The High-Tech Persecution of Falun Gong in China (Part I)

The Chinese Communist Party has played a major role in a series of widespread and systematic attacks waged against civilian populations in China that have included the landlords, intellectuals, the pro-democracy advocates, and more recently, the members of the religion of Falun Gong.[1] In the 1950s, Party operatives paraded members of the landlord class before the Chinese people, publicly criticized and insulted them, and beat and executed at least 2 million people in one campaign.  In 1957, the Party characterized the intellectual class as a “right wing” threat to state security and sent them to labor camps where they were tortured and/or killed. Again, during the well-known Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, the persecution was so bad that many members of the targeted groups committed suicide to avoid the torture and execution they would otherwise face. In June of 1989, the Chinese army opened fire on the streets of Beijing, killing hundreds of students and civilians, while others were rounded up later and sent to labor camps and prisons where they were subjected to forced labor, torture, and, in some cases, execution.


The tactics deployed in these campaigns are similar to those used in Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and in Rwanda during the genocide of the Tutsi tribe by the Hutu. In all of these violent assaults and massacres, the targets were demonized as threats to state security and stability, the goal was the elimination of the group or its beliefs, the mechanisms are arrest, detention, torture and execution, and the justification is social order and state security. The phrase used in China to describe the process is the Chinese term douzheng [斗争], loosely translated as “persecution.”


In the latter part of the 20th and early part of the 21st century, the Chinese Communist Party dramatically expanded its ability to persecute dissident groups through its construction and operation of its infamous Golden Shield project, a system of advanced Internet, surveillance and networking technology that is used to carry out the traditional purposes of the Chinese police state in a new, high-tech, and far more effective manner. It is “the world’s biggest cyber police force and the largest and most advanced Internet control system.”[2] The announced goal of the project was to “build a nationwide digital surveillance network, linking national, regional, and local security agencies with a panoptic web of surveillance,” and it was envisioned as a “database-driven remote surveillance system – offering immediate access to registration records on every citizen in China, while linking to a vast network of cameras designed to cut police reaction time to demonstrations.”[3]


According to author E. Guttmann, the technology used in China to construct the Golden Shield Project “provide[s] a secure connection to provincial security databases, allowing for thorough cross-checking and movement tracing.”[4] These databases and secure connections allow for an unprecedented level of government intrusion:


A Chinese policeman or [Public Security Bureau] agent…could remotely access the suspect’s danwei or work unit, thereby accessing reports on the individual’s political behavior and family history. Even fingerprints, photographs and other imaging information would be available with a tap on the screen…[T]he Chinese police could even check remotely whether the suspect had built or contributed to a Web site in the last three months, access the suspect’s surfing history and read his e-mail.[5]


Thus, Michael Robinson, an American computer engineer hired in 1996 to help build the first public-access network in China, was asked by the Chinese government for assurances that it would be able to “build an Internet firewall to keep the world out and conduct surveillance on their own citizens” before he could continue his work.[6]


In her examination of China’s surveillance industry published in Rolling Stone, Naomi Kline describes the surveillance capabilities of the Golden Shield network as follows:


Chinese citizens will be watched around the clock through networked CCTV cameras and remote monitoring of computers. They will be listened to on their phone calls, monitored by digital voice-recognition technologies. Their Internet access will be aggressively limited through the country’s notorious system of online controls known as the Great Firewall. Their movements will be tracked through national ID cards with scanable computer chips and photos, that are instantly uploaded to police databases and linked to their holders personal data. This is the most important element of all: linking all these tools together in a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history and biometric data. When Golden Shield is finished, there will be a photo in those databases for every person in China: 1.3 billion faces. [7]


The targets of this project are Chinese dissidents, and in particular, practitioners of Falun Gong. As one expert put it, when presented with Internet censorship technology, the “first question from the Chinese buyers was not ‘Will it make my workers more productive?’ but, invariably, ‘Can it stop Falun Gong?’”[8] In 2000, China had a public security trade show in Beijing, where corporations from around the world gathered to sell products for sale to the Chinese government. An engineer from one company said that Internet surveillance capabilities were specifically designed “to catch Falun Gong.”[9] Another company’s booth contained literature declaring that its technology could help in “strengthening police control” and “increasing social stability.”[10] Moreover, according to Hao Fengjun, who worked for the secret police in the so-called Office 610, in the northern city of Tianjin until he fled China in 2005, Office 610 used the Golden Shield network specifically to track members of the Falun Gong religion.[11] Thus, as Naomi Kline noted in her Rolling Stone article, even if the tools were the same, an assertion that is not necessarily supported by the evidence, “the political contexts are radically different. China has a government that uses its high-tech web to imprison and torture peaceful protestors, Tibetan monks and independent-minded journalists.”[12]


In addition, insider corporate documents indicate that one of the stated central purposes of the Golden Shield Project was to “persecute ‘Falun Gong’ evil cult and other hostile elements.”[13] The Chinese term translated as “persecute” in this and other corporate documents is the very same term used by the Party to describe the persecution of the landlord class, the intellectuals, and the pro-democracy advocates in China, i.e., douzheng [斗争]. Regardless of the role of US corporations in the design and implementation of the Golden Shield, an issue that is now being investigated further by the Human Rights Law Foundation, it is clear from a second document that was sent anonymously to HRLF that at least one Cisco corporate design of the Golden Shield included a Falun Gong database.


The Human Rights Law Foundation has received an enormous array of information in support of these and other allegations from credible sources. It is investigating all of the evidence carefully. Based on all of the new information, it is contemplating the filing of a lawsuit to hold accountable some of the key parties responsible for the high-tech persecution of Falun Gong.



[1] See, The Epoch Times, Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, Taiwan, page 132.

[2] He Qinglian, “The Hijacked Potential of China’s Internet” a chapter from the forthcoming English language translation of Media Control in China, in the 2/2006 issue of China Rights Forum.

[3] Greg Walton, “China’s Golden Shield,” available at

[4] Ethan Gutmann, Losing the New China, San Francisco, 2004, page 168.

[5] Id. at 168-69.

[6] Id. at 127-28.

[7] Rolling Stone, The All-Seeing Eye (May 2008).

[8] Gutmann, supra at 164.

[9] Id. at 170.

[10] Business Week, Helping Big Brother Go High Tech, September 18, 2006.

[11] Id.

[12] Supra at note 7.

[13] This corporate document was submitted to United States Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, at the May 20, 2008 hearing on “Global Internet Freedom: Corporate Responsibility and the Rule of Law” by the Internet Consortium.