Ten Thousand Minus Nine Thousand Nine Hundred Ninety Nine

The Forbidden City is said to have 9,999 rooms – number 10,000 being heaven itself. 

An anniversary passed in China last week without much visible notice. 15 years ago on April 25, 1999 an estimated 10,000 practitioners of Falun Gong gathered outside the government compound at Zhongnanhai in Beijing in response to arrests of practitioners in Tianjin. This gathering would lead to a nationwide crackdown –still in effect today – on the group a few months later.

Last week saw a parade in Queens, New York to mark the anniversary of the Zhongnanhai protest, as well as other commemorations around the world. But Beijing itself was quiet. I took a walk around the area on the morning of the 25th to see if any practitioners would make a showing. Fuyou Road, where most of the protesters gathered in 1999, was calm. On the other side of the block at Nanchang Road there were noticeably more police. In fact, there were at least 3 officers at each bus stop along the street. They were all on alert and directing pedestrians. I thought it might have something to do with the anniversary, but then the Queen of Denmark and her delegation zoomed by. Most of the officers disappeared shortly after.

Tiananmen Square was swarming with tourists. As I got closer to the Forbidden City entrance, I passed an old woman in a wheelchair who must have been in her 90s. She was by herself. She was wearing a white jacket on her front side with some handwritten characters on it. I tried to read it as she wheeled herself down the sidewalk but it was quite sloppy and I couldn’t make it out.

After a minute 3 policemen approached her. They had an argument with the woman and one of the officers took hold of her sleeves, not roughly, and pulled the jacket off. He balled it up and tucked it under his arm. The other two examined her wheelchair and went through her bags. They didn’t find anything else. Passersby were looking, but not stopping. More officers showed up and they parked her off to the side of the sidewalk. I moved on and meandered around Tiananmen Square. Just another day.

I went back to where I saw the old woman to see if I could catch up with her. She was in the same place. Officers, uniformed and in plain clothes, were still hovering around but didn’t appear to be holding her against her will. She was yelling and crying. A few people were trying to convince her to let them take her somewhere. “I won’t go! I won’t go!” She kept saying. This went on for over 2 hours.

As far as I could see, that was the extent of the protests in Beijing that day. From 10,000 to 1.

Apart from Falun Gong focused websites, there wasn’t a lot of attention given to the anniversary by Western media. Is the story not interesting or important anymore? Has there been progress in the relationship between Falun Gong and the Chinese government? In any case, the government managed to get this jab at the movement in a few days before the anniversary.

Click here to see how Falun Gong spreads their message by stamping Chinese money.

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