Who’s Afraid of the Falun Gong?
By Alex Colvin
|Chinese Communist Party chiefs have declared that the number one threat to Chinese security—more serious than even the Taiwan issue or Tibet—is the Falun Gong. They may be right. For almost two years now they have been waging a futile war against this organization. What exactly is Falun Gong and why are they proving to be a possible nemesis for the Communist Chinese government?
Falun Gong grew out of a larger exercise movement known as Qigong. Qigong is a popular form of exercise similar to Tai Chi that has been practiced in parks and public squares for years without causing any consternation on the part of Chinese authorities. In 1992, Li Hongzhi introduced the practice of Falun Dafa or Falun Gong. In 1993, he published his first book of teachings entitled Falun Gong. This book and Li’s later publications are available at the Falun Dafa website http:// www.falundafa. org.
Li maintains that Qigong has existed since prehistoric times. In the introduction to Falun Gong, he explains:
The Falun Gong emblem features the ancient "wan" or swastika symbol, signifying good fortune.
The "Qi" we talk about now was called "Chi" by ancient people. They are, in essence, the same…Through cultivation, the movements of the [Qi] energy substance in human body shall be activated, changing the physical state of the body, achieving the effect of healing and fitness… A person who, through practice, possesses advanced capability emits a high-energy cluster that is manifested in the form of light with fine particles and high density. This is "Gong."
"Fa" means "Law" in the sense of a primary cosmic law that pervades all things in the universe. "Dafa" is "Great Law." "Falun" means "Law Wheel." The purpose of Falun Gong is to cultivate a person’s higher energy or "Gong." This is done not only through physical exercise but more importantly through the development of a person’s mind-nature or "Xinxing." It is this emphasis on the development of one’s internal character or mind and the stress on a non-material energy that differentiates Falun Gong from other forms of Qigong.
The Chinese people have been bombarded by Marxist materialism for 50 years. The Chinese government, while accepting the impracticability of Marxist economic policies, continues to cling to materialism in its official ideology. Yet millions of Chinese are dissatisfied with a purely physical explanation of reality. They are turning to a wide range of religious teachings to satisfy their spiritual hunger. Movements that present such teachings are a direct threat to the power of the Communist Party because they strike at the very heart of the party’s justification for existence—its ideology.
The Falun Gong found fertile ground for rapid expansion among the myriad Qigong practitioners. It was only a matter of time before Li Hongzhi and his followers—with their emphasis on nonmaterial reality accompanied by teachings concerning the opening of the "third eye," dangers of "demonic influences," the promise of supernormal abilities, and the ability to heal diseases—would draw the attention and the ire of Chinese authorities. Suspicion toward Falun Gong was magnified in 1998 when Li moved from China to New York. Directing the activities of his growing movement from the United States added the fuel of "foreign influence" to an already unwelcome mix of attributes.
Until two years ago, most people had never heard of Falun Gong. Early in 1999, as part of a general crackdown on unapproved spiritual and religious groups, physicist He Zuoxiu wrote an article attacking the Falun Gong. He Zuoxiu is a science delegate to Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that advises the Chinese legislature. He is also a crusader against supernatural and "unscientific" thinking. His article caused concern among Falun Gong practitioners and helped to prompt the protest rally by 10,000 Falun Gong members in Tiananmen Square in April 1999 that caught the government totally by surprise.
The campaign against Falun Gong began in earnest in July 1999 when the government outlawed the organization and began to arrest its leadership. In October 1999, the national legislature passed a law enabling authorities to sentence members of "evil cults" to up to seven years in prison. Thus, Falun Gong leaders were tried under a law that was passed after they were arrested.
In the past two years, hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong members have been arrested and 10,000 or more have been sentenced to labor camps and reeducation centers. According to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Hong Kong, 62 Fulan Gong members had died in custody through November of last year. Three hundred or more have been sentenced to 18 or more years in prison.
Yet despite the heavy hand of repression, Falun Gong has not only survived, but has continued to carry on demonstrations against the government. On October 1, 2000, they embarrassed the government by holding a rally interrupting the 51st anniversary celebration of the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, the movement has been gaining a wide support among expatriate Chinese throughout the world.
The persecution of the Falun Gong has caught the attention of the human rights community. In January, newly appointed Secretary of State Colin Powell raised the issue of Falun Gong in his meeting with outgoing Chinese Ambassador Li Zhao Xing. In February, the Bush administration announced its decision to ask the UN Commission on Human Rights to censure China. During the same month Dutch Foreign Minister, Jozias Van Aartsen, cancelled a trip to China because the Chinese government would not allow a planned meeting with Falun Gong members to take place in Hong Kong during the minister’s visit.
The clash between Chinese authorities and Falun Gong continues to intensify. The Chinese government has sought to use the self-immolation of several apparent Falun Gong members to incite popular feeling against the group. Falun Gong leaders maintain that suicide is unacceptable and that the victims were therefore not real members. Anti-Falun Gong scientist He Zuoxiu recently accused the US Congress of funding the Falun Gong in an attempt to undermine the government of China.
Intensifying the persecution has strengthened the resolve of Li Hongzhi and his followers. Li has taught that practitioners of Falun Gong must expect tribulations as a test of one’s faith and discipline. Last November, Li released a speech in which he instructed members that they may abandon "forbearance" in their opposition to government persecution. The attitude of Falun Gong members has changed over the past two years. Originally, they wished only to be left alone to practice their chosen path. Increasingly they see the Chinese government as an enemy possessed by evil forces.
Where will these dynamics of polarization and confrontation lead? It is hard to tell. In the campaign that the Chinese government is fighting against unregulated religions, "Falun Gong" has become China’s obsession and the focal point of international attention. China’s leaders may have opened a can of worms that reveals their Achilles heel.