BY Sarah Cook Law and Governance in the Developing World School of Oriental and African Studies 2 July 2007
Inside a Secret Bureau:
Institutional Analysis of China's '610-Office'
"The 610 office is just like Hitler's Gestapo. They are powerful and they [have] got enough financial support from the government so …they secretly control all the FG practitioners in their local areas." – Guo Guoting, Chinese human rights lawyer in exile
From the Gestapo to the Stasi, special police task forces have become a trademark of authoritarian governance, but little is often known about their specifics. How is such an institution born? How are its powers defined? Where does it get funding and recruits? ? Is it created anew or founded on existing structures? These are of the questions this essay will consider through the contemporary case study of the 610-Office, a little known bureau established by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders to head a persecution campaign against the Falun Gong (FG) spiritual practice.
Drawing on media reports, internal CCP documents, and testimonies by Chinese lawyers, prisoners of conscience, and a former police officer, this essay seeks to construct an institutional analysis of the 610-Office. Section II will provide a brief overview of FG, the campaign against it and relevant scholarly literature. Section III will analyze the bureau's creation, legal status and mandate. It will argue that the 610-Office is an extra-legal entity, established by decree and awarded wide-ranging powers to eradicate FG. Section IV will examine the functions carried out by the 610-Office, both directly and indirectly. In particular, this section will consider the bureau's relationship to other state institutions, including its ability to instruct courts, prisons, schools, and work units on issues related to FG. Section V will then outline the office's structure and Section VI will address the institution's sources of funding and staff. The final section will summarize the study's findings, examine their implications for legal reform in China, and present topics for future research.
II. Background and Literature Review
Few outside of China had heard of FG before 1999, but in the Mainland, people practiced it in parks across the country throughout the 1990s. The discipline, also known as Falun Dafa, is a form of qigong, a type of traditional Chinese exercise system. The practice consists of four slow-moving exercises and meditation, as well as spiritual teachings. These revolve around the belief that "Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance" is the fundamental principle of the universe and that practitioners should strive to align their thoughts, speech and behavior with these values. FG was introduced to the public by Li Hongzhi in 1992 and until 1999 became increasingly popular among people of diverse ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, including CCP officials. By 1998, the Chinese government estimated that there were at least 70 million FG adherents in China.
The fast growing popularity of a group with a moral code independent of the Party aroused the suspicion of then-CCP leader Jiang Zemin, who viewed it was a threat to his power. In July 1999, he banned the practice and gave an order to eradicate FG. Large scale arrests began immediately and coordinators were sentenced to long prison terms. A massive propaganda campaign was launched that vilified and dehumanized FG adherents. Human rights groups have since documented more than 3,000 deaths and over 40,000 cases of torture, though many experts say the numbers are much higher. At the time of writing, hundreds of thousands of FG adherents remain in labor camps and reports of death from torture continue to emerge on a regular basis.
The vast majority of scholarly literature about FG and the campaign against it has focused on what FG is and why the CCP banned it. Nonetheless, a number of pieces have considered the legal aspects of the persecution and can be divided into two groups. The first addresses the campaign against FG within a broader analysis of Chinese legal reform and the potential of establishing rule of law. These authors cite FG as a shortcoming in the system, but one that does not undermine the generally optimistic view that China is in a transition towards rule of law. For instance, in concluding a case study on FG, Peerenboom writes that "the way in which the crackdown was conducted undoubtedly violates any credible interpretation of rule of law." Nonetheless, fifty pages later, he states that "China is in the process of more fully realizing the ideal of rule of law."
The other category of literature on FG is more pessimistic, analyzing the persecution's illegality. This group argues that the campaign against FG demonstrates that China remains a state in which "the ruling Communist elite may use law to enforce its policies, but the elite class itself is not easily constrained by law," a system otherwise known as "rule by law." As such, Edelman and Richardson, argue that the "PRC government acted outside of its constitutional authority, violated citizens' basic rights and overstepped its own boundaries in its war against FG." Similarly, the legal analysis in a Human Rights Watch report (HRW) describes a "rule of law" veneer used by the CCP to give the persecution a semblance of legality, a veneer that included ex post facto legislation. Several Chinese writers have taken their interpretation a step further, maintaining that the campaign "raises doubts about the credibility of the Party's avowed effort at creating a government under the rule of law rather than rule of man," a term often used to refer to the law's status during Mao Zedong's time when policy was outlined and implemented through top leaders' informal directives.
This body of literature has therefore focused primarily on the "law" aspects of the campaign, while to a large extent neglecting the "governance" side, of which the 610-Office is a key component. Several authors have briefly mentioned the existence of the 610-Office, while others have omitted it all together. Nonetheless, to date there has been no scholarly analysis of its structure, powers or role as a state institution. Indeed, there has been very little consideration in the academic literature of the mechanisms of persecution at all. This essay is a modest attempt to begin filling this gap and to contribute to the factual foundation on which to base broader discussions of Chinese legal reforms.
III. Creation, Legal Status and Mandate
Though multiple incidents targeting FG occurred between 1996 and 1999, it was on April 25, 1999 - following a large-scale peaceful protest by adherents in Beijing - that Jiang Zemin reportedly decided to ban the practice. In preparation for the ban, Jiang and the CCP Central Committee (CCPCC) decided to create a special task force to coordinate the campaign. In a speech he gave to top CCP leaders on June 7, 1999, Jiang spoke of the agency's creation and responsibilities:
The central committee has already agreed to let comrade Li Lanqing be responsible for establishing a leadership group that will deal with problems of "FG" specifically. … After the leading group dealing with "FG" problems is established by the Central Committee of the CCP, it should immediately organize forces, find out "FG"'s organization system nationwide ASAP, constitute the battling strategies, [and] get fully prepared for the work of disintegrating [FG].