Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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Can 200,000 Chinese ex-communists be wrong?

This is one of those blog posts where I have to say up front that I don't know enough to gauge the significance of the event I'm posting about. That said, the information is interesting enough to link and mention.

Apparently the Chinese Communist Party has been suffering from a rash of resignations as of late -- approximately 200,000 in four months. At The Epoch Times, Stephen Gregory reports on what's going on:

On November 19, 2004 The Epoch Times published in Chinese the first of “The Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party”. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been scrambling ever since to find a way to respond.

The “Nine Commentaries” are a book-length set of nine editorials that tell the true history of the CCP. Written under the auspices of The Epoch Times editorial board, the authorship is anonymous.

The “Nine Commentaries” lay out the Party’s crimes: its campaigns of mass murder, brainwashing and terror; the 80 million plus unnatural deaths; the avoidable famines; the degradation of the environment; the corruption that goes from top to bottom, and much more....

On December 3, 2004 The Epoch Times established the Tuidang (“withdraw from the Party”) website in order to give the people of China the opportunity to renounce their membership in the CCP and its related organizations, such as the Communist Youth League (CYL).

On December 4, the website received its first solemn declarations by Party members who wished to renounce all ties with the CCP. In December the rate of such statements was a few hundred a day. But the rate has increased exponentially. On March 7, the Tuidang website recorded over 22,000 renunciations. The website has been limited in the number it can post by its ability physically to keep up with the huge volume of statements....

The CCP and its state-controlled media have not publicly responded to the “Nine Commentaries”. This is not surprising. If the CCP were to issue a statement condemning the “Nine Commentaries,” then everyone in China would want to know more about them.

Now, the thing is, the CCP isn't the only institution that hasn't responded to these resignations -- I can't find a non-Epoch Times report on this. On the other hand, they've been all over the story. What's going on?

Gregory is candid in an e-mail he sent to me:

To avoid the suspicion I am attempting to hype a story, I should point out a few things about these resignations. First, the resignations or withdrawals are from the CCP and its affiliated organizations, such as the Communist Youth League (CYL), which almost all Chinese are required to join. Second, the resignations, or perhaps more accurately, renunciations, are from any association with the Party, even if that association is many years in the past. Thus, former members of the CCP and former members of the CYL are posting their withdrawals to organizations of which technically they are no longer members. Third, in order to protect those who are withdrawing from harm, the website accepts resignations made under assumed names. Fourth, the relatives of deceased family members are allowed to post withdrawals on behalf of their now dead relatives. Finally, while the pace of resignations has increased rapidly all along, it really shot up after the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, published his own withdrawal from the CYL on the Epoch Times.

Having said all of that, the resignations are real, and they represent a real and dramatic challenge to the rule of the CCP. And, given the amount of detail included in the resignation statements, they often are done at great risk, even if they are done under an alias. These resignations are the most important story in China today, and no one outside the Epoch Times is covering them.

So there it is. I'll leave it to my readers to decide how much weight to put on this. I would also love to see the mainstream media do some digging on this story.

posted by Dan on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM


By coincidence I saw my first copy of Epoch Times yesterday. This is a strange paper, and its content and how I came across it would lead me to believe that it is somehow related to the Falun Gong movement. I believe this CCP thread is somehow a propaganda ploy being used by the Falun Gong people to discredit China. I'm not sympathetic to either group but I've seen no reporting of this anywhere and the Epoch Times coverage of this would seem to be agenda driven.

posted by: DC Loser on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

"DC Loser" -- I'm not very familar with the Falun Gong movement, although I have heard that adherents have been treated with extreme brutality by the Chinese Government. Can you explain why you are not sympathetic to that movement ? [ I'm not being sarcastic here, I really want to know more about the movement].

posted by: erg on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

Most Chinese think the Falun Gong are a bunch of brainwashed cultists, and I would have to say that while they are nonviolent, their singlemindedness about their movement kinda scares me and it really does have the cult feeling about them. They worship a man who thinks of himself as a god. Well, if you had read anything of the Taiping Rebellion, then that's not a good thing. The FG people picked a fight with the CCP and lost. The CCP went overboard going after the FG and it's now a blood feud between the two. It's a fight to the death between these two.

posted by: DC Loser on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

The Falun Gong/Falun Dafa are a peaceful religious sect whose popularity scares the Communist Party of China, and so the Communist Party is employing every possible means to destroy them. They are a harmless, but well- organized, bunch of people who have the will and resources to wage a public relations campaign that is at least as effective as the public relations campaign of the Chinese Communist Party against them. I see these Falun Gong/Falun Dafa people everyday in Manhattan, handing out pamphlets and holding banners and so forth. I have also been to the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan, with a friend who was getting a visa to visit Mainland China, and the whole place is covered with crude anti-Falun Gong propaganda posters, saying they are an "evil cult" and so forth.

I don't think it is fair to say that the Falun Gong "picked a fight" with the Communist party, nor that the Falun Gong are in a "fight to the death" with the Communist party; all the violence and death are suffered by one side here.

I am sure the web is full of stuff on the Falun Gong, erg, from both sides. Personally, I admire the Fulan Gong for standing up to the brutes of the Communist Party, whatever religious silliness they may believe.

posted by: mitch on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

Mitch, I'm sure by "fight to the death", he means that the FG folks are trying to destroy Chinese Communism, and not actually kill anyone.

From what I've seen (also in Manhattan), they're peaceful, nice, overbearing and occasionally annoying people who have a legitimate beef with the CCP (though who doesn't?). They're also advertising on TV, now. Pretty odd--it seems like they just came out of nowhere a few months ago.

posted by: Jim Dandy on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

I'll just post this BBC article on FG and the connection to the Taiping Rebellion.


posted by: DC Loser on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

There are a few things that should immediately strike one as odd about this line of stories (I will not weigh in on the Epoch Times-Falun Gong connection, I would be inordinately surprised if there wasn't one, but I'll take their independence at their word). The first, as everyone else has pointed out, no one is picking up this story on the major news wires. I would suspect this is for the other reasons this story is fishy...especially in the era of Rather-gate and all of that, the general media has become increasingly sensitive to source credibility. Second, contra Gregory's assertion, it is not at all clear that the resignations are real and credible (whether they are a "dramatic challenge" is addressed below); the fantastic thing about including an "assumed name" option is that it makes your resigners impossible to track...which is a good thing for protecting them, if they exist, but it also makes your story impossible to disprove, if they don't. It also makes it impossible to determine whether these "resignations" are actually coming from mainland China, or from the Chinese diaspora...say in the United States, where the ET is based. Third, the definition of "resignation" in play here is dicey at best; as Gregory points out, the association can have been "years in the past"...in other words, anyone who has -ever- renounced or withdrawn from the party can do it again, and it counts. Fourth, it's kind of important to note that DEAD PEOPLE can be "signed up" post-humously as having resigned, as well as people who no longer have an association with the party. I'd like to repeat that. DEAD PEOPLE. I'm not sure when was the last time we considered it valid to count dead people as active members of a political movement, but I'm pretty sure it was a long time ago...a very long time ago...

Finally, even ET's claims were entirely true, it would be neither particularly surprising nor particularly damning for the CCP (of which, for the record, I am far from a big fan). You have to consider the scale that we're talking about here; a country of a billion people, and a government with at lowest estimate 55 million direct, active employees. Again contra Gregory's assertion, the party, while it continues to dominate the government with brutal efficiency, is no longer the ubiquitous institution it was during the Cultural Revolution, nor is membership in it or its organizations as obligatory as it once was; party membership currently stands at about 5%, or roughly 68 million, and that's fairly robust for the post-Zemin era, and includes non-active members. Out of the other 95%, it shouldn't be too difficult to find 200,000 who have distanced themselves (remember, they can already have renounced the party previously). The population of the special economic zones alone, in which the party presence is considerably weaker and the statistical majority of the population has no institutional connection to the party, is pushing the hundreds of millions. The Falun Gong at its peak was estimated to have up to 2 million adherents on the mainland; get a tenth of those to say they're "renouncing" the government, and you've got yourself the current count. Moreover, it's not clear that these resignations have any import in the institutional structure. No member of the Party Congress, for example, has resigned, nor any of the branch leadership, nor even any of the upper provincial leadership. To put it in perspective, the CIA has been bleeding top-level bureaucrats and operatives like a stomach wound since the second Bush election, including some of the most powerful men and women in the service, and the closest the ET can come to the "high-ranking members" they hint at is Ding Ke, a former security operative (of which there are at best estimate several million).

Sorry to rain on the ET's parade, but this is one of the silliest examples of self-aggrandizement I've ever seen. The Nine Commentaries are neither anything new, nor anything particularly spectacular in a Chinese political landscape that has seen much more important and serious pro-democracy actions. When Zhao Sanfu fled, that was a great political act; the Democracy Wall movement was a truly powerful expression of pro-democratic feeling in China. This is not anything near either of those things, nor is it particularly newsworthy.

posted by: NDeepquiet on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

Epoch Times-Falun Gong connection sound very plausible. I just looked at the "nine commentaries". One of the nine is entirely devoted to the prosecution of Falun Gong. Each of the other eight mentions Falun Gong and, typically much more than once. I counted a total of about 100 mentions of Falun Gong in the eight commentaries not specifically devoted to Falun Gong.

Also, I know some Falun Gong followers and the language that "nine commentaries" use strikes me as very Falun-Gong like.

So, this looks like a Falun Gong production. Since Falun Gong has exaggerated numbers on other occasions (by claiming 100 million followers in PRC, for example), I would not believe their claims without an independent confirmation.

posted by: Adrian on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

I have no idea if Faulun Gong is behind this. However, it think it is very interesting that those who claim it is, have failed to make any claims that the description of the CCP in the 9-part series was wrong.

I gues the Faulun Gong critics are trying to divert attention away from the CCP. In fact, maybe the reason the CCP has devoted such efforts to denouncing Faulun Gong is likewise to divert attention.

posted by: Andorman on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

For the record, I was not being critical of the Falun Gong, I think they're largely harmless. And I have no desire to speculate on the ET's origins (although Adrian's post is fairly persuasive to me). There is little doubt that part of Beijing's motivation for its branding of the Falun Gong as a "dangerous cult" is to act as political cover for its own weakness, and the CCP's crackdown on the group was both brutal and excessive. Still, there's no use in having an overly rosey view of the Falun Gong either. For the vast majority of its adherents, it is at worst harmless and at best a source of deep spiritual comfort, but at the extremes it has also been involved in some pretty unsavory practices (much of which has been confirmed by international media sources and thus can't be dismissed as simply CCP propaganda), and seems by most accounts to be on the decline in the new millenium. I would urge those interested to read some of the short stuff on site below, it's a good way to get a quick and dirty cross-section of both sides of Falun Gong's history.


posted by: NDeepquiet on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

For the record, Epoch Times' website is banned in China - I'm sitting in Beijing right now and the sight definitely doesn't load. That's not too unusual - the BBC and Blogspot, among others, are banned here.

posted by: cure on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

I think the Epoch Times and a cable/sat TV outfit in the US called The New Tang TV are both fronts for the Falun Gong movement. Although I'm sympathetic with FG's struggle with the Chinese Communist Party, I'm growing increasingly wary of the religious group as they've disseminated falsehoods and propanganda the way their adversary have. A restaurant I frequent in Flushing, NY, has the New Tang TV channel on at all times and the Chinese version of Epoch Times are distributed free in the Chinese communities so I'm exposed to their version of the "news" and "commentary" quite often and I must say what appeared on the air and on the pages make me think hard about charges that this is a "cult." But I'm not ready to make that accusation myself because many of their members are well-educated professionals from cities like Hong Kong and Taipei and reasonable friends of friends belong to the group. But I'm very puzzled and somewhat troubled by the group's actions. This is especially true after witnessing in person a demonstration held by them on Jan. 8 of this year in central Taipei. Members all dressed in yellow uniforms occupied a couple of miles of one of the city's main thoroughfares and pick-up trucks with actors in bloody portrayal of alleged (probably true) torture (think Mel Gibson's Passion) by the CCP paraded around town all day simply gave me the creeps. As an American writing from Shanghai, I'm all for religious freedom in China and everywhere. But I don't think the Falun Gong are all that they appeared to be or what they want people to think they are. (Note: this is the second time I try to post this comment. The first time was unsuccessful after many attempts. Big brother watching?)

posted by: peter on 03.15.05 at 12:19 AM [permalink]

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