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Falun Gong's influence ebbs away after 10 years

2009-07-20 Author:By: Chen Mu

Ten years after China banned the Falun Gong, traumatic memories left by the illegal cult still linger in the minds of former practitioners and their relatives, as the self-proclaimed spiritual movement continues to wage a battle against China's presence, especially in Western countries.

Thousands of supporters descended on Washington in yellow shirts to offer public speeches, prayers and vigils yesterday, ahead of the anniversary of Chinese government's ban, which took place July 20, 1999. Falun Gong practitioners also gathered at a vigil in front of China's Consulate General in San Francisco, protesting against the crackdown.

In support of them, 62 members of the US Congress signed a letter to President Barack Obama denouncing the so-called persecution against Falun Gong practitioners.

In contrast to the clamor it has caused abroad, the organization's influence is almost indiscernible in China.

A director of kaiwind.com – a non-governmental website revealing facts about Falun Gong – who only gave his surname as Yang, told the Global Times yesterday that 98 percent of nearly 2 million practitioners of Falun Gong in China had extricated themselves from the spiritual control of the cult before the ban.

"The government believes that most practitioners were induced to be victims of the cult, and it tried every means to persuade and help them, and protect their human rights," Yang told the Global Times.

Li Anping, deputy general secretary of the China Anti-cult Association, echoed Yang's sentiments and noted that the campaign against Falun Gong has succeeded.

"As people have realized the true essence of the cult, it's impossible for them to organize a massive activity, even a gathering of more than 50 people is very tough," Li said.

Falun Gong, founded in 1992, was categorized as an illegal cult 10 years ago. Its founder, Li Hongzhi, who now lives in New York, has been accused of fabricating cultish heresies to exercise extreme spiritual control over his followers.

Several hundred practitioners committed suicide, most of whom set fire to themselves. And more than 30 innocent people were killed by Falun Gong fanatics, according to statistics released by the government. The practitioners also refused to take medicine or see a doctor when they were sick, a practice dictated by their master, Li Hongzhi, according to information on kaiwind.com.

Even though its influence has ebbed away in China, the organization is still using a number of methods to maintain its presence.

Wang Lu, 23, a college student in Hong Kong, complained to the Global Times that she always receives publicity e-mails and phone calls from Falun Gong members. The letters, Wang said, criticize the leadership of China and publicize the group's cause endlessly.

"I won't listen to them," Wang said. "They are such a nuisance, calling me from time to time to preach their hatred."

A media empire, including a pro-Falun Gong television network, New Tang Dynasty, broadcasts worldwide, and a newspaper, The Epoch Times, publishes in 17 languages to preach the group's beliefs.

The organization uses other methods to propagandize their political ambitions, such as printing anti-Chinese Communist Party doggerels.

"I was given a 1-yuan note today for change and later found Falun Gong propaganda on it," a student in Beijing surnamed Shi said yesterday.

A practitioner surnamed Zheng, from a county of Heilongjiang, still practices Falun Gong secretly. His nephew in Beijing told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that he has avoided him all these years since his behavior became abnormal after practicing Falun Gong.

"It seems that he has been brainwashed, and each time we met with him he accused us of being not clear-headed," Zheng said. "I'm afraid he'll kill us one day since he thought that we were not qualified to live in the world if we didn't practice Falun Gong."

Margaret Thaler Singer, former president of the American Psychological Association, deemed that Falun Gong meets the criteria of being a cult by American or world standards.

"The leader has people, instead of worshiping God or abstract principles, worshiping him," she said.

But Falun Gong is often considered a tool of anti-China propaganda, which brings a lot of money to the organization, Li Anping said.

In the fall of 2004, the US Congress funded Li Hongzhi and his followers to spread the so-called "Falun Gong doctrine" across the Chinese mainland by using a US broadcast network, according to a 2006 article that ran in Hong Kong-based Bauhinia Magazine. In 2001, funds from the US soared again. The United States Agency for International Development alone had granted $20 million to Falun Gong.

However, Yang argued that Falun Gong has actually been marginalized now in the West, with more and more people realizing its true essence.

"Falun Gong is going downhill in the West, that's why their members are desperately fighting for attention," Yang said.

Falun Gong's relentless anti-government acts, regardless of occasion and timing, have disgusted many people.

During the Sichuan earthquake last year, Chinese all around New York and the world donated to disaster relief, while Falun Gong didn't halt its gatherings, carrying large banners and playing drums on streets in to publicize their cause, while other Chinese communities were busy collecting donations for the victims in the quake.

(Global Times, July 20, 2009)