“How many harvested?” revisited
Back in 2009, I gave a talk at the Foreign Press Association in London. I’ve lost 35 pounds since then (made you look!) and I have also revised the numbers slightly based on new information (and some mulling as well). That’s what this post is about. Since 2009, I have been quoted in several places, most recently here) on my estimates of how many Falun Gong were harvested during the last decade or so.
[UPDATE: I was also quoted recently (and fairly extensively) in CQ Global Researcher v.5-14 on the subject of Falun Gong organ harvesting and trafficking. Here's a teaser: "At least 62,000 were victims of organ harvesting operations from 2000-2008, according to Matas and Kilgour and Ethan Gutmann, an investigative journalist." Anyway, you can buy the entire report here]
The truth is that outside of a few, select individuals in the Chinese military hospitals and the 6-10 office, we don’t know the answer to that question. But I believe estimates are possible, and even useful, as long as we do not engage in false precision and stay reasonably conservative. My estimates are based on a sample of approximately 50 Falun Gong refugees from the Laogai system. Not what I would like, but good enough for a wartime sample. Yet I also flag that inherent imprecision by coming up with a low estimate and a high estimate. I don’t truly believe in either extreme. The truth is probably found somewhere in the middle and that’s why I provide a best estimate, or a median.
Shrewd observers will note that I originally gave a best estimate of approximately 85,000, and now I’m saying about 65,000. I’ll give you the rationale for those new numbers in a minute, but here’s the main reason they changed: I sat down with the Laogai Foundation researchers in DC and they informed me that they had revised their total estimate of the Laogai System (defined as labor camps, prisons, black jails, psychiatric hospitals, long-term detention centers, the lot) down from 4-6 million to 3-5 million. I have reasonable confidence in their logic surrounding this point, so I have revised my estimates accordingly.
Second (and with much smaller effect on the results): Because of the uncertainty surrounding whether harvesting of prisoners of conscience was ongoing all the way into the Beijing Olympics, and to err on the conservative side, I have lopped a year off my estimates (in other words, the Falun Gong incarceration estimates are from 2000-2009, while the harvesting ends in 2008). I frankly don’t know if harvesting of Falun Gong stopped, stopped and then started again, or never stopped at all. The interviews I have done with refugees covering the more recent period yield only fragmented clues, and the Chinese health authorities are certainly acting as if they want to put the issue to bed once and for all. I have heard David Matas assert that it is ongoing, and that’s certainly worth paying attention to. Yet it is also true that he is basing his argument on discrepancies in the Chinese government figures. That’s fine, but we come at this problem using different methods, and as I’ve explained before, I don’t use Chinese government figures.
At any rate, here are my revised figures in a simplified form. For example, I’ve eliminated the cost figures because they haven’t changed. Look for a comprehensive analysis in my book (or a nice, long, journal article at a reasonable word-rate, whichever comes first). And please feel free to contact me if you have serious, non-trivial queries on any of this.
- Total prisoners in Laogai System at any given time
- Low estimate: 3,000,000
- High estimate: 5,000,000
- Falun Gong base population in 1999
- Low and high estimate: 70,000,000
Average Falun Gong in Laogai System
- % Falun Gong in Laogai System at any given time (compared with other prisoners)
- Low estimate: 15%
- High estimate: 20%
- % Falun Gong base population in Laogai System at any given time
- Low estimate: 0.64%
- High estimate: 1.43%
- Falun Gong in Laogai System at any given time (on average)
- Low estimate: 450,000
- High estimate: 1,000,000
- Replacement rate of Falun Gong in Laogai System (average stay)
- Low and high estimate: 3 years
- Total Falun Gong in Laogai System at some point between 2000-2009
- Low estimate: 1,350,000
- High estimate: 3,000,000
- % Falun Gong base in Laogai System at some point between 2000-2009
- Low estimate: 1.93%
- High estimate: 4.29%
- Percentage of Falun Gong examined in custody
- Low and high estimate: 30%
- Falun Gong examined in custody
- Low estimate: 405,000
- High estimate: 900,000
- Percentage of Falun Gong examined “for show”
- Low and high estimate: 50%
- Falun Gong examined as serious candidates for harvesting
- Low estimate: 202,500
- High estimate: 450,000
- % Falun Gong examined in custody selected for harvesting
- Low estimate: 2.50%
- High estimate: 15.00%
- Total Falun Gong harvested from 2000-2008
- Low estimate: 9,011
- High estimate: 120,150
- Gutmann estimate: median Falun Gong harvested 2000-2008
- Kilgour/Matas estimate of Falun Gong harvest 2000-2005:
- Kilgour/Matas: Falun Gong harvest per year:
- Kilgour/Matas estimate with three additional years (2000-2008)
- Discrepancy between Gutmann and Kilgour/Matas estimate:
UPDATE: I’ll be publishing this as a chapter in a forthcoming book about Chinese organ harvesting with some of the great experts in the field, so I’ve messed around with the numbers again slightly, mainly to make the calculation a little clearer to the casual reader. The changes are minor, less than 1%, but I’ll make sure to archive these numbers for comparison when I replace them. If you need to see the new numbers in the meantime, let me know and I’ll provide.
FINAL UPDATE: I want to revise one point–specifically the correlation between my numbers and the Kilgour and Matas numbers. First of all, it’s too much of an apples and oranges comparison to be truly useful–I’m talking about practitioner deaths while they are counting organs. Second, David Matas has published new findings, more of an apples to apples comparison actually, on the numbers. As have I. And yes, in that transformation from the ever-fluid Internet to publishing stone, a few of my numbers changed on the margins as well (don’t get excited; the changes are truly minor, my conclusion of 65,000 deaths is the same and Matas’ numbers end up pretty close to mine). Anyway, both of our chapters can be found in the newly published book State Organs.
I’m going to make the radical suggestion that you actually buy the book. Not that I make any royalties. All of the twelve authors–doctors in the majority–agreed to contribute on a pro bono basis. But the book accurately represents the state of our collective knowledge–in 2012 anyway–on Chinese organ harvesting. And it happens that there’s some pretty good chapters–I’ve actually read the book three times, cover-to-cover.
So if you want to muck around in this subject, if you want to be a Wikipedia expert and engage in those rancorous, circuitous debates, well go to it. You have the power, not me. But you must read “The Xinjiang Procedure,” “China’s Gruesome Organ Harvest,” and “Bitter Harvest.” And then–no way around it–you will need to buy Bloody Harvest and State Organs. That is the minimum price of admission for a basic level of expertise–at least in January 2013 anyway. And, given the trajectory of this investigation, the reading list is only going to grow.
If you are a reporter writing for publication or a government investigator with a genuinely tight deadline contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org–be sure to provide a phone number, preferably a land-line–and I’ll strongly consider providing you with the proofs of my chapter (and a Powerpoint that I delivered in at the 2012 transplant conference in Berlin).