Shortly after the Epoch Times called wolf on a medical prison for organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners – they essentially described as a concentration camp for some kind of final solution to the Falun Gong – an independent probe with links to the US State Department visited several of the sites described in Epoch Times reports and found no evidence to back up their claims.
After first reading of the hospital in the Epoch Times – their story was sourced from a former employee who defected – the claim seemed so astounding that I couldn’t help post on it. Now I’m wondering ~~ and what’s developed is a dispute between the Epoch Times and the US govt reports (here).
To be sure, Epoch Times does some of the best frontline reporting on human rights in China…. and the only thing that makes it suspect is their function as a propaganda unit for the Falun Gong. Is this one over the top?
In February I met with an editor and reporter from the Epoch Times in Hong Kong. We met at the Starbucks near the in-town airport check-in desk in Central and talked for close to an hour. Both were women, one a short-haired, attractive, and very proper woman in her late 30s and the other a bony, tomboy type with frizzy hair in her late 20s. They wouldn’t agree to meet me at their office and would tell me very little about it, including the number of personnel. They described problems with landlords – changing lease agreements, pressuring them out, and other fishy harassment – and the natural insinuation was that the CCP’s invisible hand was behind everything. (The story in Taiwan is quite different. Though I’ve never been to their office here in Taipei, the address is openly published. Doh! That makes perfect sense…)
Still, I can’t help get they feeling they are wary of other outsiders, including the western media, people like me. They want us to pick up on their stories, but not ask too much about how and where they get them. While no one else in the world has bloody photos of massacres like Shanwei, they do. And their sources for these stories must be so delicate that extreme secrecy can be understood. But not absolute secrecy – because in the end that is only propaganda. And I think with something as big as this alleged organ harvesting in Shenyang, outside confirmation is the only thing that will make people believe it – and believe them. In a lot of ways, the Epoch Times’ credibility is on the line with this one.
Over coffee, the two women mentioned reports about the Epoch Times they found unfair. They didn’t mention precisely which reports or what they said, but they let on to a general suspicion of media. They did offer that they and all other staff were volunteers, and they did not mention numbers but said they were not large. Whatever their staff size, the paper is rapidly becoming one of the largest alternative news services in the world with a presence everywhere in the world you find ethnic Chinese and editions in 14 languages (at least online. Paper editions come out from the big HQ in New York, HK, Taipei and several other places). It is also truly an army of housewives; when I asked, they admitted as much.
Both women said they were Falun Gong practitioners, and when it came to China, they repeated a lot of the moral rhetoric you can read in their newspaper: “the evils of the Communist Cult will be punished by God at Judgment Day”, etc. What they said was not as extreme as this but very similar to what you can read in their paper, so I won’t describe it more. A big problem with the view is viewing the Chinese Communist Party as a static entity, as something that has not changed, this despite the enormous and extremely obvious changes that have happened – and benefited the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This is something the Epoch Times refuses to weigh on its scales. Equally perplexing is where its narrative of CCP collapse will lead: so, what happens after judgement day?
Okay, so is the Falun Gong a just some freaky cult? I had this discussion with a US diplomatic corps guy last weekend over beers. He was inclined to think they were, and this is reason enough to brush them off like sawdust off your shoes. Coz if you don’t the sawdust will maybe even get in your socks. He was also inclined to believe that religion is basically useless and has no place in the future of humanity – in a way that reminded me quite a bit of the contempt. French novelist Michel Houllebecq. A few years ago at the wedding of an ABC girl and a mixed Chinese guy, the mother of the bride was a Falun Gonger and delivered a few words when the toasts came around. It was very banal, wishing for peace and love and world harmony, something like that. Later the mother of the groom, who’d studied philosophy and had a raspy smokers’ voice, shot off some comments about not being able to stand “zealots.” It’s impossible for western liberals to accept simple-minded faith in anything, especially there are these secret society aspects hanging around. I pretty naturally find myself on this side of the fence, especially when it comes to establishing the truth of something like a concentration camp which would have major repercussions for world trade and the holding of the 2008 Olympics. But at the same time, if I find the Falun Gong a little strange – on the scale, maybe only a little more strange than the first time I saw a white guy doing Taichi in Washington Square Park (NYC) – I hardly find them threatening. They don’t proselytize fanatically and they back a public mouthpiece that supports secular values like human rights and democracy. Maybe the bottom line is that they do some good and little bad. For that, I’m pretty inclined to look the other way when they do their dorky concentration exercises in the park.
But where the Epoch Times is full of shit is the 10 million “resignations” from the CCP it claims will coincide with Hu Jindao’s visit to the US. ET has created a site where people can disclaim the Party, but when I asked the two women, they said that this is actually anonymous and in no way involves any official paper shuffling within China. No one is really dropping out of the CCP, and the Epoch Times is wrong for presenting this illusion. What they are instead offering is a hit counter for dissatisfaction with the government, an Internet phenomenon that extends far beyond them. They may be in the front lines with all their crazy hacking technology that breaks through the Great Firewall, but they should still admit as much.
While in China recently I did meet with one bona fide dissident. Around 50 years old, he’s been on the government’s list since the first campaigns to reign in political thought following economic liberalization in the late 1970s and was in jail as recently as a year and a half ago for essays he’d posted on the Internet. When I asked if he ever wrote for the Epoch Times, he shook his head and said, “Hardly ever. They’re too Falun Gong. I usually write for some other sites.” If even a lifelong democracy activist is put off by the Epoch Times whiffs the propaganda, is it any wonder that we’re also suspicious?
bobby fletcher said…
The Sujiatun concentration camp allegation is now “officially” discredited.
US State Department announced their finding on 4/15 (Friday afternoon knowing it won’t affect the anti-China protest over the weekend.)
Now I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I hope honorable Mr. Nowak won’t just let his silence resolve this investigation, but honestly, precisely state his finding.
What really outraged me is not that Falun Dafa Association of New York made up this story. What they did it to disrespect the Jewish people’s history and experience by taking Holocaust suffering in vain.
bobby fletcher said…
Here’s another example that speaks on Epoch Times’ propaganda factor.
In a recent FLG piece it reported Amnesty International’s endorsement of their “Chinese Auschwitz” story by citing an AI director named Laura Nuechterlein.
I decided to contact Ms. Nuechterlein. Turns out she is the director of a local AI chapter (Group 4 in Seattle) that meets in local library once a month.
What Ms. Nuechterlein wrote back was not suprising. Here’re some quotes from her reply:
– I was careful to indicate that AI has not made any statement on the deathcamp allegations
– I barely mentioned Falun Gong at all
– I agree with you that the story was prettydubious to begin with
– In noway did we endorse the idea of the “Chinese Auschwitz.”