editors’ Note: The following article appeared in the August 25, 2014, issue of National Review.
The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting, and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem, by Ethan Gutmann (Prometheus, 368 pp., $25.95)
Ten years ago, Ethan Gutmann wrote a book called “Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire, and Betrayal.” It was about the sordid relationship between the American business community and the Chinese Communist Party. Our businessmen accommodate themselves to the CCP, and turn a blind eye to persecution. Sometimes they even abet this persecution: as when Cisco and other technology companies devised special ways to monitor and arrest Falun Gong practitioners. Reviewing Gutmann’s book in these pages, I said, “Every once in a while comes a book to stir your slumber, and this is one.”
Gutmann’s new book, The Slaughter, should prevent sleep altogether. It is a stark title, for a stark reality.
The book is about Falun Gong and its practitioners, and the CCP’s relentless persecution of them. Falun Gong is a religion or spiritual philosophy or “mind–body system.” It has its roots in Buddhism and qigong (a relative of yoga). In other words, it is very Chinese — unlike Marxism-Leninism (and Maoism). Its leading tenets are “Truth, Compassion, Forbearance.” The practitioners have had a lot to forbear.
It was in 1999 that the CCP launched its all-out campaign against them. Since that time, the authorities have herded them into camps, subjecting them to “reeducation sessions” and “condemnation sessions.” They have also tortured and murdered them. Furthermore, they have harvested them for their organs. Beyond that, they have harvested them while they are still alive. When urgent reports of this practice emerged in 2006, I wrote, “Sometimes, the unthinkable needs to be thought about, just a bit.” Ethan Gutmann has not only thought about it, he has documented it.
He is a patient, dogged investigator: a man on a difficult and hugely important mission. For this book, he interviewed more than 100 witnesses on four continents. The witnesses are of two basic types: Falun Gong survivors of the slaughter, and former persecutors, moved by conscience. This latter group includes doctors, policemen, and camp administrators. Some people crack — go mad — as they torture or harvest innocent others.
Falun Gong practitioners are not the only people who have been harvested. The same has happened to Uighurs — the Turkic people in western China, or East Turkestan. It has also happened to Tibetans and “house Christians” (i.e., underground, unauthorized ones). And to ordinary, hard criminals, plucked from death row. But the weight of the slaughter has fallen on the Falun Gong.
In his book, Gutmann introduces us to many individuals, relaying their testimony, and assessing that testimony with an expert eye. Elena Bonner once told me something about her husband, Andrei Sakharov: He needed to have individual people to care about, and campaign for, in order to feel real satisfaction. General arguments about human rights were not enough. Gutmann’s book is very hard to read, because of the horrible truths in it. I confess to skipping some pages and turning away from photos. I imagine that many will want to skip the book altogether.
By 1999, the year the Party pounced, Falun Gong had attracted 70 million people, maybe as many as 100 million. They were completely nonviolent and apolitical, wanting to improve their lives through their philosophy and the slow-motion exercises that went with it. Many practitioners were also Party officials or functionaries. But the CCP leadership could not stand anything else that might attract loyalty or devotion. Jiang Zemin, then the Chinese No. 1, reportedly said, “If the CCP cannot defeat Falun Gong, it will be the biggest joke on earth.” When the crackdown came, it was methodical and merciless.
I will not subject you to a complete list of torture methods — that would require several pages, in any case — but we should not be spared entirely: After all, the most we are asked to do is think about these things, briefly, not endure them. Communist authorities violate people with electric batons. They hang pregnant women from ceilings and beat them while forcing their husbands to watch. They throw naked women into cells of hardened criminals, to be gang-raped. After bouts of torture, one woman pleaded with the authorities, “Just be human.” Is that too much to ask? Yes, it is.
The authorities will do anything to get Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their beliefs. And, strangely, a great many refuse to do so, under maximum duress. I admire these people tremendously. Some shout, “Falun Gong hao!” (“Falun Gong is good!”) as they are murdered — which reminds me of the Cubans who shouted, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”).
Every week, or at least every month, I get an e-mail from some human-rights organization saying that yet another Falun Gong practitioner has been tortured to death. Often, the victims are elderly women — which gets you to thinking about people who can torture elderly women to death. Can you imagine yourself knocking her teeth in, sodomizing her with the electric baton, breaking her arms? Someone who may look like your grandmother? You might be able to imagine yourself as Jiang Zemin, saying, “Rid me of these meddlesome meditators,” as he sips tea in Zhongnanhai (the compound from which the rulers rule). But can you imagine yourself doing the actual work of breaking them?
In a column about torturers, and their ability to go on and on, William F. Buckley Jr. wrote of “the sheer stamina of evil.” I thought of this phrase while reading Gutmann’s book.
Once the CCP turned decisively on Falun Gong, many in the West followed suit. As Gutmann writes, the practitioners were maybe not as easy to sympathize with as the West-conscious dissidents in Tiananmen Square, who crafted something that looked like the Statue of Liberty. They did not have the Dalai Lama’s cachet. They did strange exercises and held strange beliefs, and had an air of kookiness about them. A major Western media executive called them “dangerous,” and an “apocalyptic cult.” That was music to the CCP’s ears. In truth, it was the CCP that was a danger to people, and a grotesque cult, apocalyptic or not. Gutmann writes about the Western journalists who, for years, “parachuted in” to Beijing to write “a quick hit-piece” on Falun Gong “that would buy some points with the Party.”
The year 2006 was significant, in the story of Falun Gong. Reports of organ-harvesting broke into our media. Witnesses were saying that the CCP was harvesting practitioners, and harvesting them alive. The fresher the organ, of course, the better for the patient: the transplant recipient. When a witness was not a Falun Gong practitioner himself, people like me tended to point this out — which left a bad taste in my mouth, and still does. Are people not to be trusted to report what is happening to them? Did not this distrust exist where the Jews in Europe were concerned?
I met and interviewed a man named Charles Lee — a Chinese-born American doctor. He had come to the U.S. in 1991 to pursue his studies (at the University of Illinois and Harvard). When he was a young medical researcher in China, he had a worrying peek into organ-harvesting. Prisoners would be shot in the back of the head, and their bodies would be hustled to a waiting van. There, the doctors would extract the organs. Lee’s job was to hold the instruments. Some prisoners seemed to him not quite dead at all.
In later years, while in America, Lee took up Falun Gong, and returned to China to defend his fellow practitioners. He was arrested and imprisoned for three years. He was tortured continually — but not killed, not harvested. Reading Gutmann’s book, I wondered why. One reason, surely, is that he was a U.S. citizen: His passport was a shield. People in the greater world knew he was imprisoned. Anonymous, friendless Chinese have less of a chance. If Lee had been one of these Chinese, what then? He was youngish and healthy: an excellent candidate for harvesting.
Gutmann and his witnesses note a ghoulish paradox: The old and sick are lucky, in a way — because they are not as harvestable as the young and healthy. The old and sick may have a better chance of making it out of prison or camp alive.
Naturally, there is a vast market for organs. Wealthy foreigners are attractive customers. At home, they have to wait an agonizingly long time, and may die while waiting. In China, they can get fresh, young organs, quickly. They need not inquire too closely about the whys and wherefores. They just, understandably, want to live. And the authorities can make some serious money. A liver goes for about $90,000; a heart, lung, or cornea goes for a lot more. Gutmann says that a human being could be worth up to $300,000 if all his organs can be “transplanted efficiently.” In addition to wealthy foreigners, there are high-ranking Communists who need transplants: and they will be accommodated speedily.
A former government official, whose job had been to catch Falun Gong, said to Gutmann, “There’s nothing that the CCP is not capable of doing. In jails and labor camps, prisoners are guinea pigs. They might as well be livestock.”
The process of organ-harvesting works something like this: Prisoners are examined to determine the health of their organs and their blood type. Now they are a product, waiting on a shelf — or a lobster in a tank. As a witness pointed out to Gutmann, “China is different from other countries. In other countries, patients wait for organs. In China, organs wait for patients.” When the time comes, the prisoner is shot somewhere in the head. He loses consciousness, but is not dead (if all goes well). Then the doctor removes the relevant organs — and the prisoner is finished off. In the spirit of “Waste not, want not,” his skin is sometimes taken for grafting, and his hair for a wig.
Exactly how many Falun Gong practitioners have been harvested is hard to determine, of course. The CCP goes to great lengths to cover up this barbarity. But Gutmann’s best guess is 65,000 — that is, 65,000 live harvests.
His findings, his book, must be ignored, if life is to go on — if business with China is to continue as usual. We have a psychological need to see China as a normal country (and maybe a material need too, given commercial relations). We take vacations in China, as we do in France or Argentina. We send our young people to study in Beijing, as we send them to Dublin or Florence. We work in Shanghai, as we work in London or Tokyo. On our campuses, we welcome hundreds of “Confucius Institutes,” whereby the CCP extends its “soft power.”
When the Chinese No. 1 comes to visit, we entwine Chinese and American flags on Pennsylvania Avenue. In the White House, Lang Lang plays piano versions of “patriotic songs,” i.e., Communist propaganda songs. Everyone smiles and applauds. A state visit from Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao or Xi Jinping is no different from a visit by the Canadian prime minister, except grander.
From time to time, we hold “human-rights talks” with the CCP. In 2010, we were represented by an assistant secretary of state, Michael Posner. At a press conference, he was asked, “Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?” Our man replied, “We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.”
So, the CCP may arrest innocent people, torture them, and harvest them, alive, for their organs — but we Americans may be too unfriendly in our attempts to curb illegal immigration. These human-rights talks can be morally absurd.
When our politicians criticize China, it is usually for China’s trade practices, or its pirating of Hollywood movies. Rare is the politician who will criticize China for something worse. The late congressman Tom Lantos once had before him a table of Silicon Valley spokesmen — spokesmen for companies that help the CCP detect and arrest Falun Gong practitioners. He said, “I do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night.” But he was a Hungarian-born Jew who had survived the Holocaust. Is that what it takes?
To treat China as a basically normal country, we have to look away, or rationalize: The Falun Gong are weird, and aren’t the Uighurs (who are brutalized in multiple ways) Muslim troublemakers, like al-Qaeda? We also have to ignore human witnesses, which people are well accustomed to doing.
Robert Conquest, that scholar of totalitarianism, once explained to me that the world has seldom wanted to believe witnesses. Years after the fact, sure, but not before. Thus, reports out of the early Soviet Union were dismissed as “rumors in Riga.” Early indications of the Holocaust were Jewish hysterics. When escapees from Mao spilled into Hong Kong, half dead, they were “embittered warlords,” who had lost the civil war. When Cubans landed in Florida, they were “Batista stooges.” Etc.
I have now mentioned the Holocaust twice, and alluded to it once, and will go ahead and use the N-word: Nazi. I could not help thinking of it as I read The Slaughter. I could not help thinking of it as I looked at (or looked away from) the book’s pictures. “These are Nazis,” I thought. “This is Mengele.” You are not supposed to compare anything to the Nazis, Nazism being the ne plus ultra of evil. But such a comparison nagged at me. Gutmann writes an afterword, which he calls “A Personal Note.” He describes a visit with his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He mentions that “distant relatives” of his were killed there. And he says, “I consider practically any comparison to the Holocaust an obscenity.” He allows, however, that there is a similarity between Dr. Mengele’s clinic and the CCP’s organ-harvesting.
As a member of a long-persecuted minority, does he feel a kind of solidarity with the Falun Gong? Or is he just a decent guy? That’s a phrase that David Pryce-Jones used with me, when discussing the Austrian composer Robert Stolz, who stood up for Jews. “He wasn’t Jewish, he was just a decent guy.” Gutmann is not a Falun Gong practitioner, but he is certainly a decent guy.
And he has written a noble book. He has not frittered away his days; he has used them for an important purpose. In a post-Communist China, there should be a statue or two of him. He is one of the worst enemies the Chinese government has, because his weapon is the truth, and the itch to find it. He is also a colossal pain to people who want to transact business with China in blissful ignorance. He does the work of a thousand journalists who would rather do anything than look deep into the PRC.
In 2005, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday published their biography of Mao, which told the truth about a man, a monster, who had long been excused, mythologized, and perfumed. Reviewing the book for Time magazine, Donald Morrison described it as an “atom bomb of a book.” The Slaughter is another atom bomb. But if no one is around to hear it, or willing to hear it, will it make a sound, or a dent? This book should shake us all.
— Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor of National Review.