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April 25th 1999 was an historic day. 10 thousand Falun Gong practitioners appealed outside the Chinese leadership’s compound at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. It was one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in China’s recent history, but later became a pretext for a decade-long persecution.
The appeal was for a group of Falun Gong practitioners who were beaten and detained by police in northeastern Tianjin days earlier. Falun Gong is a traditional meditation practice that had grown hugely popular in China since 1992.
In April 1999, an academic from the China Academy of Sciences published an article in a Tianjin magazine slandering Falun Gong. A group of practitioners then tried to voice their concerns with the publisher, but authorities later sent in police to disperse them. Some practitioners were beaten and detained. Others were told that the arrest orders came from central authorities.
And so on April 25th, thousands converged on Beijing to appeal. Terry Xu, a professor at Tsinghua University at the time, was one of them. He says practitioners followed police directions, and lined up along the streets around Zhongnanhai.
[Terry Xu, Former Tsinghua Professor, Falun Gong Practitioner]:
“When I got close to Fushi street, it was the first time I had seen so many Falun Gong practitioners. They were from all walks of life. So many people standing on the street peacefully, without moving, and shouting no slogans. I felt astounded. Everyone there was astounded.”
China’s then Premier, Zhu Rongji, met with five practitioners and agreed to release those detained in Tianjin. By 10pm that night, all practitioners outside Zhongnanhai had left...