Working with three Harvard Law student research assistants I reviewed hundreds of accounts of Falun Gong psychiatric abuse reported from all over China. (These reviews were done before I was appointed to the WPA task force.) The pattern of hospitalization differed in different provinces and did not suggest the implementation of a uniform government policy. A significant number of the reported cases were Falun Gong practitioners who had been sent on from labor camps where they had suffered terribly. They may well have been tortured and then dumped in psychiatric hospitals as an expedient disposition. The hospitalizations were initiated not by psychiatrists but by local security forces and the local authorities. There were reports of Falun Gong practitioners who were rounded up and brought in groups to psychiatric hospitals. Some were taken from protests, others from trains as they persisted in their attempts to go to Beijing to protest. Family members who felt threatened by the authorities brought others. The Falun Gong hospitalizations certainly did not follow the pattern of Soviet psychiatry portrayed by Munro in Dangerous Minds, no forensic psychiatrists were involved and the patients were not being sent to the special Ankang facilities. Putting Munro's claims aside, the Falun Gong reports of psychiatric abuse posted on the Web and compiled in pamphlets established a practical basis for a factual investigation. Even that proved problematic.
None of the U.S. government or academic experts on international law with whom I consulted believed that China would permit an independent fact-finding investigation even if narrowly limited to the allegations of psychiatric abuse of the Falun Gong. Letting a delegation of the WPA into their psychiatric facilities with a license to interview anyone we chose would open doors that China's government wanted to keep closed for the foreseeable future. The experts proved right, as China's rejection of the independent investigation in March 2004 demonstrated. My own opinion is that the WPA made the mistake of thinking that a vice minister of health had the authority to finally decide such an unprecedented and important political matter.
There is, however, reason to believe that in 2004 the Chinese government is easing in its repression of the Falun Gong. A leading spokesperson for the Falun Gong in the United States personally reported to me that the new Chinese leadership (Jiang Zemin is no longer in control) recognizes that the Falun Gong is not a political threat and should be distinguished from the pro-democracy movement. It is also clear that China's cruel campaign against the Falun Gong seems to have worked and therefore government concern has lessened and for a variety of reasons public opinion in China has turned against the Falun Gong. Falun Gong protest in China has decreased based on a continuing review of Internet reports and there has been a significant decline in new allegations of punitive measures and forced psychiatric hospitalizations. Furthermore, the CSP, which is controlled by the state, has for the past three years shown itself willing to investigate the alleged Falun Gong abuses. Now they are willing to work with the WPA to remedy the mistakes of the past. It may seem to be too late and too little for those who suffered, but it may now be possible for the CSP, with the help of the WPA, to protect Falun Gong practitioners from further psychiatric abuse.
The history I have recounted above is largely drawn from my own academic research; my efforts took a different direction when I was appointed to the WPA task force to investigate the allegations. The mandate to the task force was based on the resolution of its General Assembly members taken in 2002 at the WPA meeting in Yokohama, Japan. But the mandate was far from detailed or specific and it included both the Falun Gong and the Munro allegations.
The CSP, at the WPA's request, had for several years been diligently and in good faith reviewing the psychiatric evaluations of the reported cases of alleged abuse of Falun Gong practitioners in China's psychiatric facilities. Those reviews were shared with the task force and seemed to me to be a serious good faith effort. In addition, a visiting Chinese scholar at Harvard Law School had provided me with an English translation of the first published Chinese forensic psychiatric study of several Falun Gong patients. It was clear from both these sources that responsible Chinese psychiatrists had mistaken the unusual beliefs of Falun Gong practitioners as evidence of delusions. The most blatant example, which I have already described, involved the wheel of law they could feel in their abdomens; other reports made it clear that some Chinese psychiatrists were convinced that anyone who believed Master Li Hong-Zhi had to be crazy themselves. The evidence that there had been a serious problem in Chinese psychiatrists' diagnosis and treatment of Falun Gong practitioners could be documented in their own studies that included such reports. Based on this information previously unavailable to me about their own documentation of the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners, I hoped they would be able to acknowledge the problem without losing face.
My first motion therefore asked the CSP to acknowledge publicly, based on their own studies, that Falun Gong practitioners had been misdiagnosed. The second motion asked the CSP to acknowledge that as a result of such misdiagnoses, Falun Gong practitioners had in fact been mistreated with antipsychotic medications. There was no mention of the number of such cases. Frankly, I had no idea how many there were, my goal was not to identify and punish miscreant psychiatrists but to have the CSP acknowledge the Falun Gong abuse problem in principle as a basis for future good faith collaboration. The acceptance of those motions by the CSP was a small but I believe a significant step forward in a controversy that had dragged on for several years and was then at an impasse. Nothing, however, in these motions addressed the allegations of "systematic political misuse of psychiatry." In fact my own judgment based on the review of the allegations was that provincial Chinese authorities had used psychiatric hospitals as one disposition for stubborn Falun Gong practitioners and that some psychiatrists had at least acquiesced in this systematic abuse.
The third proposal I made was an attempt to begin to address that crucial question in the collegial spirit of collaboration/negotiation rather than as a prosecutorial investigation. As I have described, there were reports that on certain days in certain provinces a number of Falun Gong practitioners had been involuntarily hospitalized at about the same time. Those situations seemed to offer the best opportunity for evaluating the allegations of systematic political misuse. How had those Falun Gong practitioners been evaluated by psychiatrists and what medical basis was provided for their involuntary treatment?
In my third motion I proposed that this be a collaborative endeavor with the CSP assembling and providing the necessary psychiatric records and examining them with the WPA task force experts. A friendly amendment was made by one of the WPA officers who suggested that this collaboration take place in the context of a joint educational meeting rather than as an investigative event. In that cooperative spirit the CSP accepted the third proposal. The planned meeting as I understood it would specifically keep the issue of systematic political misuse of psychiatry open and also would strengthen the WPA's working and educational relationship with the CSP and with China's psychiatrists, many of whom lack the training and resources to provide their vast population quality care.