Ten years ago today the Chinese
public security bureau had dispatched plainclothes agents to
Falun Gong exercise sites across the country, practitioner phones and
computers had been hacked and recorded, and secret orders had
been circulated to Chinese Communist Party cells across the country.
35 days ago, the 6-10
office, one of the most terrifying secret police agencies ever to receive
extra-constitutional powers had been founded. 5 days from now,
on July 20, an unprecedented mass-scale arrest would begin, starting
with detention centers, then black jails, then stadiums.
Western journalism has never
quite grasped the scale of the war. On April 25th
they took their cues from the Chinese government and reported that Falun
Gong had set out to “surround” Zhongnanhai. (That’s false,
and I would be happy to get a question on that). By July, the Western
media’s assumption matched the Communist Party’s: This war will
be short. Falun Gong is finished.
Perhaps that’s why--as
the years passed and the war did not end, and the Falun Gong
body-count climbed to over 3000 confirmed dead--Western media coverage
simply dropped off. So when charges of organ harvesting emerged
in 2006, you can count the number of major press organs that seriously
reported on it on a single hand.
I’m referring to the surgical
removal of a Falun Gong prisoner’s retail organs, kidneys,
liver, corneas, occasionally the heart or lungs. Usually the operation
takes place while the person is still alive. A higher dose of
anesthesia or the procedure itself, kills them.
David Kilgour and David Matas
of Canada published a comprehensive study on this subject. Using
official Chinese numbers, they extrapolated that between 2000 to 2005,
there were 41,500 unexplained transplant operations. They believed
the source was Falun Gong practitioners. Yet if you use a Science Ministry
estimate, the numbers drop to 30 thousand:
organs transplanted/harvested ~1994-2007
transplant sources 2000-2007
organs transplanted/harvested 2000-2007
Variances in the official
Chinese numbers are sadly predictable, and of course, the official
counts may well be completely omitting transplants from practitioner
sources. There is nothing wrong with Kilgour and Matas’ method of
construction, except that it is built upon the political quicksand
of Chinese official sources.
Two years ago I began the
research for a comprehensive history of the clash between the
Chinese State and Falun Gong. I did extensive interviews, often for
a day or two, of over 100 people. I did not expect organ harvesting
to feature heavily in the book.
About 50 of my subjects were
Falun Gong refugees from the “Laogai System” (defined here
as Labor-camps, prisons, and long-term detention facilities). Something
curious emerged: About 30% of my subjects had been given inexplicable
medical exams: Expensive and unnecessary blood tests. Detailed
examination of their “retail” organs without corresponding
or routine physical checks. Close physical examination of the corneas,
with no attempt to check visual brain function.
Only half of these
refugees could be plausibly be considered true candidates for harvesting:
the others were too old, too worn down by torture and hunger striking—yet
this cadre of 15% had clearly been assessed for harvesting. My
first results were published in the Weekly Standard in November
Fifty subjects would be a
statistical trifle in most consumer studies. But wartime studies,
and intelligence operations often have to make do with far less.
And there’s a deep human need for numbers, so with my remaining
time, I’ll supply some provisional findings.
- One, no single
number of fatalities from organ harvesting. No false precision. I want
to build a plausible range of fatalities.
- Two, plausible
numbers should be matched with plausible scenarios.
Let’s get started.
3: Starting estimates
prisoners in Laogai System at any given time
Gong base population in 1999
Now, we need to know how
many Falun Gong are in the Laogai System at any given time, and
how many Falun Gong have been in at some point.
Official Falun Gong sources
aren’t much help here. On one hand, U.N. representative Manfred
Nowak has repeated the Falun Gong estimate that 50% of all
prisoners in the Laogai System are practitioners. So at least, two
million. On the other hand, the most commonly used Falun Gong figure
is 100,000 practitioners incarcerated at any given time. Both
statements can’t be true
Let’s try another way.
Based on my interviews, and practitioner recall of their particular
situation in the Laogai system, I estimate practitioners represent about
25%-30% of women and 10%-15% of men. So on the low end, practitioners
represent on average, 15% of the Laogai System at any given time.
On the high end, I estimate 20%.
Falun Gong in Laogai System at any given time
Falun Gong in Laogai System at any given time
of Falun Gong 70m base in Laogai System at any given time
Gong in Laogai System at any given time (on average)
How many practitioners have
been in the Laogai system at some point in the last ten years?
Based on my interviews, I come up with a three-year
average term (actually three years and four months). Low end, 1
out of every 30 practitioners. High end, about 1 in 15.
Total Falun Gong in Laogai
System 2000-2009 Low High
rate of Falun Gong in Laogai System
Falun Gong 70m base in Laogai System at some point
Falun Gong in Laogai System at some point
How many Falun Gong were
examined in the Laogai System?
Falun Gong examined in Laogai
System Low High
of Falun Gong examined in custody
Gong examined in custody
of Falun Gong examined "for show"
Gong examined as serious candidates for harvesting
How many of those examined
were actually selected for harvesting?
Well, all this testing was
not free. At the high end, I am estimating that Falun Gong testing
cost over half a billion dollars.
Notional costs Low High
to examine one Falun Gong "for show"
to examine 50% of Falun Gong examinees "for show"
to examine one Falun Gong for harvesting
to examine 50% of Falun Gong examinees for harvesting
And this is, after all,
“illegal activity”--the profits must be high enough to justify
those risks. In my judgment, a profit rate of at least 50%.
To hit that rate, on the
low end, Falun Gong practitioners had to be harvested at a rate of
2.5%, or 1 out of 40 of all practitioners who were being examined.
Profit margin Low (2.5%) High
of one harvest
cost percentage of profit
of one harvest minus hospital costs
of total Falun Gong harvested 2000-2009
of total Falun Gong harvested 2000-2009 minus costs
margin of Falun Gong harvest
The low end makes sense,
but what of the high end number? That’s harder to justify;
I have speculated that it is 15%, based on vague recollections
of practitioners regarding fellow Falun Gong prisoners who disappeared
and so on, but I freely admit that it could be significantly
higher than that.
No serious analyst can completely
dismiss the persistent rumors of a large camp, possibly home
to a million or more hard-core, “non-transformable” Falun Gong practitioners,
located in north-west China (or occasionally, said to be in the north-east).
Approximately 25% of the Falun Gong Laogai System refugees mentioned
having heard the rumor. Several explicitly remember guards brandishing
it as a threat.
But that aside, based on
the data we have: How many Falun Gong have been harvested?
Gutmann estimate total Low High
Falun Gong examined in custody selected for harvesting
Falun Gong harvested
Falun Gong harvested out of total Falun Gong
Either way it’s a low figure,
a fraction of a tenth of a percentage point on the low end, a twentieth
of a percentage point on the high end.
What may be more jarring
is the differential between the high and the low. Fair enough.
Given the uncertainties in the process, the evidence does not justify
Still it’s interesting
to compare a median of my survey-based findings--87 thousand--to
Kilgour/Matas’ estimate based on government numbers (which I have
brought up to 62 thousand by premising three additional years
Gutmann median estimate compared
with Kilgour/Matas estimate
estimate: median Falun Gong harvested 2000-2009
estimate of Falun Gong harvest 2000-2005
Falun Gong harvest per year
estimate with three additional years
between Gutmann and Kilgour/Matas estimate
Discrepancy between Gutmann and Kilgour/Matas estimate
The two methodologies are
completely different. Yet the discrepancy is only 29%, or 25 thousand
practitioners. If you accept the lower Laogai numbers of 3-5 million,
they essentially match.
Now let’s premise a
scenario in which these fatalities occurred.
During a mass medical exam
in early 2002, Jia Xiarong, a middle-aged female prisoner who came from
a family of well-connected officials, told Jiang Tian, a practitioner:
“They are doing this because some aging official needs an organ.”
I believe that Jia was right,
just a year or two late. This program started from the top because
a handful of aging cadres needed new organs. The military hospitals
knew that practitioners—prohibited from smoking or drinking—had
robust immune systems and healthier organs than the average prisoner.
Perhaps it wasn’t all that scientific; there’s a widespread belief
in the benefits of chi-gong among the top Party membership. For
all the “evil cult” rhetoric in the Party meetings, there was even
a residual belief that virtuous behavior promotes health.
So an exception was made,
perhaps for a few military hospitals. Yet organ transplants are profitable:
averaging at about 50,000 USD, potentially as high as 200,000
USD per practitioner, if several foreigners were being serviced
It’s easy to imagine what
happened next. Military hospitals across China got in on the act,
followed by civilian hospitals. Advertising to overseas markets
grew along with organ tourism, supply and demand operating in
tandem, pushing the boundaries, building an industry worth perhaps
half a billion dollars per year, the majority of the money received
in American currency and Yen.
genocidal conspiracy then—not in 2000, not at the inception: Practitioners
were a problem for the state, but not a fatal one. “Transforming”
practitioners en masse was still considered to be feasible. Falun Gong
was floundering in the West. No had
yet called for the fall of the Party.
It was just business. But
over time, with Falun Gong hijacking Mainland television signals,
with the publishing of the Nine Commentaries, with western Falun
Gong building media and disseminating it into China, Falun Gong
prisoners had become the factory equivalent of drums leaking toxic
waste—costly to keep and too dangerous to be dumped.
But the Chinese State had
an option that chemical companies with a bunch of leaking drums don’t
have: They had buyers, a way of making a profit out of their
components: the organ tourists of China and of the West. We are part
of that demand that drives the industry.
In Western political circles,
it is argued—quietly of course—that we have no point of easy leverage
on this problem, no ability to undo what has been done, no silver bullet
that can change the Chinese regime.
Perhaps not. But we could
ban our citizens from getting organ transplants in China. We could
boycott Chinese medical conferences. Sever medical ties. Embargo
surgical equipment. And refuse to hold any diplomatic summits
until the Chinese put in place an explicit, comprehensive database of
every organ donor in China.
The first step in that process
is to drop the pretence that “we just don’t know.” So I
welcome your questions and comments on the data that I have just