Widely misunderstood as a provocative protest against the central government in Beijing, Falun Gong practitioners' large-scale appeal near Zhongnanhai on April 25, 1999 thrust the practice into headline news around the world.
Most media characterized the appeal as a bold action initiated by Falun Gong, to which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership responded three months later by launching a nationwide persecution campaign that continues to the present day.
The problem is, that’s not true.
In reality, a faction within the CCP leadership directed Falun Gong practitioners to petition the leadership in Beijing. Then, former CCP leader Jiang Zemin used the event to justify his violent campaign against the 100 million people that practiced Falun Gong.
Let’s take a look at what really happened and why it matters.
The Tianjin Incident
On April 11, 1999, Mr. He Zuoxiu — a professor with connections to top CCP leaders — published an article in the Tianjin College of Education’s Youth Reader magazine entitled “I Do Not Agree with Youth Practicing Qigong.” In this article, He attacked Falun Gong, using examples that had already been debunked. In fact, his article was boycotted by Beijing’s media and propaganda system because its premise had already been proven false.
Nonetheless, the article was still published in Tianjin, and therefore, some practitioners in Tianjin felt that it was necessary to let Tianjin officials know what was happening. They also hoped to lessen the negative impact of the article through contact with the editors of the magazine. Therefore, on April 18-24, 1999, some practitioners went to the Tianjin College of Education and other related governmental agencies to meet with them.
On April 23 and 24, 1999, the Public Security Bureau of Tianjin dispatched riot police to beat up the Falun Gong practitioners who had come to appeal, resulting in injuries to the practitioners. The police arrested 45 people. When others requested the release of the detained practitioners, they were told at Tianjin City Hall that the Public Security Bureau had become involved in this matter, so the arrested Falun Gong practitioners would not be released without authorization from Beijing. The Tianjin police suggested to Falun Gong practitioners, “Go to Beijing. Only going to Beijing can resolve the problem.”
Going to Appeal at the State Council Appeals Office on April 25
As news of the police brutality and arrests in Tianjin and the need for Beijing’s authorization to release the incarcerated practitioners spread throughout the country, Falun Gong practitioners, trusting the central government, started heading to the Appeals Office of the State Council of their own accord, one after another, beginning on the evening of April 24. They were hopeful that they would find a just resolution of the “Tianjin Incident.”
On April 25, Premier Zhu Rongji personally met with the Falun Gong practitioners who had gone to appeal.
As Ms. C (alias) who lives in the Haidian District of Beijing recalls: “At 7:00PM on April 24, some practitioners told me how the practitioners in Tianjin had been beaten and arrested. They said that some practitioners wanted to go to the Appeals Office of the State Council to report on the situation, and those individuals who wanted to go could go. So, four or five practitioners and I took the bus and arrived at the North entrance of the State Council at 8:00PM on the same day. We were probably the first group of practitioners who went to appeal for the ‘Tianjin Incident’ and the guard at the entrance asked us what it was about.”
Mr. and Mrs. P (aliases) from Beijing’s Chaoyang District recall: “By the morning of April 25th, the West side of Fuyou Street was full of people; there was no one on the other side of the street (where the State Council is located). Young practitioners stood in a row at the very front, leaving open the sidewalk and the special sidewalk for the blind. Behind the front row of practitioners all the way to the corner of the wall were seated practitioners. Everyone was very quiet. The traffic was not obstructed.”
Ms. M living in Haidian District recalls: “At about 8:15AM on April 25, I saw a group of people including Premier Zhu Rongji come out of the main entrance (west entrance) of the State Council and cross the street to stand in front of the practitioners who had come to appeal. The practitioners started to applaud. Premier Zhu asked, ‘What are you here for? Who told you to come here?’ Some practitioners said, ‘We’ve come here to report the situation regarding the Falun Gong issue; no one organized us.’ Premier Zhu said, ‘Why don’t you write letters to appeal? How come so many people are here?’ A lot of practitioners were answering him. I heard some practitioners say: ‘We’ve written letters until we’re numb and yet we still haven’t gotten a response.’ Premier Zhu said, ‘I have issued an official directive regarding your issue.’ Practitioners said, ‘We haven’t received it.’ Premier asked practitioners to select several representatives to go into the State Council to explain the situation further. Several people raised their hands. Premier Zhu pointed to a few people and they entered the State Council.”
Three requests from Falun Gong practitioners:
Chinese Premier Peacefully Resolved Both Incidents
At noon on April 25, Li Chang and Wang Zhiwen of the Falun Dafa Research Society and three other Beijing practitioners, acting as representatives of Falun Gong, entered the State Council to have talks with the government officials. They presented three requests from Falun Gong practitioners.
The government officials who took turns participating in the talks included officials from the Appeals Office of the State Council, officials from the city of Beijing, and officials from the city of Tianjin. At dusk, Tianjin released all of the detained Falun Gong practitioners in accordance with instructions from the central government.
Top CCP Leader Secretly Plans Attack
In the evening of April 25, Jiang Zemin, in the name of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, wrote a letter to the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and other relevant leaders. In the letter, Jiang Zemin charged that there were masterminds “behind the scenes” of the April 25th Incident who were “planning and issuing commands.” (This letter was marked “Highly Confidential,” distributed as the central government office’s issuance  No. 14 entitled “Notice of the Communist Party Central Office regarding the printing and distribution of ‘Comrade Jiang Zemin’s Letter to the Standing Committee of the Politburo and other Concerned Leading Comrades’”).
On June 7, Jiang Zemin gave a speech at the meeting of the central government’s Politburo and stated, “The issue of ‘Falun Gong’ has very deep political and social background and even a complicated international background… It is the most serious incident since the political turbulence in 1989.” On June 13, this document was secretly transmitted inside the Communist Party. (This document was categorized as highly confidential and issued by the central government office as  No. 30 entitled “Notice of the Communist Party Central Office regarding the printing and distribution of ‘The Speech of Comrade Jiang Zemin in the Meeting of the Politburo of the Central Government Regarding Handling and Resolving the ‘Falun Gong Issue’ Without Delay”).
Certain high-ranking officials within the Communist Party have revealed that in the above two classified documents, Jiang clearly raised the issue of “whether there were overseas and Western connections to the April 25 incident and whether there were ‘masterminds’ behind the scenes who were planning and issuing commands.” They have revealed Jiang’s mentality of being overly protective of his personal power and interests, and how, without any concrete evidence, he made the erroneous policy decision to persecute Falun Gong.
From late May 1999, the daily practice activities of Falun Gong practitioners in many areas were subject to forced dispersal by the city administrative agencies and the Public Security Bureau. The public security officers in some areas used high pressure hoses to drive practitioners away and high volume loudspeakers to disturb their practice. The persons in charge of the Falun Gong assistance centers were called in by their workplaces and by public security officers for discussion and interrogation, they were put under surveillance and followed, their phones were tapped, and they were not allowed to leave the local area.
During a high level meeting on July 19, Jiang Zemin officially announced confirmation of a total ban on Falun Gong. July 20th saw the beginning of a wave of arrests of Falun Gong practitioners all across the nation.