Burning Faith: Interpreting the 1.23 Incident
James R. Lewis [+]
On the 23rd of January 2001, a small group of Falun Gong practitioners set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. One practitioner died in the square and four were seriously burnt (plus the youngest burn victim subsequently died in a hospital). The government quickly held up the incident as an act of “cult violence,” while the Falun Gong movement just as quickly accused PRC authorities as having staged the incident in order to discredit Falun Gong. In “Interpreting the 1.23 Incident," James R. Lewis sets out to assess the plausibility of these conflicting interpretations. Naturally, the two major parties to the controversy which form the background for this incident dismiss each other’s perspectives as self-evidently false. Specifically, PRC authorities consider that FLG’s defenders have been duped by Falun Gong propaganda, while FLG supporters summarily dismiss everyone who gives serious consideration to the Chinese position as either being on Beijing’s payroll or mindless zombies, and every single piece of accusation against them as Beijing-backed propaganda. Lewis restricts his analysis to discussing what the strong points made by each side of this controversy regarding the details of the 1.23 Incident, and then puts forward evidence to support an alternate interpretation of the event.