Ask No Questions (2020) - full transcript


LISA WEAVER:
It was a very cold day.

There was snow
on the Square,

and the snow
had been shoveled up

and packed into
these little pyramids.

We were wandering around,
just keeping an eye out.

Myself and my cameraman,

each with a camera,
but concealed.

And we heard
from behind us

this whooshing sound.

[PEOPLE SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY]

I turned around
and I could see some smoke

on the horizon,
just a little trail.

I got my camera out

and got
about 20 seconds,

25 seconds
of shaky video.

Before any of us knew it

somebody was on him,
a military policeman,

and he didn't resist.

I made a run for it.

I thought maybe I could get

to the other side
of the square and outrun,

and, of course, I couldn't.

But it gave me a window
of opportunity

to get a small tape

out of my camera
and into my bra.

They ended up taking us
through the scene.

I could clearly see
three people,

um, on fire.

And it was absolutely the
strangest thing I'd ever seen.

[FEMALE REPORTER
TALKING INDISTINCTLY]

MALE REPORTER:
China's Communist leaders today

escalated their campaign

against the popular
spiritual movement

called Falun Gong.

They vowed to crush

what they say is a cult.

Members of China's
Falun Gong religious group

attempted
a fiery mass suicide

last week in Beijing.

This whole thing was a dramatic
change in tactics for the sect

which has staged
many non-violent protests.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

You know,
first I was distrustful

of the whole thing
that actually happened.

It burst out of nowhere.

FEMALE REPORTER:
Just who they were is now in dispute.

The Chinese Government
news agency

says they were
Falun Gong followers.

But spokespeople
for the movement

outside of China

say that can't be true

because a suicide protest

goes against
Falun Gong principles.

[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION]

MAN:
I have some first-hand experience

with protests
in Tiananmen Square.

[MAN SHOUTING IN MANDARIN]

That's me
nearly 20 years ago,

protesting the persecution
of Falun Gong in China.

FEMALE REPORTER: Jason Loftus
watches more than 50 practitioners

of Falun Gong,

who have come
to Queen's Park

to urge the government

to help stop
China's persecution

of the ancient
spiritual practice.

You know, the police there they
treat the practitioners of Falun Gong

very brutally.

It's just too horrifying
what's going on there.

I mean,
good people are being killed every day.

JASON:
So how does a small-town Canadian kid

get involved in a struggle

between the Chinese Government

and an eastern spiritual group

that was largely unknown
in the West?

I trace it back
to an RV trip

with my family
in my early teens.

It was a long drive.

So I brought
an old paperback that I found

that promised to cover the
entire history of the world.

The brief summary
of Buddhism caught my eye.

It said the Buddha
had discovered

an alternative path
to happiness.

Rather than satisfying
every human desire

he found
you could be happy

by removing longings
and desires themselves.

That blew my mind.

So I read a ton of books

while working a local
gas station after school,

from yogis,
Sufis and self-help gurus,

all in search of how to
transcend human desire.

Some of my friends
couldn't relate.

But I was on a mission.

And then at 18,

I came across Falun Gong.

Also called Falun Dafa.

It was a series
of slow-moving exercises

and a promise that
I could reach fulfillment

by measuring each of
my thoughts and actions

against three criteria:

Is it truthful?

Is it compassionate?

And is it tolerant?

[INDISTINCT CONVERSATION]

When I took up Falun Gong
in 1998,

millions in China
were doing the same.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

At first,
the Chinese Government

praised and endorsed
the practice

but as Falun Gong's
numbers swelled

the Communist Party's
attitude toward it changed.

So you had a situation
by the late 1990's

that Falun Gong
was not only

the second most popular

spiritual or religious group

after Chinese Buddhism,

uh, but it was also,

going by those figures,

more popular than
the Communist party.

You actually had a large number
of people within the party

and the party apparatus who
were practicing Falun Gong.

And given the spiritual

and ideological differences

between Falun Gong
and Marxist-atheist thought,

a number of leaders
in the Communist Party

felt that
that really posed a problem.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[PEOPLE SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY]

JASON: I didn't know anything
about Chinese politics,

and they were saying that
Falun Gong was an evil cult.

I questioned if there was
something I'd missed

about Falun Gong
and the people involved.

Had I unwittingly
joined a cult?

But what I saw were people who seemed
to be trying to better themselves

through meditation
and spirituality.

[SPEAKING INAUDIBLY]

The Chinese Government seemed intent
on wiping out Falun Gong entirely.

Adherents were being sent
en masse

to forced labor camps

and to what were called
reeducation facilities.

To inmates,
these were known as brainwashing centers.

The Falun Gong practitioners
held there

faced many counts
of torture and abuse.

They were pressured

and forced to watch
government propaganda

until they agreed
to recant their beliefs.

One Chinese Government
advisor

explained the strategy
toThe Washington Post.

"Pure violence doesn't work,"
he said,

"The brainwashing was needed,
but wasn't enough, either.

He said,
"None of it would be working

"if the propaganda hadn't
started to change the way

"the general public thinks."

I wanted to help
clear the air

and provide a voice
to those who were suffering.

So I spoke up, meeting with media
and government where I lived.

Then the self-immolation
happened.

It was horrific.

Innocent lives lost,
others destroyed.

I couldn't explain it.

It was alien to everything
I knew about Falun Gong.

[LAUGHING, TALKING INDISTINCTLY]

Time passed,

and the event faded from the
public consciousness in the West.

And I was fine
with that.

I was tired of worrying
whether people might think

I was going
to set myself on fire

just because
I did Falun Gong.

But then I met a man whose
story would lead me to face

the self-immolation event
again.

[CHEN RUICHANG
SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[MAN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
Chen Ruichang worked high up

in one of China's largest
state television networks.

He was responsible
for research

into making government
propaganda more persuasive.

And Chen took up Falun
Gong like I did in 1998

amidst its boom
and popularity

and favorable coverage
in China.

But when
the persecution began,

and the state media that employed
Chen turned on Falun Gong,

pressure mounted.

[CHEN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: Days before

the self-immolation
would take place

Chen was arrested
at his workplace

and taken to a special
reeducation facility

specifically for staff of the
state media and government.

There he describes
a prolonged campaign

to force him
to abandon Falun Gong

and to have him accept
the Chinese state's narrative

on the self-immolation.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[MAN SPEAKING MANDARIN
INDISTINCTLY ON TV]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[HIGH-PITCHED RINGING]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[FEMALE REPORTER
SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: Chen made me see

that for practitioners
of Falun Gong in China,

the self-immolation never really
passed into the rearview mirror.

It wasn't a scar
so much as an open wound

and they were dealing with the
consequences of it every day.

SARAH: Even today,

the self-immolation incident

shapes the way many Chinese
people think about Falun Gong.

You had
wall-to-wall coverage

of very graphic,
emotional footage.

[IN MANDARIN]

JASON: The self-immolation

became part of
the school curriculum

And then,
in so-called anti-cult rallies

organized by the government,

it became evidence,
that Falun Gong was the enemy next door

that needed
to be wiped out.

[CHEN SPEAKING IN MANDARIN]

JASON:
I felt compelled to revisit

the self-immolation,

and to investigate Chen's
claim that it had been staged.

According to Chinese
state media,

on January 23, 2001,

seven people attempted
to set themselves on fire

in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

to reach
an afterlife paradise.

[NEWS ANCHOR SPEAKING
IN MANDARIN]

JASON:
It was said that each planned

to conceal two bottles
of gasoline

beneath their clothes

and use razor blades
to cut holes

allowing the fuel to soak in,

before setting
themselves alight.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
They had agreed to take action together

at 2:30 p.m.,

and were equipped
with watches.

However,
that's not how things played out.

This woman tells state TV

she drank 20 ounces
of gasoline

and poured the remainder
on her clothes.

This cop says
he saw the woman

drinking from
a Sprite bottle

and that set him
into action.

Shortly after,
police on the Square

said they saw
a man on fire.

White smoke
is shown emanating

from behind
a security vehicle.

After the smoke
had cleared,

someone filmed the seated
man shouting a slogan.

[MAN SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY]

Then, security camera footage

shown in the state
media broadcast

shows four figures on fire.

They are identified
in the program

as two sets of mothers
and daughters.

Nineteen minutes
after the agreed 2:30 time,

this man,
the seventh participant,

has not acted.

Police say they spot him

pouring gasoline
on his clothes,

and stop him

before he can
set himself alight.

[INAUDIBLE]

One woman, Liu Chunling

reportedly dies on-site.

The other six survive

and give interviews
with state-run media,

some from
their hospital beds.

If the event was not as the
Chinese Government had claimed,

I figured
a good place to start

would be speaking with
those who were closest.

My team and I
reached out to journalists

who were stationed
in Beijing

at the time
of the self-immolation.

But we had trouble finding
people willing to speak with us.

[MAN ON PHONE SPEAKING]

Some spoke on background

and some declined,

citing ongoing work in China.

But looking through
the initial coverage

on the self-immolation

I see several reports
quoting a CNN journalist

named Lisa Weaver

and she appears to have
witnessed the burning directly.

We really went to see just to check it out,
um,

and we were simply in the
right time at the right place,

stayed a little longer
got a little colder.

[INDISTINCT CLAMORING]

They ended up taking us
through the scene

in order to get
to the bus.

So we crossed
the center of the Square...

Once we were put
on the bus,

no one was preventing us
watching this,

which really surprised me.

We were questioned
on the bus

by a couple
of different policemen.

They were just
very interested

in what I'd seen,
when I'd seen it.

"Do you have a tape?
Are you hiding a tape?"

And I said, "No,
I'm not hiding a tape."

At one point,

the person who was talking to me,
uh, left,

and came back with a very brief,
written account

that looked to me
to be like

a Xinhua News Agency copy.

Four people
immolated themselves

earlier this afternoon
on Tiananmen Square

and, you know,
just the facts.

JASON:
Xinhua was quoted widely in the reports.

Apparently the news release

that Lisa had initially
reviewed and confirmed.

And I see other details attributed to Lisa,
herself.

She's said to have witnessed

the seated man on fire

as police put his flames out.

She's also said to have
seen the four women ablaze,

to have witnessed them
douse themselves in gasoline.

And then,
after setting themselves alight,

hold their arms up
in a Falun Gong pose.

But when we spoke
with her,

Lisa didn't claim
to have seen these details.

JASON:
You said that you saw three people,

three people
self-immolating in total?

Is that right, or...

I saw three people
in total,

not really
at the same time.

[STAMMERING] I...
The first one I saw

was one.
I got some footage of that.

Then tried to run away...
Run away with the tape,

was caught, apprehended,
brought back.

It wasn't until I was a lot...
Brought closer

to the center of
the square and the bus

that they put us on

that I saw, um,

three people,

two of whom
were in flames,

and one of whom wasn't.

He was already...
Already seated.

JASON: Did you know...

Would you be able to say if they were men,
women, children?

No.

The only person who
I could identify as a man

was Wang Jindong,

as he was sitting there,
the flames out,

you know,
his clothes were smoking.

The other two were
just too far away.

My recollection
as to whether these people

were Falun Gong practitioners,

I would say,
at first glance,

yes,
because they were yelling the slogans,

and, uh, you know,
doing those gestures

that Falun Gong
members do.

It was clear to me,
personally,

that they couldn't have been
very representative.

JASON:
After our interviews with Chen and Lisa,

my wife heard from
her family members in China.

The Public Security Bureau
had contacted them

saying they knew what
we were up to overseas.

No details on what we'd done wrong,
no explicit threat.

Perhaps a warning
or hint to make us worry

what they might know
and what they might do.

So my wife deleted her
Chinese social media accounts

used to contact family,

in an effort to shield them
from any further pressure.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: I see this claim

that CNN
was behind the footage

repeated in the Chinese press.

And I look at the man Chen
says came to meet with him,

Li Dongsheng.

As Chen described,

Li was the vice president
at China Central Television.

But there's more about him
that catches my eye.

According to articles
in the state run press,

Li oversaw
China Central Television's

flagship news magazine programFocus Report...

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
...the program that produced

the expose
on self-immolation,

and many of the follow-ups.

But Li wasn't only a propaganda
and censorship official.

He had another role central to the
party's campaign against Falun Gong.

When the Communist Party
launched its crackdown

on Falun Gong in 1999,

Li had been named
the first deputy director

of something called
the 610 Office.

When the decision was
made to persecute Falun Gong

the 610 Office was created.

A special,
extra-legal party mechanism

and essentially
a secret police force.

It really pulls the strings
behind the scenes.

Judges, legal apparatus,
prisons to labor camps,

to elements of the media

and guiding the
propaganda campaign

with regards to Falun Gong.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[IN MANDARIN]

JASON:
Chinese media had claimed the closeup footage

was shot by CNN journalists.

But we obtained
a copy of the footage

Lisa smuggled out of the
Square in her clothing

and it seems she
and her cameraman

were filming far
from the action.

The assertion
that we had

any footage other than
the smoke on the horizon

from my camera

was just really ridiculous.

They had plenty of people
taking video.

JASON:
In the footage shown in state media

we can see what looked like
security personnel holding cameras.

In the top left
of the screen,

a figure appears
to be filming.

He enters running

then slows to a walk.

He seems to be
steadying his shot

just as an experienced
videographer might.

I can see what
looks like a camera bag

slung over his left shoulder.

But the security personnel
rushed past him

without seizing
his equipment.

LISA: It was a very fluid,

fast-moving situation.

A pro would probably
be shooting

the way
that they were shooting.

Some of those
really closeup shots

of the people
burning themselves,

in particular,
the fellow who was sitting

cross-legged on the ground.

Those tight shots

definitely came from
security personnel,

because I saw them
take those images

and there's no way
it could've been us

as the state media
later asserted

because we were
being escorted to the bus.

JASON:
This individual is facing the seated man

who was said
to have set himself on fire,

and he appears to be
holding a camera.

Was this the man
who Lisa described?

Did he wait for
the smoke to clear

and then shoot the footage of the seated man?

[INAUDIBLE]

[PEOPLE TALKING INDISTINCTLY]

JASON: While examining this scene,
we notice something else.

An officer places a blanket
over the seated man's mouth.

But we can hear
his voice very clearly.

[PEOPLE TALKING IN MANDARIN]

And the recording is free of environmental
sounds like wind and ambulance sirens.

Unlike in this interview
with a police officer

describing the event
into a nearby microphone.

- [SPEAKING MANDARIN]
- [WIND GUSTING]

[RECORDING STOPS]

It seems the audio could
have been recorded separately

and dubbed to the footage.

Then presented as evidence
that the immolation

was inspired by a belief
in Falun Gong.

[MAN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

JASON: In a follow-up

CCTV'sFocus Report

then visits the home
of Liu Baorong,

the woman who claimed
to drink gasoline.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

It just doesn't match up with
a Falun Gong practitioner,

let alone a dedicated
Falun Gong practitioner,

which is what the Chinese Government
was trying to paint her as.

JASON: Levi Browde volunteers
for the Falun Info Centre

which tracks the
Human Rights situation

of Falun Gong in China.

He was at the other end
of the banner I held

in Tiananmen Square
in 2002.

You're talking
about individuals

who, apparently,
were so fanatic,

but they are suddenly

saying exactly what
the Chinese Government

would want them to say.

"I did this crazy thing
because of Falun Gong,

"and now the government
is going to save me.

"And I'm so glad
they're here to save me."

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

LEVI:
And there was no sense of protest.

There was no statement
from them

of the grievances they have
for the Chinese Government

for torturing them,
putting them in prison.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
As someone who had protested for Falun Gong

in Tiananmen Square myself,

this is one of the first
things that struck me.

The lack
of any complaint

about the Chinese regime's
ongoing persecution.

It was the reason behind
every other Falun Gong protest

but here it was
missing completely.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
The footage seems to show the seated man

failing to perform
the hand gesture

that begins every Falun
Gong exercise called Jieyin.

In Jieyin,
the thumb tips are touched lightly together.

But the man appears
to be overlapping his thumbs.

He also didn't correctly
cross his legs.

In Falun Gong
seated meditation,

the two legs are folded
on top of each other

in what's called
the lotus position.

Beginners can
fold one leg up

in what's called
half-lotus.

But this man
folds nether leg up.

It's like someone claiming to
have dedicated their life to yoga

but being unfamiliar with a
basic position like downward dog.

He was sitting
in a manner

that is not how Falun Gong sit in meditation,

was saying things
that no Falun Gong would say.

[MAN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

LEVI: And there's a policeman
standing next to him...

holding a fire blanket,

doing nothing,
just holding it there

until this man
says something.

And then the policeman puts
the blanket on to this man.

JASON: On the surface,
we see a man said to have been on fire

now shouting a slogan,
and an officer

covering him
with a fire blanket.

But the rescue effort
appears to be on hold.

The officer's not in a rush to cover the man,

or hurry him
into an ambulance.

And he appears to be facing
the direction of the camera

that is shooting
the scene

rather than the man
who was supposedly on fire.

Is he waiting for a cue?

It's a stark contrast
to the police response

to every other Falun Gong protest
I'd seen on Tiananmen Square,

where we see
officers rushing

to prevent the participants'
messages

from being heard
or seen.

As to, you know,
sort of the deeper question

of whether or not these were
Falun Gong members...

We didn't have time for that,
at the time.

Also, by this stage, uh,

CNN was an accomplice
to murder,

according to
the Chinese Communist Party.

Because the state-run media
test-floated that headline

in a Hong Kong newspaper

as it happens,
during a big conference

with a lot of CNN head honchos in Hong Kong.

JASON: I see no evidence that Lisa
was involved in the immolations.

This accusation
floated in Chinese press

seems instead like it could
be a scare tactic,

an attempt to deter Lisa

and CNN
from pursuing the story.

CNN was taking that allegation
very seriously.

Not that they believed it but,
you know,

they were taking
the reality seriously

that maybe the bureau
would be closed down,

maybe we'd all
be kicked out of China

and CNN
would have no presence.

CNN had told us to not even
talk to the other reporters.

I mean,
I had my friends and my colleagues

who worked at other
news organizations calling.

But we were really under orders

to be very quiet
about the whole thing.

It's unlikely that
their true identities

will ever be
independently confirmed.

[INAUDIBLE]

DAVID SATTER:
Foreign correspondents

work for news organizations

that have
a very different agenda

than the one
that is required,

if you are to carry out
a major investigation.

JASON:
Writing for The Financial Times,

David Satter's efforts to
investigate a government conspiracy

led him to become the first American
journalist expelled from Russia

since the Cold War.

News organizations
usually are seeking

to have a stream
of coverage from a country

over a period of time

and across a wide variety
of subjects.

There's a big investment
in terms of bureau equipment,

staff, resources,

all of which
can be put in jeopardy

by pursuing a story
which seems implausible

and which is fiercely
resisted by the authorities.

JASON:
But one foreign correspondent

continued to pursue
the self-immolation story.

In an article entitled Human
Fire Ignites Chinese Mystery,

Washington Post journalist
Philip Pan

reported unusual findings
from the hometown

of the alleged immolators,
Kaifeng city.

Pan visits the home
of Miss Liu Chunling,

the woman who died
on the square

and the mother of
the 12-year-old girl.

But a man at the door
sends him away

and directs him to the
government for any questions.

Miss Lui's neighbors say
they were not just surprised

by what she was said
to have done

they were
caught off-guard

by the claim that she had
taken up Falun Gong at all.

None had ever
seen her practice.

"I'm not saying I don't
believe the government,

"but I'm not saying I believe it,
either,"

said one local woman
who was interviewed.

"The government
controls the news.

"We all know that now."

WOMAN:
[OVER PHONE] I'm really sorry about that,

but this is something
that I have to tell you,

and I have to
like do it.

JASON: "To do" what?

WOMAN:
To terminate the contract.

JASON:
My company makes video games.

And our latest title was
being published by Tencent,

one of China's largest
media companies.

The release of the game
was taking place

just in the midst
of my work on this film.

WOMAN:
[ON PHONE] They just say we have to terminate

any business relationship
with Lofty Sky.

So this is not
about the game,

it's about the company.

You mean like the censorship
office that reviewed the game?

There's someone
in the government

who told you
to cancel a contract?

JASON: Our game was pulled
from storefronts in China.

And a Chinese mobile deal
was killed as well.

WOMAN: I really want you to find
out what happened in your company.

Maybe there are staff
in the company,

or, I don't know, maybe your
business partners that is not working

in the direction aligned with
the government direction.

I don't know.
I can't really tell anything.

JASON: Considering the
participants I've examined so far

I start to form a theory...

One man who doesn't seem
to know Falun Gong.

A woman whose neighbors
suggest never practiced.

And another woman
who was never on fire

but co-operatively relays
her plans to the government

and praises the authorities.

It all seems
to point to one thing...

That they were actors
and it was all a stunt.

The important part
is insulating the body

from the heat of the fire.

So we use these high-tech
fabrics as undergarments

and different layers,
like base layers,

kinda like when you're
climbing a mountain in winter

you use different layers to
keep yourself from getting cold.

I'm using different layers
in a different way

to keep myself
from getting too warm.

JASON:
Tom Comet is known as Danger Boy,

and he's been setting himself
on fire in stunts for years.

Tom finds it plausible
that the seated man

may have been layered up
for a fire stunt.

TOM:
One of the things you see in this

is what this guy
is wearing.

It's sort of natural fibers,
bigger, cloaky-type garments.

JASON:
But he can't say the same

about the women
shown on fire

or the little girl
shown in close ups.

TOM:
That was a very legitimate

third-degree,
deep-tissue burn.

Like, I know,
that skin is the outer layers of skin

and they will literally
peel off.

Like you can just peel those off
like layers of, you know, whatever.

This is all looking fairly
legitimately like a burn.

That person
is in a terrible state.

Oof!

Oh!

JASON: Tom finds the footage

of the mother and daughter on
the square in the aftermath,

and of the four burning
figures very convincing.

He's right that the flames
engulfing the figures are enormous

and the human cost of that would
seem to be real, not an act.

[CHEN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING IN MANDARIN]

[CHEN CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE]

[CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SNIFFLES]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[LIANG CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

JASON: It's remarkable to me

that Chen wouldn't bend
in the face of all this,

with all this pressure,
the threats and brainwashing.

How wasn't Chen swayed

that he wouldn't go along with
what the party wanted him to say,

at least
on the surface?

[MAN SHOUTING INDISTINCTLY]

[CHEN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

RICHARD CHEN: What information
we can get is from Minghui net.

And then,
we always try to see, uh...

I don't want to see my brother's
name in there be killed.

I don't want to see
my brother's name is missing.

But... one day...

we see it.

He's missing.

When he's being transferred
from the brainwash class

to an actual labor camp,

um,
it's a big worry about his safety.

We know how bad it is.

Like,
people being tortured to death.

You cannot even like imagine
what they're gonna do.

We do
whatever we could,

talk to
the government officials

and telling the media
that we believe

to expose this is the only way
to keep him safe.

At the time
this incident occurred

there were probably 50,000
practitioners of Falun Gong

in Chinese jails

or propaganda camps,
so to speak.

And the issue
had been raised

by non-governmental
organizations

and some governments at the United
Nations Human Rights forums.

China really needed

to have
the international community

against Falun Gong.

[TRUMPETING]

JASON:
The timing of the self-immolation

was very fortuitous
for the Communist Party.

And it's not just
that Beijing

had been attempting
to root out Falun Gong.

The foreign media's attention
to the on-going crackdown

was standing in the way

of the Chinese regime's
immediate political goals.

A year before
the self-immolations,

uh, the Falun Gong,
they gathered on Tiananmen Square,

New Year's Eve
for the Chinese.

And they threw pamphlets
into the air

and shouted,
"Falun Gong is great!"

And had some banners.

[INDISTINCT CLAMORING]

JASON:
Chinese New Year's Eve in Tiananmen Square

had been the site of a
peaceful Falun Gong protest.

It was harshly repressed
by Beijing

and captured
by the western press.

We were able to film it
from inside the car.

The police
were on to us,

and what ensued
was a high-speed chase.

We had the cops behind.
I floored it.

[SIRENS WAILING]

So, we got this footage.
We got it on the air.

FEMALE REPORTER:
U.S. officials say one of the key items

on President Clinton's
agenda

when he meets with Chinese
President Jiang Zemin

later this week

will be China's
deteriorating record

of religious tolerance.

At that time China was trying
to emerge onto the world stage.

When you have pictures
on a daily basis

of ordinary citizens being
beaten up on Tiananmen Square,

that really undermines the
Chinese Government's efforts

to display itself
as a modern government,

as a rising,
peaceful power,

and as one that is worthy
of getting access

to international
institutions or awards

like the Beijing Olympics.

MALE NEWS ANCHOR:
Whatever happened at the labor camp,

the timing could not
have been worse for China.

This country is obsessed
with the Olympics.

One thing that could
jeopardize Beijing's bid

is China's
Human Rights record.

JASON: Beijing had lost out to
Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.

In part, because of concerns
over its Human Rights record.

For the 2008 games,

the ILC's
evaluation committee

was due to arrive in Beijing in February,
2001,

less than a month after the
self-immolation occurred.

The self-immolation managed to completely
flip the narrative on Falun Gong.

Within two weeks
of the incident,

an ILC executive
announced

that Falun Gong would not stand in
the way of Beijing's Olympic bid.

They likened the group to the
violent cult in Waco, Texas,

that had not prevented
the U.S.

from hosting the Olympics
in Atlanta

and landing another
in Salt Lake City.

In July, 2001,

Beijing was granted
the 2008 Olympic Games.

In December of that year,

China was made a member
of the WTO.

Self-immolation had enormous
political consequences,

shifting the Falun Gong matter

from human rights concern

to internal political issue.

If you look at how the campaign
against Falun Gong was going,

uh, the self-immolation was really
kind of a gift to the Communist Party.

It gave them
the perfect opportunity

to turn public opinion
against Falun Gong,

to get international media
to maybe also question

whether this group
was worthy

of the kind of reporting
that it was receiving.

The idea
of this self-immolation

was to demonstrate,
you know, that Falun Gong

was encouraging
this practice,

even if they weren't,
to make it appear as if they were.

And this is
what was bought.

I mean,
we have had self-immolations

in Vietnam, for example,
before the Vietnam War got underway.

[MALCOLM BROWN SPEAKING]

DAVID HALBERSTAM:
It hit the headlines all over the world.

It had enormous
political consequences,

uh,
outside of Vietnam and inside of Vietnam.

...city under attack.

JASON: President Kennedy,
at the time

called the image,
"The most impactful news photo in history".

It caused the populous to change
sympathies nearly overnight.

And for the U.S.
to cut allegiances

with the Vietnamese president,

who was blamed
for the monk's sacrifice.

Instead,
the Americans backed a coup

that would see the Vietnamese
president ousted months later

and executed.

The photographer
behind the photo,

the AP's Malcolm Brown,

said... [JASON READING]

The image was used
as a form of propaganda

against the U.S.
and its anti-Communist allies

in Vietnam.

I find a reference
to another self-immolation

and this one takes place right
in Beijing's Tiananmen Square,

but it's not
a real-life event.

It comes from
a work of fiction

that was written
a full decade

before the self-immolation
incident.

Author Wang Lixiong's political novel,
Yellow Peril,

was known to the censorship
authorities in China.

They had banned his book and
put Wang under house arrest.

The novel lays out
an eerie blueprint

for how communist officials
would incite chaos

and justify the ongoing
repression of a targeted group

by staging a self-immolation
in their name.

The novel was published shortly
after the dramatic demonstrations

for democracy
in 1989 in Beijing.

And in the book,

the party is concerned
with growing public sympathy

for the democracy activists'
cause.

In this passage,
one official hatches a plan

to turn the tide
of public perception.

"How to set the trap?"
it reads...

[JASON READING]

The book describes
many automatic cameras

being set up
in Tiananmen Square.

They were connected
to a control center.

"The Minister
of Public Security

"was awaiting the arrival of
the foreign press," it said.

The participant who would die
in the plot was a young woman.

And just as
with the seated man,

there was a clear way to identify the
group to be blamed for the action.

"The deal was that she had to
yell some slogans", it said.

And then the similarities
become so striking

that the novel can
be mistaken for a telling

of the real-life
self-immolation

ten years later in 2001.

[JASON READING]

She was wearing
several layers of clothes

to ensure that the gasoline
would be fully absorbed.

A female foreign reporter
arrives on the scene

and the Minister of Public
Security gives the cue.

"The girl became a fireball,"
the book said.

[JASON READING]

The woman finally falls
to the ground

right at the foot of the
People's Heroes Monument

in the center
of Tiananmen Square.

That's precisely where
Liu Chenling

is said to have fallen
to her death

from self-immolation
in 2001.

"Her body shrank to a sizzling charcoal",
it read.

According toYellow Peril...

[JASON READING]

Even calling on
the government...

[JASON READING]

It reads
like a screenplay.

But a question remains...

What would have motivated
the woman to participate?

InYellow Peril,
they found a terminally-ill woman

and offered to pay her family
3,000,000 Chinese Yuan.

So I start looking for clues
with Miss Liu Chunling,

the woman who died
in the fire.

The Washington Post
interviews with her neighbors

describe a woman
who led a troubled life

and suffered
psychological problems.

She was abusive to both
her mother and daughter.

They say she worked
in a nightclub

and took money
to keep men company.

I keep looking for clues
in Kaifeng City,

the hometown of Miss Liu
and the other immolators.

And I find an article
written within months

of the self-immolation
incident in 2001.

The government
in Kaifeng

had been building
blood banks

and offering residents
money

in exchange
for their plasma

which officials sought
to sell overseas for profit.

But when
tainted equipment is used

and AIDS
spreads widely,

the government
suppresses the news

to the extent that
the local peasants know HIV

only as the "strange illness"
or "nameless fever."

To be clear,
there's nothing specific

to connects Miss Liu
to an AIDS epidemic,

but that's not
what intrigues me.

It's that the government
in Kaifeng

was luring residents
with money and a promise,

and then casting them aside
when things went wrong.

I go back to something
I read inYellow Peril...

In the book's
self-immolation scheme,

the Minister
of Public Security

had also made a promise
to the woman

to convince her
to set herself on fire.

He promised she'd
be given anesthetics

so she wouldn't feel pain.

But after her frantic death,
he's asked,

"Didn't you give her
the drugs?"

"That was just to console her..."
the book read...

[JASON READING]

And it hits me.

What if Miss Liu was promised something else?

Perhaps something dangerous
but not deadly.

What if she
didn't sign up to die?

[BUTTON CLICKS]

[INDISTINCT CLAMORING]

When we slow
the footage down,

the woman appears
to have been struck.

A bent-shaped object is seen flying
into the air from where she is hit.

As the camera pans back,

we see a man
who seems to be standing

in the same place
the woman was

just a few seconds before.

The hairline and collar
of this figure

appear to match a man
seen earlier in the footage.

As he enters the shot,

he seems to be pointing and
directing the other officers.

Was he in command?

Could he have struck
Miss Liu?

The important thing that
people need to understand

about authoritarian
and totalitarian systems

is that the individual
human being

in these systems
has very little value.

And they are not averse to killing
people for no reason whatsoever

except to further
their political goals,

including killing
their own people.

[CHEN SPEAKING IN MANDARIN]

There's no way to confirm
if Liu Chunling

was indeed tricked
into participating

as the woman died
on-site.

But her daughter survived
and was rushed to hospital.

She is featured prominently
in the reports that follow,

but only state media
was able to speak with her.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

I don't know
that any foreign journalist

could have got access

to the victims
who were in hospital.

And I remember
being surprised

the doctors let
the Chinese journalists in,

because they have
these horrible burns

and, you know,
there's risk of infection

and, you know,
to say nothing of the trauma

and what purpose
are you serving...

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[LIU SIYING
SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: The nurse interviews the little
girl for the television cameras.

Meanwhile, the doctor said she
needed an immediate tracheostomy

inserting a tube into her
throat to allow breathing.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

It's unusual
to see somebody speaking

with a tracheostomy
in place

shortly after the injury.

They would not be able to
generate the force required

through the mouth
to form words.

So,
I think it is fairly unlikely

that somebody,
shortly after their injury,

would be speaking normally

unless the tracheostomy wasn't
required in the first place.

My name is Dr. Alan Rogers.

I'm a plastic
and reconstructive surgeon

with an interest and fellowship
training in burn surgery.

I also manage complex wounds.

We are very vigilant about infection,
prevention, and control.

Several questions
arise in my mind

as to, firstly,
the management

of burn injuries
at the setting.

And then, secondly,
whether in fact this was staged.

JASON:
Dr. Rogers finds several things unusual here.

All four
surviving immolators

are kept together
in a single room.

The nurse and reporter
are not wearing gloves

and next to
the badly burnt little girl

we see
a fuzzy teddy bear.

He's also suspicious of how
certain wounds are dressed.

DR. ROGERS:
This image is a little bit unusual,

given the very thick nature
of the dressing at the wrist

with no dressing
on the arm or hand.

Perhaps that bulky structure
around the wrist

is in fact concealing
the patient's hand

and that what appears to be a very deep,
mummified hand

is in fact
a very effective prop

because I cannot see the
purpose of that bulky structure.

The little girl is said to be
recovering well and nearing release.

But then she, too,
suddenly dies.

It's reported to be
a heart attack.

[CHEN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON:
I can't prove Chen's claim

that it was all designed
this way for an effect.

But its impact
is undeniable.

I felt it myself
when I first heard the news

and I still feel it today.

Such a deeply-disturbing
reversal of the mother archetype.

The one who is supposed to
nurture and love and care for

instead leading her child
to a violent death.

And tied together with it,

the accusation
that this horror

was somehow connected
to Falun Gong.

And that accusation
itself

was enough to frame
the discourse.

Even those who distrusted
the government

and sought to question
what they were being told,

did so from within the influence
of the state narrative.

"Could Falun Gong
have done this?"

"Why would Falun Gong lead
people to burn themselves?"

Once you ask
those questions,

you've already begun
to unwittingly operate

from within
the party's narrative.

People see things that are
presented on their television screen

and they try
to parcel out

what they can believe
and they shouldn't believe.

But this effort
has the pernicious effect

of drawing them in

and, in fact,
indoctrinates them only further.

JASON:
I see now that the self-immolation

didn't need
to be irrefutable.

It simply needed to muddy
the waters on Falun Gong.

LEVI: After the self-immolation
and the media blitz,

suddenly
there's a question.

"Are these people
the kind of people

"that would light themselves
on fire to go to heaven?"

No matter
how objective you are

as a Human Rights
worker,

at some point it comes down
to what you feel.

There was something
in the air

anytime you met
with these people

about...

The enthusiasm was down.

The immolation event

eventually changed
my thoughts.

In part, because,
you know, the obvious point,

if these were
Falun Gong practitioners,

and if
they had been directed,

which the Falun Gong
outside of China denied,

uh, but if they had,

this organization
was really willing

to let people
burn themselves alive

to make a political point.

Which is ironic,

because it plays right into the
Chinese Communist Party narrative

of what the problem is.

JASON:
Lisa presumed it was Falun Gong contacts

directing the participants.

But the Chinese press and
the participants themselves,

in full confession mode,

make no claims
of any Falun Gong contacts

directing them.

Instead,
they offer a more unusual explanation

for the origin
of their plan.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: Liu Yunfang,

the seventh participant
in the self-immolation

appears in a government-organized
press conference.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: It seems designed to
showcase the harmful delusions

of what are purported
to be Falun Gong followers:

Following dreams
to commit acts of violence,

believing oneself
to be the incarnation

of Falun Gong's founder,
Li Hongzhi,

is man who is still alive
and living in New York.

I'd seen nothing like this
anywhere in Falun Gong.

But buried inside
this narrative

was an admission

that the idea
for self-immolation

came from this man,
Liu Yunfang.

Liu Yunfang says
he lured other to join him

on the basis
of his visions.

The state was holding
all of Falun Gong culpable

for this one man's
alleged dream.

It gets stranger.

The dream shares
a very specific detail

with the immolation plot in the book,
Yellow Peril.

In both, the immolator wears
a special auto-ignition device

that's planted
in their clothes

and is used
to set them alight.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: Yellow Peril reads...

[JASON READING]

In my review of
examples of self-immolation,

I hadn't found any others that
mentioned using an auto-ignition device

which sounds like a very
elaborate piece of technology

if your plan was
to set yourself on fire.

It appears once in this
banned work of fiction

about a state conspiracy
to frame a repressed group,

and then again
in Liu Yunfang's dream.

A dream that would also
become the justification

for a continued repression
of millions.

And this from the man who didn't
manage to ignite his own fire

nearly 20 minutes after
the group's agreed time.

[LIANG SPEAKING IN MANDARIN]

[INDISTINCT CONVERSATION]

[CONTINUES SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[CHEN SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SIGHS]

[MEN GRUNTING]

[CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

- [MEN TALKING INDISTINCTLY]
- [MAN WHIMPERING]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

CELIA OU:
We talked to our local government

which is the City
of Port Jervis.

[LIANG SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION]

INTERVIEWER: I mean,
how does it feel

looking back on
these articles

and what you've achieved?

It's sad.

No, I think that, you know, that shows that

it's true

that the evil is very afraid
of being exposed.

And, um...

And that's what we do.

And that works.

Several months after the event,
I was in Geneva.

I was shown a video

debunking the Chinese claims.

MAN ON VIDEO:
How is it possible that a plastic bottle

filled with gasoline

encompassed by
a burning man's legs

remains in perfect condition?

I thought the Chinese version
of the events was just...

for want of a better term,
unbelievable.

It just didn't
add up at all.

And we made comments
and statements

in the Human Rights
Council Session

condemning the Chinese
Government's version of the events.

China harassed us.

They tried
to play little games.

They would sort of
hover and pace

and make comments, etc.

They expected to be
threatening and intimidating.

And some NGOs
are intimidated by it

but I'm not, particularly.

But China is such
a major power.

We have been unable
to get a single resolution

on China, condemning China for anything.

That would require
ultimately

going to
the Security Council,

and China has a veto.

It doesn't mean that
people agree with China.

But it also means
that people know

they cannot get
anything with teeth

against China.

[PHONE RINGING]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

RICHARD: Finally when I know,
I said, "Okay, great.

"Get out of there quick.

"As soon as possible.

"Forget your property,
forget your money, just get out,

"because in there,
you are a piece of meat..."

[CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

[IN ENGLISH] They can kill you.

The knife is in their hand.
They can kill you anytime.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

JASON: In December, 2013,

the Communist Party puts Li
Dongsheng under investigation

for unrelated charges of
bribery and abuses of power.

It's part of what is said
to have been a power struggle

between factions at high
levels of the Communist Party.

Li is removed
from his post

which then include Vice
Minister of Public Security,

and Head of
the Central 610 Office

for handling Falun Gong.

In January 2016,

he is sentenced
to 15 years in prison.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION]

KAREN: Say we work and work
and work on a certain issue

and it looks like
there's an impasse,

and then something
will happen

that completely changes
the dynamic.

And, for instance,
Nelson Mandela was freed.

The USSR fell apart.

The Berlin Wall came down.

- I mean, these...
- [INDISTINCT CONVERSATION]

There are little hints
that something might happen.

But...

sometimes there's
a sea change overnight.

And those sea changes are inspirational,
actually.

MAN: Okay.

- Ready?
- Chen, 14.

JASON:
I had hoped to find all the answers

of what happened in
Tiananmen Square that day.

But I don't think
that's possible.

The clues and
the circumstantial evidence

suggest a government
conspiracy

to frame Falun Gong.

But there also
isn't a smoking gun.

And considering the
environment in mainland China,

it seems unlikely
that one will ever emerge.

Just being
a foreign journalist

covering the facts as you see them in China,

was hard enough
with this story.

You know, we weren't even gonna
look at the competing theories.

JASON:
There were times I was frustrated

that the foreign press
hadn't dug deeper

to uncover the inconsistencies in this story

that were hiding
in plain sight.

But Lisa
had also taken risks

to cover
Falun Gong protests before,

and she'd smuggled
her footage

out of Tiananmen Square.

Given that
she'd gone looking

for another Falun Gong
protest that day,

I'm not surprised she
viewed it in that light.

And as questions did emerge
about the state narrative,

Lisa and CNN
were quickly off the story.

That photographer behind the
burning monk photo, Malcolm Brown,

had written
something once.

He described seeing
a newspaper image

of an elephant
on water skis

passing under
the Brooklyn Bridge.

An ad for toothpaste was printed
on the side of the elephant.

He said... [READING]

It's difficult to imagine a
world in which a government

could devise
a self-immolation scheme

to frame a religious group.

But it was also difficult to
imagine soldiers opening fire

on unarmed students

who were appealing
for democracy.

Twelve years after the
1989 massacre in Beijing,

as China was ascending
on the international stage,

it was more concerned
about its global standing.

It's conceivable
that party leaders

would have felt a bold
character assassination

was a smaller risk than the
continued visible bloodshed.

DANNY: If you'd been arguing

that Falun Gong
is encouraging suicides,

what better way
to show that

than to actually
stage an event

in which people
burn themselves publicly

in a prominent place
like Tiananmen Square?

DAVID:
The people are swayed by their emotions

and their desire not to
have to deal with a problem

that they think
they can avoid.

Once you accept
that your government

has been involved
in a conspiracy

involving the murder of
hundreds of innocent people,

you then have to come face to
face with your own helplessness.

And that's not something
that a lot of people want.

JASON: There are often many good
reasons not to ask questions,

especially when doing so might
challenge an imposing authority.

But there's also
something remarkable

about those who still dare
to speak truth to power,

even in the face
of great risks.

PETER LI:
I remember Chen Ruichang

is one of
the practitioners

who was specially,

I mean, how do I say...

[CONTINUES IN MANDARIN]

We can see
how much suffering

he experienced, right?

But they never change.

[SPEAKING MANDARIN]

[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION]