Group are Sentenced” in which the article states: “Before the crackdown the government estimated membership at 70 million — which would make it larger than the Chinese Communist Party, with 61 million members.” The New York Times published this article on the same day.
Unfortunately, many other media did follow Beijing’s lead, and either reduced the official estimated number or changed the source, attributing the estimate solely to “claims” by Falun Gong, rather than what they truly are — official figures from the Chinese government at the conclusion of a comprehensive survey done in 1998.
20-40 Million Engaged in Civil Disobedience
There are an estimated 20-40 million people in China practicing Falun Gong and actively engaged in civil disobedience activity. In May 2009, Falun Gong’s main Chinese-language website, Minghui.org, reported that approximately 200,000 underground “materials sites” exist across China. Materials sites are places where Falun Gong practitioners print leaflets, produce DVDs, etc. the content of which unveils the persecution and debunks anti-Falun Gong propaganda. These sites are operated at a grassroots level across China and usually located in the back-room of a private residence. Each site provides materials to 100-200 Falun Gong practitioners, who then distribute the materials in their locales. These numbers indicate 20-40 million Falun Gong practitioners are actively working to expose the wide-spread suppression they face in China. How many more people are practicing Falun Gong in China and yet do not take part in this form of peaceful resistance is not known.
In 20017, Freedom House published one of the most comprehensive third-party reports on Falun Gong called “Falun Gong: The Battle for China’s Spirit.” The report states: “Over 17 years after Falun Gong’s ban, there is reason to believe that millions, and possibly tens of millions, in China continue to practice.”
450,000-1 Million Detained
There are between 450,000 and 1 million Falun Gong practitioners held in labor camps, prison camps, and other long-term detention facilities at any given time, as calculated by independent researcher and author Ethan Gutmann (see here for detailed calculation).
Hundreds of Thousands Tortured
Number of declarations posted to Minghui.org in which practitioners inside China who had been forced under torture to renounce their faith publicly retracted the denunciation and announced their intent to resume practicing. (see recent samples here).
200,000 Underground “Materials Sites”
Approximate number of underground ‘material sites’ in China, from which practitioners of Falun Gong use proxy servers to download, print, and produce literature about the persecution of Falun Gong, as found by editors of the main Chinese-language Falun Gong website, Minghui.org.
Over 4,000 Dead from Torture: Real Number Likely Many Times Higher
According to Minghui.org, there are over 4,000 documented cases of Falun Gong practitioners dying as a result of torture and abuse in police custody since July 1999. Given the extreme difficulty in discovering and verifying information inside China related to wrongful deaths, including security risks to those involved, the true death toll is likely many times higher.
Furthermore, estimates from two separate, independent reports — one report from David Kilgour (former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific) and David Matas (renowned human rights attorney), and the other report from author, investigative journalist, and China specialist, Ethan Gutmann — indicate tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners may have been killed in order to extract their vital organs used to fuel a booming organ transplantation business in China.