Why Did Liberal Elites Ignore a 21st-Century Genocide?

For many elite institutions, victims only matter when they’re useful

Caylan Ford
Arc Digital
Published in
19 min readFeb 4, 2021


Demonstrators raise banners in Tiananmen Square with the words “Truth, Compassion, Tolerance.” Over 30,000 Falun Gong adherents were arrested on the square from 1999–2000, many of whom were then sent to reeducation camps. (Photo used with permission from faluninfo.net)

In the world’s most populous country, over a million members of a religious minority have been detained without trial in reeducation camps. When they’re not performing forced labor and making goods for export, they are tortured, beaten, shocked with electric batons, and put through coercive ideological “transformation.” Authorities have been told to use any means necessary to make their victims recant their faith in a world-transcendent order, and swear fealty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Both inside and outside detention camps, their biometric data is catalogued and their movements tracked. In the state-run press they have been described as vermin, a “poisonous tumor,” and as an existential threat that must be “completely eradicated” if China is to prosper. Although information about the group’s plight is hermetically censored, there is evidence of widespread killings in custody. Prominent international jurists say that crimes against humanity have occurred.

If you guessed that this was a description of the Uyghurs, you could hardly be blamed. The predominantly Muslim minority in China’s northwest Xinjiang province is the target of an expansive campaign meant to purge their language, religion, and ethnic identity. The widespread practice of forced sterilizations, in particular, recently led the U.S. government to declare the persecution of Uyghurs a genocide. But the above description applies more accurately to another group: Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa.

An esoteric Buddhist discipline, Falun Gong enjoyed a meteoric rise to popularity in the 1990s in China. By 1998, government estimates put the number of adherents in the range of 40–70 million people, rivaling membership in the Communist Party itself. In a country that does not tolerate large, independent civil society groups, this fact alone might have been sufficient grounds for suppression. But the threat posed by Falun Gong went deeper: it represented a comprehensive moral challenge to the entire secular-scientistic worldview from which China’s rulers derive their legitimacy.