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Four stages of Falun Gong
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​​Editor's Note: Duan Qiming, who has long served at State Administration for Religious Affairs of P.R.C, has engaged in research on religious issues and administration of social public affairs related to religion. After retiring in 1998, he still keeps an eye on Falun Gong out of social responsibility. This article is an excerpt of his speech delivered at a symposium of China Cult Studies Association and Ukrainian Superstition and Society Organization on September 16th, 2011.

In western countries, religion is divided into church, religious order, religious sect and “new religions”. Some “new religions” have developed into evil and destructive extreme religious sects, they believe in religious doctrines diverging from current society, advanced civilization and government policies. Under the guidance of an authoritarian, an extreme religious sect will brainwash followers to control their minds, trample human rights and spoil life so as to endanger the society. Although extreme religious sects are common issues in the West, only a few countries, including Belgium and France, have classified them according to laws. In 1998, Belgian government issued a legal definition: “Malicious cults refer to actual and so-called philosophical or religious groups that conduct illegal and harmful activities to endanger individuals, society and human dignity. In February 1983, Alain Vivien, a French congressman, investigated nationwide cult according to government decrees and put forward countermeasures. A report done by French Inter-ministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combating Cultic Deviance (MIVILUDES) defines cult as totalitarian groups, which claim to have or not have religious purposes as well as pose threat to human dignity and social harmony in February, 2000.

Xiejiao(cult) is originally a unique term in Chinese language. Cults share similar essential characteristics with extreme religious sects in the West. “Xie” refers to preachers of absurd sorcery and fallacies. They mystify the so-called “manifestation of God's will” and instigate followers to break social order. An old saying defines cult in the same way. In history, rulers in Yuan Dynasty punished cults severely. Since the late Qing Dynasty, folk cults were always named “Hui”, “Dao” or “Men”, which all mean group or organization. These names remained until the early period of People’s Republic of China. Chinese government decided to firmly deal with “Hui”, “Dao” and “Men” in light of their threat to the public, the society and government.

In 1980s, China entered a transformation period, which witnessed great changes such as politics, economy and culture. Multiple ideologies and superstitions spread unchecked. At the same time, the formerly banned “Hui”, “Dao” and “Men” bounced back as new cults appeared and prevailed, including the Shouters sect, All Ranges Church, The Family International (TFI) or The Children of God (COG), Mentuhui, Beili Wang or The Anointed King and Zhushenjiao. These cults share common characteristics: a few lawbreakers quoted religious classics together with superstition and fallacies to delude people and commit crimes through establishing illegal organizations secretly. These cults are precisely the same as “Xiejiao” or “Hui”, “Dao” and “Men” in Chinese. In accordance with the Constitution and laws, relevant departments have banned these illegal organizations, punish group leaders and educate general followers.

In March 1997, considering the spreading of cults and the threat they pose to the public and the society, punishing the cult crimes has been officially written into revised Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China during the five session of the eighth National People’s Congress. Article 300 of Criminal Law stipulates that “whoever forms or uses superstitious sects or secret societies or weird religious organizations or uses superstition to undermine the implementation of the laws and administrative rules and regulations of the State shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years; if the circumstances are especially serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than seven years. Whoever forms or uses superstitious sects or secret societies or weird religious organizations or uses superstition to cheat another person, and causes death to the person shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the preceding paragraph. Whoever forms or uses superstitious sects or secret societies or weird religious organizations or uses superstition to rape a woman or swindle money or property shall be convicted and punished in accordance with the provisions of Articles 236 and Article 266 of this Law respectively.”

Falun Gong is a kind of cult with rampant superstition as well as qigong boom and craze for extraordinary powers. Personally, I think Falun Gong has roughly gone through four stages.

Stage Ⅰ: initial stage 

Li Hongzhi(“Master Li”) introduced Falun Gong, namely the Great Law of the Wheel of Dharma, on 13 May 1992 (the date he took a leading position as claimed) at the fifth Middle School in Changchun, Northeast China’s Jilin province. After that, he set up Falun Gong Research Association in Beijing in August 1993. During this period, Master Li first created five sets of qigong with the help of others and misappropriated the concept “dharmachakra”, which originates from the an all-conquering weapon used by Chakravarti. Buddhism uses “dharmachakra” to represent the power of Buddha. Master Li practiced Falun Gong at Shengli Garden in Changchun, Northeast China’s Changchun province, but with little followers. So that he set up a training class to promote Falun Gong. In April 1993, a book entitled Falun Gong came out in China. And in December of the same year, Falun Gong(Revision) was published. At that time, Falun Gong was at most a fake qigong advocated by Master Li with the help of several qigong enthusiasts. The real intention of Master Li was to accumulate wealth by unfair means.

Stage Ⅱ: development stage 

Some important facts and characteristics of Falun Gong from August 1993 to July 1996 (the General Administration of Press and Publication banned five books written by Li Hongzhi) are listed as follows:

(1) In August 1993, Li Hongzhi, together with Li Chang and other partners, established Falun Gong Research Association in Beijing. Later, China Qigong Science Research Association (CQRS) recognized the association as a research group. But Li Hongzhi acted according to his own will regardless of CQRS regulations. What’s worse, he developed nationwide Falun Gong organizations under the title of a qigong branch directly subordinate to CQRS. According to data published by government in July 1999, apart from headquarters of Falun Gong Research Association, 39 central tutoring stations, 1,900 tutoring stations and 28,000 exercise places were established, which deceived a total of 2 million people. Falun Gong organizations all should obey Master Li.

(2) In order to deify himself and fallacies, Li Hongzhi published so-called classic Zhuan Falun by a national press through illegal means. At that time, Falun Gong had developed a complete set of heretical doctrine. Mater Li began to stress “dharma”, a Buddhist term which refers to Buddhist doctrines, or Falu Dafa. He boasted that Falu Dafa was the most mysterious and supernatural doctrine of all science while Zhuan Falun offered a path for people to heaven. What’s more, Falu Dafa was the only method to save people’s soul. He also claimed himself to be the only successor of Falu Dafa and a new savior who could recreate the world. Lies made by Master Li had been agitated to be scriptures. Anyone who considered Falun Gong as a vulgar qigong branch was regarded as a heretic to preach fallacies. Falun Gong had changed into a synonym of cult and developed rapidly.

(3) Li Hongzhi’s fallacies has posed greater threat to followers, their families and the whole society. Master Li asked his followers to abandon all the sentiments to study Falun Dafa and only in this way could they reach a higher level to be deities. Many followers were at Master Li’s beck and call and firmly believed him. However, frequent cases of serious incidents occurred as followers obsessed by Falun Dafa would refuse medical treatment, have mental disorder, commit suicide or kill others. According to government data, by the end of April 2000, 1559 Falun Dafa followers died from suicide and refused medical treatment, 651 followers had mental disorder, 144 followers became physically disabled. In addition, 21 murder cases conducted by Falun Gong followers had resulted in 11 deaths.

(4) The masses from all walks of life have reflected the danger of Falun Gong to government and news media. Relevant party and government departments have received countless letters from the public. For example, relatives of victims including Zou Qi and Lu Xingchong wrote a letter to describe how Falun Gong ruined their families. From April to November in 1994, Changchun citizens and hundreds of qigong enthusiasts lead by Zhao Jiemin, Song Bingchen and Liu Fengcai wrote letters for several times to expose Li Hongzhi’s fallacies. Many people from the Buddhist circles also revealed Falun Gong’s cult nature and its potential danger to the society. Upasaka Chen Xingqiao was one of them. He wrote many articles to criticize Falun Gong, which were highly appreciated by Zhao Puchu, president of Buddhist Association of China and vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference(CPPCC). Zhao Puchu was over 90 years old at that time, but he commented for six times within a month from the end of October 1996 that eliminating rather than banning Falun Gong should be the best choice. He also led the Buddhist circles to repudiate Falun Gong. Sun Xiujuan, a member of Changchun municipal CPPCC as well as head of united front department in FAW Group Corporation, had kept on eye on Falu Gong. In January 1997, she and six other members of municipal CPPCC jointly submitted a proposal on dealing with Falun Gong.

Stage Ⅲ: anti-government stage 

Some important facts and characteristics of Falun Gong from June 1996 to July 1999 (Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a notice to ban illegal organizations of Falun Gong) are listed as follows:

(1) Government departments investigated and dealt with Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong organizations in response to public opinion and facts. On June 17th, 1996, Guangming Daily published Always be alert to pseudo science- discussions raised by book Zhuan Falun written by “Xin Ping”(which refers to a commentator of General Administration of Press and Publication). The article specified the attitude of General Administration of Press and Publication towards Zhuan Falun that deified Li Hongzhi and spread superstition and fallacies. Falun Gong organizations instigated nearly 1,000 followers to ask Guangming Daily to apologize for comments on Falun Gong and Master Li or gather at the gate of newspaper office to heckle newspaper leaders. In July 24, 1996, the General Administration of Press and Publication issued Notice on immediate collection and sealing of five books including Falun Gong in China([96] Notice 28). Five books refer to Zhongguo Falun Gong(published by Yi Wen Publishing Military), Zhuan Falun(published by China Radio, Film and TV Press), Zhuan Falun(Volumn Ⅱ)(published by CHINA ESPERANTO-ELDONEJO), Explanation of Falun Dafa(published by Changchun Press) and Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong in China(published by Shenyang Press). Falun Gong organizations even instigated followers to appeal to the General Administration of Press and Publication for justice.

(2) In November 1996, Falun Gong Research Association withdrew from CQRS as the qigong association didn’t admit Falun Gong as a branch of qigong. "Falungong" organization was not a Qigong group. On January 18th, 1997, CQRS branches in Jilin and Changchun province jointly held a meeting to announce the “three bans” towards Falun Gong organizations. Relevant materials said that, according to the report Reflections on Falun Gong issues and the decision to dismiss Falun Gong’s membership proposed to Ministry of Civil Affairs, China Association for Science and Technology and State Commission of Science and Technology for National Defense Industry, together with Notice on immediate collection and sealing of five books including Falun Gong in China issued by General Administration of Press and Publication and issues related to Falun Gong in the two cities, the meeting would ban all the sales of publicity material of Falun Gong as well as organization of Falun Gong activities and activities conducted by Committee of Falun Gong. In January 27, 1997, leaders of provincial and municipal CQRS discussed problems and conveyed decisions to Committee of Falun Gong. The committee accepted decisions and claimed to not organize such activities.

(3) Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong organizations incited followers and organize routs to mob media offices and government departments. Since 1996, news media published reports and articles to criticize Falun Gong. Li Hongzhi agitated followers to fight against media and administration in order to maintain his authority. Such cases had totaled more than 300, and among them, 78 cases had gathered over 300 people. For example, Qilu Evening News published To firmly advocate real science and Master of Falun Gong accumulate his wealth by illegal means on April 7th and April 8th in 1998. Incited by Master Li, his followers wrote letters to harass newspaper editors, pester with unreasonable demands and claim to gather to demonstrate, so as to appeal for apology to Master Li and Falun Gong organizations. The newspaper office was forced to issue a notice. However, Falun Gong organizations were not satisfied with the results and organized more than 2,000 followers to conduct a sit-in demonstration on June 3rd. Health Digest published Fight against illegal Falun Gong on May 4th, 1998. Since June 1st, Falun Gong organizations instigated more than 400 followers to make trouble in front of newspaper office for 3 days. In May 25th, 1998, “Beijing express” program of Beijing TV station broadcast Whether the certificate can sweep the false qigong. In accordance with Li Hongzhi’s instructions, Li Chang, Ji Qiang and other followers held a meeting and decided to “reason” with Beijing TV station on May 27th. However, they agitated more than 400 followers to conduct another sit-in protest in front of Beijing TV station at 8 a.m. on May 28th. As Li Hongzhi called Li Chang from America to hint that a small number of people gathered there would have little influence, Falun Gong Research Association and central tutoring station in Beijing organized hundreds of followers to mob and “negotiate” with Beijing TV station from May 30th to June 4th. On July 1, 1998, Li Hongzhi abused scholars, scientists together with media practitioners who attacked him as well as Falun Gong, and instigated followers again to appeal for justice to media. In April 1999, the Youth Science and Technology Exposition sponsored by Tianjin Education Institute published He Zuoxiu’s article I don't support teenagers to practice qigong. In response to the article, central tutoring station in Tianjin decided to negotiate with the school authorities on April 15th, asking for apologies to Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong from April 19th to 23rd, with maximum of 6,300 people. On May 23rd, most people left after meditation, but still 2,000 to 3,00 people mobbed the Tianjin municipal government.

(4) Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong plotted and organized the “4.25 Incident”. Li Hongzhi who pays close attention to Tianjin flew back to Beijing to assume personal command on April 22nd. On the morning of April 23rd, Master Li summoned mainstay members including Li Chang and Ji Wulie to plot to cause small troubles to become serious. He claimed to incite more followers to Beijing or even to State Council. “Protecting the Falun Gong doctrines instead of solving problems in Tianjin is more important. ” He added. They also spread rumors that Tianjin police caught people and killed people with some missing. What’s more, they proposed three requirements to pressure the government: firstly, public security organ must release all the people who were caught; secondly, Falun Gong should be offered with favorable environment; thirdly, Falun Gong books and books written by Li Hongzhi should be allowed to publish. After elaborate planning, Li Hongzhi took the flight to Hong Kong on April 24th. However, “4.25 Incident” occurred and gathered around Zhongnanhai.

(5) The illegal activities organized by Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong organizations exposed the nature to the public step by step. On October 28, 1999, special commentator of People’s Daily wrote an article called Falun Gong is indeed a cult to summarize six characteristics of Falun Gong: founder worship, mind control, fabricated fallacies, accumulating wealth through illegal means, establishing in a secret way and posing threat to the society. These six characteristics also provide facts to identify Falun Gong as a cult. Such judgements were based not only on founder worship or mind control, namely centralization conducted by the founder to control followers mind by brainwash them with Falun Gong doctrines, but also criminal facts that the cult would trample human rights, spoil life so as to endanger the society. According to the researches done by legal experts, Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong have seriously violated laws and committed more than 20 kinds of crimes.

(6) The “4. 25 incident” shocked the whole society and attracted great attention of Chinese government. After that incident, all nationwide departments acted immediately to conduct thorough investigations on Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong to find the root causes. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China issued Notice that communist party members should not practice Falun Dafa on July 19th, 1999 and publicly reported to domestic and foreign news media on July 22nd. The notice pointed out the nature of Falun Gong and its danger, proposed to conduct education activities with the Party and clarified relevant policies. On the same day, the head of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee also delivered a speech to reporters of People’s Daily concerning the notice. After the notice was issued, all of the party members and civil servants in the country carried out learning activities, which improved the understanding of “Falun Gong”.

(7) The government banned illegal Falun Gong organizations according to law, investigate its crimes and criticize Li Hongzhi’s fallacies. On July 22nd, the Ministry of Civil Affairs issued Decisions on the banning of Falun Dafa Research Association which pointed out that after the investigation, Falun Dafa Research Association didn’t register according to law and the organization had carried out illegal activities. Accordingly, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Regulations on the registration and administration of social organizations, the association and Falun Gong organizations under its control were identified as illegal organizations, which should be banned. On the same day, the Ministry of Public Security issued six notices on prohibiting Falun Gong from engaging in illegal activities. In addition, General Administration of Press and Publication issued Notice to reaffirm decisions of banning of Falun Gong publications. Other departments also issued relevant notices. On July 29th, the Ministry of Public Security issued the arrest warrant for Li Hongzhi. A nationwide activity to ban Falun Gong organizations, investigate concerned people as well as to save and educate followers had been carried out.

Stage Ⅳ: after banning according to laws 

Some important facts and characteristics of Falun Gong from the banning of Falun Gong until now are listed as follows:

(1) After the banning of Falun Gong organizations, the cult structure was in total disorder or confusion. Some concerned people were punished according to law. News media have published articles from all walks of life, books as well as audio and video products to reveal and criticize Li Hongzhi’s fallacies. Chinese government and the whole society also offered great support to the former obsessed followers. The battle against Falun Gong has raised public awareness of prevent and resist cults.

(2) Falun Gong is officially recognized as a cult. In early October 1999, the Supreme People’s court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate have issued Interpretation on the Concrete Application of Law on Handling the Cases of Committing Crimes by Organizing and Using Cult Organizations. The first article defines “cult organizations” as illegal organizations that are set up using religions, Qigong or other things as a camouflage, deify their leading members, and confuse, poison and deceive people, recruit and control their members, and endanger the society by fabricating and spreading superstitious heresies. The article Falun Gong is indeed a cult also confirmed the definition. The twelfth session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress adopted Decisions on banning evil cults as well as preventing and punishing heretical activities on October 30th, 1999. The decisions clarified principles, attitude, policies and guidelines to ban and punish criminal activities conducted by cult organizations, offering solid legal basis to deal with Falun Gong and related issues.

(3) Li Hongzhi has escaped abroad and engaged in rampant anti-Chinese activities under the protection of the foreign anti-Chinese forces. Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party and Tuidang movement were plotted by Li Hongzhi and foreign Falun Gong organizations to attack communist party in China. Fabricated “Sujiatun Incident” an “Tian’anmen Incident” were rumors to smear Chinese government. These lawbreakers also made troubles in front of Chinese embassies in foreign countries when leaders visited those countries and slander Chinese leaders overseas. The agitated Falun Gong followers in different ways to spread Falun Gong and destroy infrastructure, etc. They will finally be caught in their own traps and seen through by the public.

There are sufficient facts and legal basis for China to identify and deal with Falun Gong organizations. After this battle against Falun Gong, people from all walks of life have a more clear understanding of the nature and harm of cults. Besides, the public have raised consciousness of preventing and resisting cults and China has improved laws and policies to deal with cults.

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