Does anyone truly know what it’s like to be brainwashed? Ask Chen Gang.
Now living in the United States, Chen used to be a manager at the Carlsberg Brewery in Beijing, as well as a musician.
But because Mr. Chen practices Falun Gong, he was arrested in 2000 and sent to a labor camp for 18 months of imprisonment and torture.
He said the police “kept up the torture until they destroyed every bit of my dignity, my innocence, and my belief. They forced me to become someone I despise, they sullied my character and soul, and they trampled on my hopes for grace and wisdom. They forced me into a state of regret, shame, and self-disappointment.”
What is brainwashing?
The idea of “brainwashing” (also called reeducation, transformation, forced conversion, thought reform) has a long history under communist rule in China.
After the Communist Party seized power, brainwashing methods were repeatedly applied to many groups of people, such as intellectuals, “capitalists,” and “bourgeois elements.”
Beginning in July 1999 as part of a systematic effort ordered by then leader Jiang Zemin to eradicate Falun Gong, the regime decided to “transform” the thoughts of Falun Gong practitioners.
Also known as Falun Dafa, Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline with five meditative exercises, whose practitioners study moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. According to Chinese officials speaking in early 1999, there were at that time between 70 and 100 million practitioners in China.
Suddenly Communist Party members were forced to renounce Falun Gong and pledge allegiance to the Party.
Then Falun Gong practitioners were violently arrested and forcibly “reeducated” in prisons, labor camps, or custom-built facilities.
The science of brainwashing
Jingduan Yang is medical director of the Tao Institute of Mind & Body Medicine in Philadelphia, and he has interviewed Falun Gong practitioners who were victims of the state’s brainwashing campaign.
“There are three main components to the brainwashing process,” Dr. Yang said in an interview. “First, total control of a person’s physical, financial, and social existence. Second, repetitive exposure to information or ideas they have to accept in order to survive. Third, violence or torture in the cases of people refusing the information.”
“While experiencing physical torture and repetitive exposure to the same information, the instinct to survive often means prisoners begin accepting the ideas and information they are given,” he added. “Sometimes they even begin deeply believing in it.”
Brainwashers of Falun Gong practitioners tried to convince them that their beliefs were evil, harmful, and selfish. Friends, family, and co-workers were also threatened with financial and other consequences if the practitioner refused to give up their faith.
Falun Gong practitioners who do renounce their faith are no longer treated with violence, but they are expected to join forces with their brainwashers.
“Here, if you are willing to be transformed, they’ll further use you to transform others. They promise you a lot of benefits to be transformed, so you can have your job back, have your family visit, and even get decent food, this kind of thing,” Yang said.
“The scale of organizing this brainwashing process is huge,” he added.
Torture for those who resist
For those who don’t agree to “transformation,” the treatment is brutal. The Falun Dafa Information Center has documented more than 4,100 deaths from torture, and 87,000 documented cases of torture, although the true figures are believed to be higher. Up to one million practitioners are estimated to be held in labor camps in China right now.
Chen was subjected to sleep deprivation, usually only being allowed to sleep for 2 to 4 hours. If he started to fall asleep, guards would kick or punch him. At one point, he was kept awake for 15 days straight.
He was subjected to several sessions of being shocked by multiple high-voltage electric batons. The batons burned his skin, his entire body would convulse, and the electricity affected his nervous system. Chen described being shocked by the batons as feeling like he was burning in a fire or being bitten by poisonous snakes.
The most dangerous torture he endured is called “pressing the bedboard.”
The guards recruited 10 inmates to beat him, who did so until his face was no longer recognizable. Chen’s legs and feet were then tied tightly and his arms were tied behind his back. His neck was then tied to his legs so that he felt he was suffocating. He was then shoved under a wooden bedboard, and inmates stood on top of the bedboard.
Mr. Chen said he felt his bones were about to break. After suffering this torture, he couldn’t walk for two weeks. Around the same time, another practitioner named Lu Changjun was paralyzed from this torture.
“I will never be able to forget the agony,” Mr. Chen wrote. “I was covered with wounds, my back was injured, and I lay in a bed like a dead fish, unable to move. The only thing I heard was the agonizing screams from other Falun Gong practitioners who were being tortured. Tears streamed down my face. I thought even hell could not be worse.”
He eventually wrote a transformation statement, with the police filming it, then forcing him to read it out loud.
“To this day I still regret that I did that,” Mr. Chen said in an interview. “I just wanted to keep that little area in my heart that’s mine, that’s me: this is what I think … I wanted to keep that as a pure land in my heart, but to get their bonus they use any kind of method to take that little pure land from your heart. That is what they call reeducation, and what we call brainwashing.”