The Falun Gong spiritual movement has been banned in China since 1999, when its adherents made the ill-advised decision to hold a mass protest in the heart of Beijing.
Since that time, the movement has thrived abroad, as has its spiritual leader, Li Hongzhi. Li and many of his followers are based in the U.S., where the Falun Gong–affiliated Epoch Times is ubiquitous on newsstands, providing wide-ranging normal news coverage along with anti-Communist and pro-Falun Gong editorial stances.
ChinaFile reports that the Epoch Times’ German edition, Epoch Times Deutschland, has gone in a markedly different editorial direction in the past couple of years. The German edition has:
· Promoted anti-immigrant views.
· Cast doubt on mainstream media reliability.
· Been largely uncritical of the anti-immigrant party AfD, which just became the first far-right group to enter Germany’s parliament since 1961.
· Produced articles that have been shared en masse on social media by anti-immigrant protest group Pegida.
ChinaFile remarks that it is unclear where the new editorial slant of the German outlet came from, but there is no doubt it has been commercially successful. As Germany’s anti-immigrant sentiment increased, Epoch Times Deutschland’s website traffic spiked up to 4 million in January 2016, from 1.7 million a year before.
But there is another possibility that can’t be ruled out: that the racist views of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi — who has previously called mixed-raced children “pitiable” and “physically and intellectually incomplete,” ChinaFile points out — have found a convenient outlet in the anti-immigrant fervor of part of German society.
Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.