Ten years ago this Saturday, the Chinese Communist Party openly announced its own demise. It didn't realize it was doing this, so don't go looking for Kevorkian references or anything, but the suicide was publicly proclaimed all the same; for it was on July 25, 1999 that the CCP officially began the conflict that will eventually lead to its downfall: the Falun Gong War.
With just about every tyranny that has darkened the world with its shadow, there is an event, a moment, where an observer can pinpoint things beginning to go "off the rails." At that moment, the regime loses its rationality and its perspective - an inevitable consequence of its loss of humanity. Difficult to see when they happen, these inflection points stand out in bas relief when the regime's history is reviewed.
On occasion, this is a foreign policy blunder (the Nazis' invasion of the Soviet Union), but usually it occurs when the regime decided to turn a non-political issue into a political one - best shown by European Communism's visceral reaction to Solidarity in Poland. The world's peoples understand when a tyrants go after their political enemies - they don't approve, mind you, but they understand the reasons for it. As such, the tyrants' victims use this understanding to help survive the dictatorship - stay clear of political no-go areas, chant the regime's slogans at the right place and the right time, etc., and no one will come for you in the middle of the night. It is when the regime decides to attack something widely perceived as apoliticial that the persecuted people(s) realize they have no choice but to rise up against the regime. The regime need not fall immediately (it took eleven years for European Communism to finally and completely collapse), but it will, inevitably, fall. For the CCP, that moment was July 25, 1999.
To understand why, we need to remember what Falun Gong was before it became an enemy of the state. In the 1990s, Falun Gong was one of many qigong movements spreading among the Chinese people. Unlike most of the others, it quickly found favor with the regime for its refusal to engage in politics. Moreover, Falun Gong was inherently Chinese in its aspirations, its methods, and even its flaws (note: I am not a practitioner). If there was any spiritual movement that the CCP could co-opt, it was Falun Gong.
However, as the decade came to a close, the regime suddenly discovered that Falun Gong had more adherents than the Chinese Communist Party. This, in the minds of the paranoid post-Tiananmen leadership of the CCP, made it dangerous, and worthy of a crackdown. Outside the CCP, however, the crackdown made no sense whatsoever. Why would the regime care about something so firmly non-political as Falun Gong? What else would the regime suddenly decide was "political" and worthy of a prison term or a spell in a labor camp? Practitioners themselves were so surprised that they demanded the regime stop: 10,000 of them in one April day. Ironically, that demonstration (which was largely a show of fealty to the CCP) was twisted by the regime into an act of dissent it never was.
The rest is tragic history - although there have been some darkly comical moments. As always, they center around the regime's charges of foreign influence - an utterly hilarious notion given that it comes from a regime inspired by German philosopher and aided in its quest for power by two Russian tyrants. Looking from 2009, it appears the regime succeeded. However, it looked just as dark in Poland in 1987, or even the Soviet Union itself in early 1991. We now know better.
The regime does, too. They're not foolish enough to think they've won the Falun Gong War (although they are intelligent enough to claim they have). Perhaps they are even aware of the massive unforced error they committed in turning Falun Gong into a dissident faith. In any event, the regime will - and in fact, must - continue its path of repression until the Chinese people rise up and take their country back.
When that happens, history and historians may very well look back to July 25, 1999 as the tipping point.