"I do not believe in Falun Gong. I believe in science."
Years ago, I was hanging around in town and came across a demonstration / group-meditation performance right in front of Kings' College [pretty much central in town]. These people were mostly - but not exclusively - Chinese, and were performing what looked like Tai-Chi-lite, with a slightly hackneyed slow-motion grace. I picked up a leaflet being handing out passing pedestrians and milling observers by some of their click.
The leaflet said that the practice being performed was called Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa). This was news to me. It went on: "since 1999 the Chinese government has outlawed Falun and persecuted its practitioners. Amnesty International: 'These Falun Gong deaths in custody are an appalling illustration of the authorities' callous disregard for the lives of people detained solely for their peaceful activities.' "
I watched them perform their breathing and stretching techniques for a while longer, and then signed a petition they had organised, lobbying the UK government to act on behalf of these peaceful men and women, to stop the Chinese government's persecution of Falun and its intentions to eradicate the practice.
This week, I found that leaflet again while tidying up and it reminded me of Falun Gong.
It also contained statistics (257 tortured or beaten to death, over 10000 in labour camps) and named specific individuals that had been, it alleges, killed by Chinese authorities or during custody. One is Mrs Wang Lixuan, who in October 2000 was taken into custody, with her 7mth old son, for appealing against the ban on Falun Gong. 2 weeks later both were dead from torture by police. Medical examination revealed that her neck had been broken and her skull crushed.
from the leaflet:
"Why the persecution? The Chinese government feels threatened because the number of people practising Falun Gong grew to over 70 million, even exceeding the membership of the Communist party. Falun Gong teaches Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, which the Chinese government says is not consistent with Communism. Falun Gong can not be controlled, bullied, corrupted or bribed or made a source of profit. All official means of appeal against the ban on Falun Gong are blocked. To appeal, practitioners go to Tiananmen Square, sometimes hundreds a day, to unveil banners which say things such as "Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance" or "Falun Gong is good". Police await them, beating them and dragging them to waiting vans, in displays of disturbing violence. The practitioners never retaliate.
In January, 2001 5 people set themselves to fire in Tiananmen Square, among them a 10year old girl. It was claimed they were Falun Gong practitioners – they were not. The teachings of Falun Gong are very clear that suicide is absolutely wrong. Analysis of video and media reports clearly indicates they were not Falun Gong practitoners, and also that the whole event was staged. For example, usually the nearest fire extinguishers are 20 minutes away, but police were already in position with extinguishers at the exact moment of the incident. It seems that these people were used in an orchestrated attempt to whip up more hatred towards Falun."
By now I didn't know whether I should be becoming sceptical about Falun, or once more feel uneasy about the Chinese government's controls. If the Falun Gong leaflet itself says that the Chinese government has to stage dangerous acts in order to fan the hatred, is it then saying that folks in general don’t have much time for Falun Gong?
As always, I didn’t have much to do, so today I’ve been digging up more stuff on Falun Gong. ( I don't wanting to end up looking like Phil Collins did when we was duped into supporting Nonce Sense. ) The whole Falun Gong thing comes off like a strange and surreal mix of Orwellian totalitarianism and a dyspotian underground movement straight from a Hollywoood sci-fi script. The apparent founder of Falun Gong is an ex-trumpet player who inserts spinning emblems, Faluns, into the belly of believers.
After reading various articles, here are my salient conclusions:
Falun was created by Li Hongzhi in 1992, when he mingled the tenets of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Qigong exercises. He wrote a very odd book, a rambling dissertation called Zhuan Falun, which affected millions - only adding to accusations that Falun Gong is a cult. In it Li says he can personally heal disease and that his followers can stop speeding cars using the powers of his teachings. He writes that the Falun Gong emblem exists in the bellies of practitioners, who can see through the celestial eyes in their foreheads. Li believes "humankind is degenerating and demons are everywhere" - extraterrestrials are everywhere, too - and that Africa boasts a 2-billion-year-old nuclear reactor. He also says he can fly.
He went on to published books, sell videotapes and lecture to mass gatherings, and his organisation grew to 60 million followers, as many as in the Communist party. At this stage China's Elite leaders had barely heard of Falun.
Falun's central tenet is that Li himself, either personally or through his books and videotapes, inserts the Falun icon, a swastika-like Buddhist emblem surrounded by yin-yang symbols, into the bellies of believers. The emblem spins: clockwise to absorb energy, counter-clockwise to emit it. The Faluns on people's bellies can heal diseases, or Li can heal diseases through the Faluns. An advanced practitioner will open a "celestial eye" in the middle of his forehead and see many spinning Falun emblems, supposedly a splendid sight. When practitioners die, they return to their "true, original self," writes Li.
The Chinese Government became concerned Falun, when the number of practitioners exceeded the number of people in the Communist Party. The communist leadership saw what looked eerily like the party itself in its heyday. The Falun organisation was hierarchically structured, with neighbourhood groups, like cells, acting autonomously but in contact with higher levels. In 1999, Falun was outlawed. The government accused it of "spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardising social stability." The government crackdown began.
A nation wide "responsibility system" put the onus on local police and government workers, factory bosses and family members to find practitioners and get them to renounce their beliefs. This lets the party evade a simple arithmetic problem: it never had enough jails or police to handle the tens of millions of people who are claimed to have once practised Falun Gong. Instead, it enlists ordinary people to help find practitioners and discipline them. Bosses face fines or demotions when their workers protest. Police officers face heavier penalties for allowing people under their watch to demonstrate than for beating them to death.
Some misguided Falun practioners (or suspected followers, depending on your loyalties) set themselves alight during a Tiananmen Square protest in January 2001. Before that day, many Chinese had felt the crackdown had gone too far - that Falun Gong posed no real threat. With the immolations, the government's propaganda campaign portraying Falun Gong as an "evil cult" that unhinged its followers seemed more credible. Damage control from Falun's leaders after the immolations was handled badly. Instead of acknowledging that the five protesters might have been misguided, they denied any connection with them. Implausibly, the Falun Gong website insists the episode was set up by government provocateurs. Few were convinced by that line.
Yet for all its success in breaking the movement, the government has not yet addressed the sense of spiritual emptiness that gave birth to Falun Gong. Incense smoke flows thick in Buddhist temples across China, and the number of Christians has increased tenfold to about 40 million since the communists first swept to power.