With the gruesome images of five Chinese Falun Gong practitioners on fire in Tian'anmen Square still fresh in mind, foreigners in China are speaking out on the horrific suicide attempts.
Norio Hata, a Japanese manager in China, said he couldn't understand how the mothers of the 12-year-old and 19-year-old girls who set themselves ablaze could have instructed their daughters to do so.
"Eighty percent of the staff at our company are women, and I have a daughter myself. Li Hongzhi (ringleader of the Falun Gong cult) should be arrested and sent back to China from the United States to go on trial," Hata said.
On January 23, the eve of the Chinese lunar new year, five Falun Gong practitioners gathered in Tian'anmen Square, poured gasoline over themselves and then ignited the fuel. One woman died, and the other four remain in Beijing hospitals with third-degree burns.
At the orders of her Falun Gong-obsessed mother, 12-year-old Liu Siying set herself on fire. Witnesses reported she cried out, "Mother..." and "Uncle, help me!" before the flames could be extinguished by police standing nearby. Liu's mother participated in the self-immolation and later died from her burns.
Chen Guo, a 19-year-old college student, also burned herself as her mother told her to. Chen's face was burned nearly beyond recognition.
The news of the suicide attempt by the Falun Gong followers shocked the world and has roused the indignation of foreigners living and working in China.
They compared the Falun Gong cult to the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth cult in Japan and the Branch Davidian cult in the United States.
They pointed out that if the harsh crackdown on the cult had not been carried out, the whole society would have been in great danger.
Hata has worked at the Sino-Japanese joint venture Shanghai ShinMei Electric Co. for 13 years. When he first heard of Falun Gong, he thought it was a derivative of Chinese Qigong, an ancient form of meditation and exercise. He later learned that the Falun Gong followers are taught to believe that nirvana is an achievable state of mind and that serious illnesses can be cured without treatment of modern medicine. These ideas are not the same in essence as the sort of spirituality and abstinence that Chinese Qigong followers practice.
Hata has studied Taijiquan, a Chinese form of slow-motion Qigong, for over three years.
Two years ago, he received a fax from a Falun Gong branch that extolled the powers of the group and urged him to join as soon as possible so as to stay on the true path to fulfillment.
Hata threw the fax away, saying it showed him the true nature of Falun Gong. "If things were really as they boasted, our company could still achieve everything without the hard work of its 3000 staff every day," Hata said.
"Life needs goals, but if those goals go beyond reality and common sense, they are simply absurd," Hata said.
He shook his head and sighed when talking about the suicide attempt on Tian'anmen Square.
The suicides reminded Hata of the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in March of 1995, masterminded by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which left 12 dead and 5,500 injured.
"The Falun Gong is just the same as the Aum Shinri Kyo cult. If Japanese authorities had not clamped down on it, it would have done tremendous harm to society," he said.
Tomoko Matsuura, a 39-year-old Japanese woman who writes children's books, is clever at relating and analyzing social problems for children in her writings. She said that she and her family, including her 18-month-old daughter, had planned to spend a happy lunar new year together at their home in Zhejiang Province.
However, since the Tian'anmen suicide attempt was broadcast on Chinese television, she hasn't been able to get the 12-year-old girl's burned face out of her mind. "Children are just like a blank sheet of paper. For them, the Falun Gong's evil force is really terrible," said Matsuura. She is currently teaching Japanese at Zhejiang Cherry Blossom Foreign Languages School.
She hoped that people will maintain healthy lifestyles and spiritual states, that will "leave no room for evil cults and so they can live a happy life governed by science and peace."
David Goldblatt, an American who is a visiting scholar at Zhejiang University of Technology in Zhejiang Province, said he understands and supports the Chinese government's ban on Falun Gong.
He said that the Falun Gong cults have emerged in the United States, like the Branch Davidians. These evil cults not only instructed their followers to commit suicide or self-immolation, but also led relatives and friends of the followers to participate in tragic acts.
The U.S. government also took an iron-fisted approach toward the Branch Davidians, and "their doings violated the law," Goldblatt commented.
In February 1993, members of the Branch Davidian cult barricaded themselves in their rural ranch compound in Waco, Texas, in a 51-day standoff against police. At the order of the U.S. Attorney General, a government tank rammed the cult's wooden fortress, and the standoff ended in a fiery blaze, killing cult leader David Koresh, who claimed to be the Messiah, and 80 of his followers, including 17 children.
Joan Lynn Gellatly, an American professor who is Goldblatt's colleague at Zhejiang University of Technology, has studied Asia for 30 years and has closely watched the activities of the Falun Gong in recent years.
She said the Falun Gong is absolutely not a religious sect, but rather an evil cult led by Li Hongzhi who scrapped together his so- called teachings by stealing ideas from Buddhism, Taoism and other religions. "The Falun Gong is merely a money-making tool for Li Hongzhi," Gellatly said.
Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk, now lives in the United States.
Gellatly pointed out that the Falun Gong has political motives, a fact made clear by the 1999 siege of Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Chinese Central Government, by more than 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners.