China's Political Bedlam

The last time China’s President Jiang Zemin attended the Fortune Global Forum in Hong Kong, Time-Warner CEO Gerald Levin gave him an award named after Abraham Lincoln. President Jiang returned recently to that global gathering of business leaders but, thankfully, a repeat of that appeasement did not occur. Even Western bosses keen on China, it appears, are finding it hard nowadays to praise Jiang, as he crushes the Falun Gong spiritual movement by imprisoning or confining its members to psychiatric hospitals.

Forced removal into mental hospitals of many Falun Gong members is central to this campaign. Overseas Falun Gong support groups have documented well over a hundred such cases. Estimates of the number being “treated” in this way run to 600. Three of those sent to mental asylums are reported to have died as a result of their ill treatment.

Little known to the outside world is China’s gulag archipelago of Ankang (“Peace and Health”) institutions. The twenty-or-more institutions of this type are run by the Ministry of Public Security and are subordinate provincial departments. Political dissidents and others in similar categories brought before State forensic psychiatrists are often treated as the most “serious and dangerous” of all supposed mentally ill offenders, and face compulsory committal in these secretive institutions.

Chinese forensic psychiatry has gone through several phases. In the 1950s, Soviet influences (characterized by heretical clinical theories whereby particular forms of political and religious dissent were attributed to specific varieties of “dangerous” mental illness) dominated. During the Cultural Revolution (1966�76), when human psychology was officially repudiated and “correct” political ideology was equated with mental health, some 50% to 70% of psychiatric appraisals of criminal detainees in areas including Shanghai were categorized as “political in nature.”