The goal of forcing people who practice Falun Gong to renounce their beliefs and cooperate with the authorities has been, from the outset, a central part of the Chinese Communist Party’s campaign.
While every form of physical torture involves mental torture as well (whether being forced awake for over a week or being electrocuted in the genitalia), Falun Gong practitioners have also been specifically targeted for psychological persecution. This has come in two forms: brainwashing and psychiatric torture.
Brainwashing is the more widespread, with facilities across at least 21 of 22 provinces in mainland China, and four of the five “autonomous regions.” These brainwashing classes are also held at each administrative level: provincial, municipal, county, and township. According to one analysis, the density of brainwashing facilities is greater than that of prisons, labor camps, and mental hospitals. (report)
Brainwashing often includes physical torture [see torture section], with the goal of “transforming,” or reprogramming practitioners to the point that they abandon their spiritual practice. Authorities promise adherents that their ordeal will be over once they sign a three-fold “statement of guarantee” displaying the “correct” understanding about Falun Gong, promising not to protest ever again, and disclosing information about friends and family who practice Falun Gong.
The mental anguish does not stop there, as the transformed practitioner is then immediately required to not only stop believing in Falun Gong, but to turn against it. Once a transformation statement is signed, practitioners are then often taken in front of television cameras and asked to read the statement with their “new understanding” about Falun Gong for use in propaganda materials; if the statement is not satisfactorily repentant or insufficiently disparaging of Falun Gong and its founder, the process must be repeated.
Then the recently “transformed” are quickly obliged to take an active role in transforming other detained practitioners. Those who prove particularly capable are even taken on speaking tours to other prisons and labor camps to assist transformation efforts there. Prominent others have been used in efforts to change international perceptions of Falun Gong, as when PRC diplomats took U.S. resident Teng Chunyan to visit congressional offices.
How to break a practitioner
The accounts of Falun Gong adherents who have emerged, often mentally scared, from prolonged brainwashing sessions reveal that the cadres’ methodology has become increasingly sophisticated over time. Still, the basic approach is consistently as follows:
- Isolate them and lock them up, either alone or with criminals.
- Strip them of clothes and personal dignity – drill into their mind that they are criminals who have committed a terrible crime – people with dangerous mental problems.
- Deprive them of sleep for days on end; if they fall asleep wake them up immediately with a blow or loud sound. Keep doing this until they can no longer keep track of time or remember basic details about their life.
- Force them to watch 10 hours a day of video vilifying Falun Gong and, especially, its founder Li Hongzhi. Play the tapes at full volume and do not allow them to look away.
- Convince them that the only way they will ever be able to leave again is if they sign the three-fold statement of guarantee and that everything will be over once they do.
- Bring in their parents, children, and siblings intervention-style to cry and even kneel in front of them, begging them to come home. Bring in their spouses to threaten with divorce.
- Threaten, and if necessarily, take away their jobs, pensions, or enrollment in university. Threaten that their family members will also lose their salaries and education opportunities.
- Bring in transformed former-Falun Gong practitioners (ideally someone the person was previously very close to) to help them see the light. Alternate one-on-one sessions with ones in which many people talk at the same time.
- Tell them Falun Gong is banned around the world, since there is an international consensus that it is just like the Branch Davidians, Aum Shinrykiyo and other “evil cults.” They may not accept this at first, so just repeat it hundreds of times daily for weeks or months.
- Replace Falun Gong by instilling in their minds a different ideology – try Marxism (make them read The Story of Lei Feng, Mao Zedong’s Selected Works, etc.) and, if that fails, give them the Bible, Buddhist Scriptures, etc.
- Beat them.
- Tell them this is all for their own good.
John Pomfret and Philip P. Pan of the Washington Post provide a vivid account of how mental and physical torture are combined in efforts to break the Falun Gong (news). Individuals who have gone through this process describe at “spiritual murder” (testimony).
Once released from brainwashing classes, practitioners and their families are then forced to retroactively pay tuition and room and board for their time there. (report)
Hundreds, if not thousands of the Falun Gong have been tortured in mental asylum, where they are injected with unknown psychotropic drugs (more on psychiatric torture).
For many, however, these transformation efforts have proven a useless, if painful process. After returning home and collecting themselves from the traumatic experience, many resume practicing Falun Gong.
Some even post statements online nullifying any statement they made against Falun Gong under coercion. According to the Falun Gong website Clearwisdom.net, where such statements known as “solemn declarations” are posted, over 380,000 such declarations have been recorded as of March 2008.