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What about Falun Gong?

2009-08-07 Author:By: Patsy Rahn

In 1992, Li Hongzhi founded the group Falun Gong in China.  In 1995, the forty-seven-year-old Li moved to the United States, where he now has a "green card" and lives with his wife and daughter in New York.  The Falun Gong group has utilized the Internet extensively:  communicating with its practitioners, providing information on meetings and events, and selling books and tapes.  Practitioners have grown beyond China to include countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia, and Germany.  According to the Falun Gong group, there are at least 100 million practitioners, and even at the more modest Chinese government estimate of 2 million, it makes the Falun Gong into what could now be the fifth-largest organized religion in the world (M. Wallace — Salon.com — 9/8/99).
The Falun Gong is a self-described "cultivation system" which utilizes a mixture of beliefs from Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese alchemy, qi gong breathing exercises and slow tai chi-like movements.  Li Hongzhi, referred to as "Master Li," says in the movement's main book Zhuan Falun (considered by practitioners to be more important than the Bible, Torah, and Koran put together) that only he can save you.  He states that he is everywhere, knows everything (even your thoughts before you think them) and can do anything.  He insists that you read only his books and listen only to his teachings.  He also promises that he can protect you from any harm, if you are a "sincere practitioner."

When the group unexpectedly appeared 10,000 strong before the Chinese government buildings in April of this year in Beijing, it shocked and galvanized the Chinese government into forming a task force to study the group.  Their criticism has been sharp and hard-hitting, calling the group a dangerous cult that harms people and disturbs social stability.  The Chinese government's research claims that as of September 21, 1999 Falun Gong has caused 1,404 deaths.  According to the Beijing University of Medical Science, since 1992 the Falun Gong group accounts for 10.2% of all "qi gong" originated mental disorders in China, and in the first six months of this year that percentage has gone up to 42.1%.  Li Hongzhi counteracts these accusations by saying that any Falun Gong practitioner who commits suicide, death by refusal to take medicine, homicide, or mutilation, is not a "true practitioner."  Li also suggests that these practitioners' deaths may not have been related to their Falun Gong practice, "so it is still an open question whether or not we should attribute those unpleasant incidents to Falun Gong in the first place." (From the Falun Gong New York website under "Dissecting Several Cases of Chinese Media Misrepresentation of Falun Gong.")  Therefore, if anything goes wrong while you are practicing Falun Gong, Falun Gong disowns you.
Western media coverage of the Falun Gong group has had a tendency to avoid speaking of the irrational side of the movement.  However, this has recently begun to change. In Time magazine, Anthony Spaeth recently stated that "The group has evolved into something a lot less innocent than a breathing club… (Li…has a theory that extraterrestrials plan to take over the earth, and Falun Gong is the only defense)…Their claim to being unorganized, peaceful and apolitical are getting harder to swallow" (August 2, 1999, Vol. 154, No. 4).   Barbara Crossette, in her New York Times article " The Internet Changes Dictatorship's Rules," said, "And for the West, the extraordinary success that the Falun Gong has had with cyberspace challenges any optimism that the Internet will inevitably promote only rational, enlightened, open-minded patterns of thought" (August 1, 1999)
There are several difficulties in evaluating the impact and effects of the Falun Gong group.  The only sources of information tend  at present to come from either the Falun Gong group itself, or the Chinese government, and information from both of these sources is difficult to verify independently.  Also, the Falun Gong is fairly new in the United States and research has not yet been done.  And lastly, but not least, there is a tendency in the United States to want to see the Chinese government as authoritarian and only giving out propaganda.  It may be authoritarian, and it may utilize political spin, and its responses of burning books and prohibiting the practice of Falun Gong are not the values of civil libertarians, but there is a danger in totally dismissing the information they provide.

Patsy Rahn, the author of this report, a recent summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, is now in Chinese language studies at that institution.


(Cult Observer Vol.: 16  No.: 10, September 1, 2004 )


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