Schools and workplaces are among the institutions that the Communist Party immediately mobilized when it launched the campaign against Falun Gong in 1999. It is in these micro units of Chinese society that the persecution was able to reach the masses.
In the People’s Republic every school and work unit (dan wei) has a Communist Party official responsible for carrying out Party directives and reporting back to superiors. Chinese bureaucracy under decades of Communist Party rule has reached unprecedented depth and ability to quickly mobilize campaigns throughout the vast country.
Though a little rusty, this system was readily available for Party head Jiang Zemin to employ in 1999.
Before the 1999 ban, students and teachers could often be seen practicing Falun Gong together, as they currently do in Taiwan (report). “China’s MIT,” the prestigious Qinghua University, featured 11 different Falun Gong practice locations on campus with over 500 dedicated Falun Gong adherents, including 100-200 professors.
In many a workplace Falun Gong quickly spread from one individual to the other as employees became intrigued and excited by the new exercise regimen and the discipline’s moral code. In some factories, workers gathered in the factory yard to practice Falun Gong’s slow-movement exercises in the early morning before work; some managers even praised the practice for boasting employees’ morale and work ethic.
But once the persecution, with its accompanying propaganda campaign, was launched, millions of colleagues, teachers, and classmates were suddenly ostracized. “Model workers” and honorary students who were Falun Gong adherents were now reprimanded and even jailed. Friends who had only weeks earlier asked to borrow a Falun Gong book now urged adherents to stop practicing in order to stay out of trouble.
Employers and school principals immediately came under pressure if one of their workers or students publicly petitioned the government to end the persecution. One after another, adherents were fired and students were expelled for their belief system.
Meanwhile, workplaces and schools were forced to implement Cultural Revolution-style study sessions. These included public denunciations of Falun Gong based on People’s Daily editorials and other Party materials, which delineated the “correct view” Chinese people should have about Falun Gong.
Elementary school students are forced to line up and sign huge banners attacking Falun Gong and “superstition” more broadly while swearing allegiance to the progressive nature of Marxism and science.
High school students have to answer according to the official Party line on national standardized matriculation tests. Failure to provide the official answer means expulsion or denial of college education to otherwise qualified students. An answer that challenges the Party’s reasoning means jail, or worse.
Jailed adherents who refuse to “transform” (more on brainwashing) are threatened that their resistance will cost their loved ones their jobs and education opportunities (more on persecution of loved ones).
Survivors report that, in many cases, the threats are carried out.
Classrooms, offices, and dormitories have also been used as ad hoc detention centers for Falun Gong adherents who submitted petition letters to official petition offices. One woman from Shanghai describes she was locked in the school in which she taught, as policemen took turns around the clock carrying out “thought work” (sixiang gongzuo).
Finally, students of all ages have not been spared the persecution’s most brutal methods. Ms. Wei Xingyan, a graduate student from Chongqing University who practiced Falun Gong, for instance, was raped by a policeman in front of onlookers. When her case was exposed online she disappeared and the university went on to deny the woman ever existed (news).
Because of the deliberate way in which persecution of the Falun Gong has been carried out throughout China’s education system, former education minister Chen Zhili has been sued for crimes against humanity (report).