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Sunday, January 14, 2007

New Book: China's Psychiatric Inquisition: Dissent, Psychiatry and the Law

WSJ Jasper Becker gives an explosive account of Robin Munro’s new book “China's Psychiatric Inquisition: Dissent, Psychiatry and the Law in Post-1949 China. The Chinese Law Prof blog 's review is equally good. I’ve read Munro’s excellent response to critics regarding his past articles pertaining to Falun Gong’s abusive psychiatric treatment. The simple fact that the Communist regime coined the term “evil-cult-induced-mental-disorder” especially to send Falun Gong in mental assylums proves again their ability to manipulate the medical profession in executing their dirty work. Remember organ harvesting and this statement from the WPA?

WSJ: Scarring China's Psyche - Just when you thought China's cabinet of horrors has finally been emptied, along comes fresh research that plumbs even deeper into Mao's inequities and the legacy he left behind.

In "China's Psychiatric Inquisition," Robin Munro shows how China emulated the Soviet Union's methods of destroying political dissidents -- and then surpassed it, thanks to the authorities' obsession with enforcing "thought control" over its citizens. Mr. Munro's book chronicles this gruesome tale of violence, which became acceptable within society. He observes, "As the Cultural Revolution unfolded. . .the distinction between political crime and mental illness -- one that had apparently been tenuous even at the best of times--was effectively abandoned in Chinese public life."

Consider the figures. While in the Soviet Union, political dissidents never constituted more than 1% of mental asylum inmates, more than half of those incarcerated in China were political prisoners. At one Shanghai mental hospital run by the local police, 73% of patients were political prisoners; a common occurrence. Conditions were horrible. One cadre detained for 16 years in a police-run asylum close to Shanghai's Fudan University gave this description after his 1979 release: "The whole 'institute' was a large cage from within which one could not see the skies. Inside this large cage there were many small chicken cages, which were only half as high as an average person. One could only squat or lie in them, and I had to crawl in or out of mine."

He was lucky. Some patients were dragged out of the asylums and brutally coerced into "confessing" their sanity. After reclassification as counterrevolutionaries, they were jailed or summarily shot. Genuine political prisoners were sent to top secret prisons such as Qincheng and deliberately force-fed hallucinatory drugs. Many ended up insane. Their ravings were recorded and later used against them.

Even after the end of the Cultural Revolution and Mao's death in 1976, a substantial proportion who openly contradicted the new Party line risked being labeled as criminally insane. In the 1980s, the number of dissidents in police-run asylums ranged between 7% and 15% of all inmates, as the authorities still found it a convenient method of extralegal and arbitrary detention. Since Deng Xiaoping's relatively more moderate regime was no longer eager to execute its opponents, it needed a "more elaborate mechanism for inducing long term fear," writes Mr. Munro.

After 1987 the Ministry of Public Security established a network of around 25 so-called ankang, or "peace and health" hospitals -- highly secretive institutions that ran themselves without need of outside supervision. The police used the ankang system to diagnose cases of "paranoid psychotics" or "political paranoia" or "litigation mania." One of these cases was Wang Wanxing, held for 13 years after he unfurled a banner in Tiananmen Square in 1992 protesting the June 4th massacre three years earlier. After his release, he described fellow patients dying as they were tied to their beds and punished by nurses using electric acupuncture at excessive currents or by being force-fed during hunger strikes, among other horrors.

Following the failure of the 1989 democracy movement, the number of political cases started to decline. It wasn't until the Falun Gong demonstration outside Zhongnanhai 10 years later that authorities resorted once again to the old Maoist methods of thought correction. Thousands of Falun Gong members have since been persecuted and tortured in a systemized way, justified by Chinese psychiatrists inventing maladies like "dysphrenia" or sometimes "evil-cult induced mental disorder."

No Chinese psychiatrist seems troubled by such abuse of professional ethics. It took Mr. Munro years of meticulous research, combing medical and legal publications in China such as the Chinese Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, to piece together the documentary evidence. Such tactics are now increasingly being used by the police to destroy citizens who are fighting injustice or corruption. Once the victim is labeled as mad, he has no civil rights, no recourse to any lawyers and cannot appeal against the police psychiatrist's diagnosis. The "troublemaker" is thus comprehensively silenced.

The one bright spot Mr. Munro identifies is that political victims of the ankang system have sued the police for wrongful arrest after their release. Some cases have been heard in the courts. None have succeeded, but some cases have been highlighted by the media since 2004, sparking a debate about the need for systematic safeguards, a code of ethics and outside supervision. This is partly in response to Mr. Munro's efforts to illuminate the abuses.

The response by the World Psychiatric Association, however, has been lamentable. The group's general assembly voted unanimously to investigate the allegations in 2002, after Mr. Munro's original report appeared, but after two years gave up trying to negotiate the terms of an on-site visit. The Chinese side refused to grant access to detainees or police-run asylums. Instead, the matter was dropped after China conceded "some misdiagnosis [had] occurred" -- but only with respect to Falun Gong cases.

Long after his death, Mao's evil has been institutionalized. The abuse of psychiatry by the state is responsible for destroying countless lives in China. Despite the widespread belief that China's human rights record has greatly improved, the sad fact is, as Mr. Munro's research proves, much is still hidden from sight and urgently in need of change.

Mr. Becker is the author of "Dragon Rising," (National Geographic, 2006).


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