Matthew Yglesias meets Falun Gong

Leftie writer Matthew Yglesias, in NYC to cover the DNC, bumped into some protesting Falun Gongers last night, and I thought his description was interesting.

I cruised by the park in a spirit of complete churlishness, hoping to find some mockery-worthy protestors. Instead, I found a very affecting display by Chinese-American practitioners of Falun Gong, trying to bring attention to the intense repression faced by their co-religionists in the People’s Republic. In addition to placards and signs, they had several live, posed scenes of Falun Gong members being tortured (sorry, “placed in stress positions”) by the Chinese security services, with handcuffs, cages, fake blood, and all the other trimmings.

This is protest as it should be — dramatically calling attention to an issue that people don’t think about nearly as much as they should. That many people disagree with George Bush’s policies is, at this point, obvious. That the government of China is in the midst of a massive, brutal, nationwide crackdown against a group whose only crime is independence from the regime (they weren’t even engaged in active political opposition until the state came after them) is not.

The Falun Gongers weren’t big on providing a U.S. angle to their story, but promoting human rights in China — never a big priority for the American government — has dropped even further down the list as an unintended consequence of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. On the one hand, we’re collaborating with China in a joint effort (with Russia) to prop up a series of secular Central Asian dictatorships run by old hands from the Communist era. This has involved, among other things, our giving American assent to the dubious Chinese contention that the government’s crackdown on groups campaigning for the rights of Sinkiang’s Muslim population is primarily a counterterrorist effort.

On the other hand, our own adoption of “stress positions” as a tactic of counterinsurgency warfare has tended to take the heat off China for its use of similar tactics against domestic political opponents.

Colin Powell, who’s been basicallly running China policy while Don Rumsfeld handles the Middle East, bragged a few months back in a Foreign Affairs article (unfortunately not online) that U.S.-China relations have never been better. Sadly, he’s right.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

Remember David Coresh and the waiko seige.

Remember the civil rights movement and how it was suppressed in the sixties.

The US is only interested in Human rights when it serves its personal agenda or when there are rich lobiest (for example, the Miami Cuban population).

Whenever China falls out of favor human rights are raised and whenever it come back into favor they are forgotten. It’s the same the world over. If you need somebodies help or cooperation then you forget their bad habits, look at World War Two when the US and Britain teamed up with commuist Russia or when the US helped Iraq against Iran because Iran leant towards communism, and the same for several struggles in south America.

Political backscratching often wins and morality becomes somebody elses issue.

September 2, 2004 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

People in glass houses…

The failure of FLG is singular, without which it probably would have been ignored (at least until they do something else stupid): they attempted to stage a ‘peaceful’ coup.

They shipped tens of thousands of worshippers to Beijing, and staged a siege in the exact same way as in the Tiananmen incident. Their goal was something like ‘to demand better rights for the followers’.

Since the movement wasn’t banned at the time and even some CCP members were involved, I can only surpise that they meant political rights. A share of the pie.

The officials were taken by surprise. They were much, much better prepared though, since it had happened before, and it was taken care of without too much mess.

And then the movement got banned. Big surprise.

The lesson is: that FLG head guy wasn’t exactly a millitary genius.

So he fled to America. The American government saw him as a kind of leverage, something that, while useless now, might come in handy in the future (he did, after all, manage to attract a large and fanatical following). How do you think he managed to keep afloat, and with such good PR? CIA funding, of course.

This is my version of events. Feel free to correct me.

September 3, 2004 @ 1:05 am | Comment

I am against any govt brutalities against the people. But I have often aired my views on The Peking Duck (and I am not going to change those now) that China has an adverse view of politico-religious movements, from her historical experiences. I too don’t take kindly to people who claim to be living Buddhas (BTW, I’m a buddhist), but who want to participate in politics. As a buddhist, I know that buddhist clerics, particularly its leaders aren’t supposed to be involved with worldly/matreialistic matters, so I question the motives of these buddhist politico-religious leaders.

I am sorry for those Gong members who have been brutalized but I sneer at that cult leadrer who has conveniently sneaked off to the safety of ‘paradise’while deserting his followers to/in ‘hell’.

I remember some years ago when there was an South Indian cult leader in the US who ran a commune (brought by his devoted followers), sucked his followers’ fortune completely dry like a vampire, drove around in 2 dozens or so Rolls-Royces while his followers were instructed to subscribe to a life of chastity and austerity, had his pick of his female disciples (not for religious discourse but another form of ‘course’), and who had an aide called Mama something who was like a female Kamp Kommandant in a Gestapo prison and who was suspected of killing a couple of disenchanted followers.

The world ought to watch out for these swamis, gurus, ‘living buddhas’, ‘messiahs’ and cult leaders. They are even worse than the wahhabi mullahs and iranian ayatollahs.

September 4, 2004 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

Interesting topic, and one of the thorniest. So I want to be cautious: I don’t like the tactics of the FG leaders, and I ignore all the press releases and phony news stories they pump out. Nevertheless, that doesn’t justify the imprisonment of peaceful protestors whose sole crime is assembling. I know that’s simplistic, and I know that in the eyes of the CCP, it’s a huge threat whenever a massive body of people answer to anyone else other than the CCP. It quite amazes me, how the world seems to have blocked out the FG and how they are treated, using phrases like “They’re just a nutty cult” to justify their tolerance of blatant supression.

September 5, 2004 @ 11:18 am | Comment

you’re right of course in your final statement, richard, and that’s the unnecessary tragedy of it all.

As to be expected, the CCP govt like any other Chinese govt in cases of politico-religious movement, always act rather heavy-handedly and crudely, when these were really quite unnecessary.

The Chinese govt could really do with a PR guru and a risk manager to help them deal with such situations.

But what annoys me most is the ‘living buddha’ who started all this, and who has, most un-buddha like, scooted off to safety while the poor gullible and innocent followers get the blame for “disorderly” conduct.

I do sympathise with these devotees but I think their gullibility has also been equally harmful to them – they need to take stock and “adjust” (Taoist like) to the environment rather than insist that the govt accommodates them – that’s just not going to happen.

September 5, 2004 @ 5:42 pm | Comment

Agreed. The CCP needs PR gurus.

And some non-idiots to write their newspapers. I wouldn’t have minded the propaganda so much, if only they weren’t so mind-numbingly dull.

September 6, 2004 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

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