The rough geographical distribution of the membership seems to be clear. The two demonstrations and subsequent Falun Gong protests and state persecutions all indicate that the movement was represented to some considerable extent in the big cities of northern and western China including Beijing, Tianjin, and Chongqing , as well as across all northern provinces. When we look at a sample of the people who have died in the course of the suppression campaign, we find that the majority of the victims come from the north Hebei 13, Heilongjiang 29, Jilin 22, Liaoning 28, Shandong 48 , whereas 11 victims are reported for Sichuan and considerably less for each of the extremely populous and urbanized provinces which border the Yangzi river or the equally populous and urbanized Guangdong and Fujian provinces.
There are several sources of information that provide more than cursory evidence on the social and educational make-up of Falun Gong followers inside the PRC before April Office Cadre. Retired People. Number of People. From this skewed sample, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions, but we are certainly not dealing with the disempowered here. These are the sort of people whom medical specialists are likely to encounter in their professional work, including a suspiciously high number of direct colleagues.
In addition, the number of people from the capitalist sector, office cadres administrators and retired people is quite high. Among the retired people, the same range of former professions is found, with 88 out of formerly office cadres, scientific and technical personnel, medical workers and teachers, making up These certainly were not merely marginal or poor people. A large majority were middle aged or over: persons They were well educated with persons Finally, well over two thirds of the sample were female.
The reasons for taking part in Falun Gong activities are extremely varied, but one reason is conspicuously absent, which is political motivation. Even when the date does appear in statements it is never in connection with the events of the Beijing Spring or its suppression. Many have suffered personal and emotional difficulties; others tell proudly how they had been moved to returning money they had found, paying for a ticket they had omitted to pay for etc.
Healing as such is not a large part of the story; acquiring a new sense of moral values is much more important. In this process reading the Turning of the Dharma Wheel and in the early days hearing Li Hongzhi speak played an important role. After the persecution started in the middle of , Falun groups certainly continued to function at least for some time. Before that occasion the organizers had already met repeatedly, to prepare the printing of Falun Gong materials etc. The meeting was broken up by police and all the participants arrested. Like many other religious groups the Falun Gong movement may well succeed in continuing an underground existence for decades to come.
It is not likely to be the last one either. The record of religious and political persecution in the PRC dates back to its very founding. Today, too, other Qigong groups and new religious movements are being actively suppressed. Torture and psychological and social pressure are essential elements in this suppression. Many more have ended up in reform camps, prisons or mental institutions.
The movement evidently did not lose momentum due to the absence of its teacher. Obviously, this is also a distinct advantage in the present situation. In , the Falun Gong was criticized in a Tianjin university journal 19 April , as dangerous to the health of the population. The author He Zuoxiu, himself a prominent physicist, had long been attacking Qigong movements, including the Falun Gong, as false science. He also made a direct connection between the teachings and the mental instability of some student-followers.
What he overlooked is that students everywhere are under enormous pressure, as part of the growing-up process, because they are living in different environments far from home, and due to the enormous expectations put upon them by their families. Suicide rates at this age are relatively high. The author was a known opponent of Qigong movements and the Falun Gong, and had been the target of a movement demonstration by the movement only a year before, at the Beijing television studios.
In itself this introduction of human rights issues drawing on United Nations standards is an important new development in the history of protest in Chinese culture. By now the Falun Gong had been proselytizing successfully for a number of years; they had built up a considerable following, including among members of the Chinese Communist Party and people from within the security as well as army networks. T ; t heir leader had been sent out of the country; and they were no longer formally recognized as a Qigong organization.
There had been criticisms and attacks from within Qigong and Buddhist circles, as well as among natural scientists though some of these criticisms appear to have been suppressed at the time under state influence. They had suffered a certain amount of friction with local authorities. Public protest and violent conflicts on a local level are a surprisingly common feature in China today.
Many of the Falun Gong leaders actually originated from the industrial regions of north-eastern China, which have seen a wave of such protests over the last few years. To them, their protest may have seemed quite similar to labour and pension protests and for all we know this may be where they took their cue. The real difference, of course, is that these latter labour protests are incidental and focused on the concrete livelihood of individual groups, whereas the Falun Gong movement defended and still defends the abstract right of religious freedom and its own view of itself.
Still, it did so in a peaceful manner and few would have predicted the kind of suppression that was to follow from the summer of onwards. Much attention is also devoted to character assassination, which makes sense from a propaganda perspective, but is always a two-edged sword. In a centralized, single party political system like the PRC, however, any sizeable movement which does not limit its activities to a concrete single event, whether an independent union, a lifestyle movement or a religious group, poses a significant threat.
The Beijing demonstration is very likely to have been the first time that the central leadership became aware of the, to them, alarming size of the movement. It was clear that the Falun Gong did not bow to state pressure in the way such movements were supposed to do. In the absence of documentary evidence, however, we can only speculate on the concrete process of decision-making that led to the harsh treatment of the Falun Gong.
After all, the Falun Gong is the first movement since which has succeeded in sustaining some form of public protest to persecution inside China itself. After the persecution started the movement also succeeded in building a highly visible international campaign surrounding the theme of human rights. Despite the persecution, the movement also still maintains its own communication channels with the mainland, whether to obtain information on persecuted followers or to keep in touch with people who are carrying out public protests.
In the Chinese context, this movement is therefore political, not in the conventional Western sense of the word since it does not seem to strive for political power , but in the sense that it wants certain rights that the communist state is not prepared to give to them or to any other religious group. Some objections against the Falun Gong can be fairly easily understood, without suggesting that they would be justification for persecution.
The potential conflict between the freedom of religious practice and other obligations is of course also prevalent in other countries — with examples such as religiously motivated resistance by parents to inoculation campaigns for their children, or insistence on the right to refuse medical aid. In addition, it is clear that classical medical approaches cannot solve all problems of health and hopelessly fail in the face of death. Nor does medicine help in the case of most of the other issues for which people draw on religious approaches, including the Falun Gong teachings.
It comes as no surprise therefore that intellectuals, or even just dissidents, living outside China have not come to the support of the Falun Gong as a human rights issue. For them, Western notions of science are often crucial to their philosophical and political points of view, and the Falun Gong claims pose a direct challenge. Comparisons have been made by Western observers between the Falun Gong and religiously inspired rebellions of the past.
Indeed, religion can be a powerful motor for human action and the Falun Gong is no exception to this rule. Nonetheless, I do not find many traces of a truly messianic movement. The teacher does not claim that the end of time is really upon us, but only warns that we need to deal with the moral decay of our times or suffer the consequences.
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However, the link between the Falun Gong and past religiously inspired rebellions is not very prominent in communist propaganda. This should not surprise us, for these rebellions were long depicted as positive moments in Chinese history, since they were supposedly carried out by the dispossessed against the traditional elites and the imperial system.
Since the present political system claims to have inherited the task of representing the dispossessed from these earlier rebellions, it cannot afford to make too many links between such rebellions in the past and the Falun Gong in the present. After all, the Chinese communist claim to being a higher ethical force than any pre-existing Chinese philosophical or religious tradition was always an essential element of its claim for legitimacy. The Falun Gong movement itself probably derived its own focus on moral renewal from the many intensely moralistic campaigns of the late s and the s, as well as the sense that after Chinese society had increasingly lost its moral direction.
By the early s any communist claims to possessing the moral high ground would have sounded hollow and other movements were taking over, the Falun Gong among them. In a way, the Falun Gong was usurping the role of moral guide that the CCP had been claiming for itself throughout its history. There can be no doubt that this is threatening to the Communist Party centre, although it is hard to see what they might be able to put in its place.
At this point we should keep in mind that China is presently facing enormous social and economic problems, despite all economic growth. State-owned industries have already broken down or soon will, with many labourers left without support. Similarly, the army has retired large parts of its officer corps and these have tended to stay in the cities, looking for meaningful roles to play.
There is no welfare system to help them and networking is the only answer. The PRC has inherited traditional elite and statist ways of looking at religious phenomena, including new religious movements. These are for instance a propensity for rebelliousness, causing social disruption, holding clandestine meetings, extorting money, etc. Thus, the awareness of criticism of the moneymaking aspect of the movement using early evidence concerning Li Hongzhi, when he was still active in China itself has led to an explicit injunction to all Falun Gong followers against using their knowledge to make money.
Publicly, Li Hongzhi himself also no longer makes money, even though we can be sure that he is financially supported by his followers. In China as elsewhere, religious activities are also often a professional activity and involve making money. The labelling of groups or persons of which one disapproves has far-reaching consequences in China also because of a specific characteristic of the judicial process although by no means uniquely Chinese , namely the crucial importance of the confession for reaching a guilty verdict.
Without a confession no case can be closed, despite all other forms of evidence. Once the prosecution i. The focus of the investigative process will not be on finding reliable evidence, but rather on confirming a priori applied labels. The accusation that the Falun Gong is a threat to public health is a good example of the way in which the labelling process works, ignoring that the movement actually has a much broader moral agenda, of which health is only one dimension, and ignoring also that the Falun Gong view can be legitimated quite well within Buddhist doctrine.
The evidence is presented in a very one-sided manner and no critical investigation whatsoever is carried out. The PRC, and until recently also the Republic of China Taiwan , have prohibited many new religious groups, as well as trying to control that part of religious culture which it did permit.
The PRC in particular has a long and bloody record of persecution, oppression and state control dating back to Nonetheless, local cadres these days are quite likely to tolerate the activities of local leaders who organize religious activities, since these provide a much-needed focus for the community. In return for such tolerance or even cooperation, cadres might receive support during elections or in other contexts.
Thus, the situation is no longer only black and white. Generally, purely localized forms of religious expression associated with permanent institutions such as temple cults or monasteries get more leeway freedom is not quite the appropriate term here , than the activities of individual teachers or supra-regional movements including Christian ones. The latter are still being persecuted, with the death penalty as the ultimate and frequently applied sanction.
In the meantime, the situation on Taiwan has changed in a very fundamental way. At first the Republic of China both in its days on the Chinese mainland and in its first decades on Taiwan also tried to control Chinese religion, although never in the all-out destructive way that we have seen on the Chinese mainland.
New religious groups were formally prohibited and its members might find their public careers obstructed, but they could otherwise function well as long as they did not draw attention to themselves. There were also attempts to regulate temple activities, but local politicians also started to use such activities to gain a following. Already before the abolition of martial law in , the environment was such that an ethnographical investigation could be launched to establish to what extent new religious groups especially the long persecuted Unity Way or yiguan dao , still prohibited in the PRC should continue to be prohibited.
The conclusion was that there was no need for such measures. With the abolition of martial law, all new religious groups were legalized — including some groups that had been outlawed for centuries. The fact that, for the first time in PRC history, a group is putting up protracted resistance against persecution has surprised many Chinese and outside observers. The movement has been very careful only to use peaceful means of resistance largely sit-ins, pamphlets, videos, the Internet.
The Beijing demonstration of April was motivated by the perceived unfairness of representations of the movement in public media, but unusual as it was, it was entirely passive. The public demonstrations by smaller numbers of followers, propaganda and hijackings of television time are still not violent acts.
The small group close to Li Hongzhi in the United States, with Gail Rachlin and Zhang Erping as its most publicly visible representatives, has been exceedingly successful in lobbying to get and keep the Falun Gong on the international agenda as a case of human rights abuse.
This struggle in turn provides those that have stayed inside the movement with a very clear sense of identity. They talk with Falun Gong adherents and among themselves, carrying out much more nuanced discussions than is possible in China itself. This generates an alternative discourse and a certain level of alternative understanding that filters back into China, certainly to the larger urban centres. Given the large amount of international traffic by Chinese, this form of communication and feedback should not be underestimated.
The movement inside China has not yet withered away completely, but we have no reliable knowledge of its present size. At first, Falun Gong members actively protested at the persecution on a central level especially by appearing on Tiananmen Square , but also locally. Most of these people were arrested and have suffered severely. Nonetheless, no such protest seems to be taking place now.
This suggests that the inner circle of followers is now either in prison or dead, or too afraid to speak out. Outside China, there is a strong core in the United States and there are smaller groups all over the globe, consisting of mainland Chinese usually well-educated, prosperous and of northern Chinese origin and Westerners in search of truth. A much contested event is the collective suicide of seven Falun Gong followers on 23 January , on Tiananmen Square.
First of all, we should note that there is a respected tradition of self-harm in Chinese Buddhism including self-mutilation and immolation. Furthermore, suicide is a traditional means of protest, whether in labour conflicts or family disputes. Most recently, Falun Gong followers have succeeded in tapping into cable networks and satellite broadcasts for varying periods of time, in order to refute state propaganda. Confirmed reports of hijackings of public television time are available from Chongqing Sichuan on 1 January cable television , Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning in March all cable television , and from all over China in June It is uncontested that the hijacking of cable-television was the result of actions by Falun Gong followers.
This has not yet been confirmed for the technically much more sophisticated and expensive hijacking of satellite broadcasting. The PRC is embarrassed by the ongoing protests. It has compiled extensive lists of all suspected Falun Gong followers inside the PRC itself, including their relatives. When people do return, a seemingly lenient policy is followed, which is already well-attested for Chinese students, scholars and the like who had protested at the time of the Beijing Spring in with the exception of its leaders. Hence, they live under a permanent cloud and are likely to be subject to further pressure at any time.
The famous poet Bei Dao has refused to return under these conditions. The Chinese authorities have also compiled lists of suspected Falun Gong adherents or human rights activists living in the West including many Westerners. Hong Kong now also prevents people on such lists from entering. The opening up of the Chinese economic system since has led to a vastly increased geographic mobility, first internally, but now spilling over to the rest of the world, in classical chain migration style.
Migration in general may take several forms, whether legal in the form of family reunion, permanent or temporary jobs and higher education, or illegal independently or, more commonly, with the assistance of professional traffickers , and finally as refugees or through seeking asylum. There are two ways in which Falun Gong followers might end up outside China, most likely in Western countries with pre-existing Chinese communities.
One is through the established routes of human trafficking between China and Europe, Australia and Northern America. Alternatively they may arrive on temporary visa, for instance as tourists, business people, students or researchers. Both categories might apply for asylum. As pointed out above, the Falun Gong has been quite successful in building a following among Chinese students and professionals abroad, usually those with a technical or science background.
Such individuals are already abroad and do not immediately require special status for religious reasons. When their visa or short term residence permits run out, they may apply for asylum. It is unlikely that this will involve large numbers of people, and it will also mainly be limited to people with high levels of education.
The dangers facing Falun Gong practitioners returning to China are much greater than those affecting for instance the Beijing Spring dissidents, in view of the much more brutal persecution suffered by the Falun Gong. At the same time those who still consider themselves Falun Gong followers are less likely to agree to sign statements that they have given up their adherence to the teachings. Leaving the country through human trafficking is not impossible: leading dissidents succeeded in getting out in the aftermath of the suppression of the Beijing Spring of and individual Falun Gong followers have also been able to leave the country in various ways.
Once established, the strength of this culture is such that mere government policies or changing socio-economic circumstances are not enough to alter it. In the United States, Guangdong was historically the main province of origin of migrants until the s, but this has since changed to northern Fujian. Illegal immigrants, transported along complicated and expensive trafficking networks, come mainly from northern Fujian going to Europe and North America and southern Zhejiang going to Europe.
People with the same regional and cultural background who are already in the country serve as a support network; some of them may be directly involved in the trafficking itself. For people who do not stem from these classical migration regions, leaving the country is much harder. The existing routes for human trafficking require passports and other documents that are only obtainable with the cooperation of local officials.
In the classical migration regions such cooperation will be forthcoming, since officials know that expatriates tend to reinvest in their home region, whether by sending home remittances for relatives or by setting up commercial and industrial enterprises. Leaving China is, however, an expensive matter that requires heavy investment of money, which is usually provided by relatives and must be paid back.
To leave in secret is therefore quite impossible. Given that the Falun Gong movement is weak in these classical migration regions, this is not an option realistically open to any significant number of followers. In case that Falun Gong followers who come from outside th e se classical migration regions try to leave the country through human trafficking routes, they automatically draw considerable suspicion to themselves. They first have to obtain documents from local officials in their own regions of provenance who do not normally play a role in these networks and who will be suspicious of their motives.
The same applies to the necessary financial assistance by relatives. At a time that the movement has been declared a number one threat to the Chinese state, leaving for explicit or suspected religious reasons is a very risky adventure. Officials and relatives have much to gain by simply turning such people in. Another issue is when migrants to Europe and North America apply for right of residence based on a claim of actual or feared persecution, which is then assessed by the relevant authorities. Common grounds cited include the one child policy in China or membership of persecuted religious groups Christian or otherwise.
Claims of persecution on the grounds of membership of the Falun Gong have certainly already been used in this connection, but how often can not be quantified. They usually come from the classical migration regions, indicating that we are dealing here with a general form of migration, rather than purely politically motivated migration. Whatever the reasons for applying for asylum, the applicants will not want to return. The direct future of the Falun Gong movement is impossible to predict. What may happen is that its following changes, at least inside China itself. People who want to be part of legal mainstream society may drop out or have dropped out already.
Only people who are already somewhat marginal to Chinese society are likely to stay in. Outside China, the movement continues to be successful among students, researchers and businessmen from the PRC. Whether labour protest inside China might link up with local Falun Gong networks is a matter for speculation, but the dissident movement outside China certainly has shown little interest in defending the overall right of religious freedom that is also involved here, and there is not much visible cooperation.
In the same way it is unclear what the Chinese state will do. In the short term, Jiang Zemin g and other leading party and government officials have invested too much of their credibility in the successful suppression of the Falun Gong and similar movements to allow them to become more conciliatory.
Much will depend on internal power struggles, the outcome of which is hard to predict from the outside. Much also depends on the degree of international pressure, although this is not an issue where the Chinese state is likely to be offering compromise. Ideology is essential to maintaining legitimacy, at the very least within the leadership itself, and therefore not negotiable. Whether the Falun Gong movement will be able to sustain the international momentum of its human rights campaign or will fade away into oblivion is yet another open question. As long as these problems and international perception of them continue in the present form, this will be to the advantage of the Chinese government.
The movement will find it difficult to remain on the international agenda. The daring propaganda struggle of the Falun Gong in China during the last few months raises not a few questions and has changed the movement from one that could claim to be apolitical to a strongly political one. But let us not forget that religious movements all over the world have tended to involve themselves in politics, and there are numerous examples of political parties with a strong religious orientation.
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However, the Falun Gong movement is not political in that way: it does not aim to change the political system and it does not aim to impose its own values on all of the population. In a different type of society, which tolerated the full spectrum of religious or spiritual movements, the Falun Gong movement would probably function without much ado and would then have to compete with many other groups and movements.
The current level of persecution will undoubtedly generate asylum requests from Falun Gong adherents who are already abroad on short term visas or residence permits. Since the Chinese security apparatus has built extensive files on people suspected of a link with the Falun Gong and such people are usually treated very harshly, people with some kind of Falun Gong connection do have a justified fear for their well-being after returning to the PRC.
Talk:History of Falun Gong/Archive 1
A steady stream of refugees is not to be expected, however. This is not because the persecution is not brutal enough, but simply because the particular mechanics of human trafficking in China do not allow large numbers of people outside traditional migration regions to leave the country easily. Associated Press, Leicester, J. Barnett, D. Benn, J. Bruseker, G. Buruma, I. In when the first articles on Falun Gong appeared there were varying reports of membership numbers, but since almost all articles put the number of adherents at million worldwide.
Usually journalists add the phrase "70 million in China". The first primary reference to this statistic that I can find is Li's a "A brief statement of mine" when he speaks of having helped million people achieve health. Falun Gong members say that Li is quoting the original Chinese public security bureau statistics, but I have been unable to trace this report. In any case, it seems unlikely that today one in every 58 people in the world is a Falun Gong adherent, or that one in 10 people in China practise Falun Gong. Bruseker has completed a thorough analysis and places the membership figure at between two to ten million , p.
Deng and Fang , p. I would estimate that the numbers of members in Australia and New Zealand are 3, and respectively. Several newspapers, quoting participants, say that Falun Gong is not a religion, just an exercise group like Tai Chi and yoga. However, as sociologists Wong and Liu point out, Falun Gong seems unusually proselytising for an exercise group , p. Also, most exercise teachers do not demand that participants practise in public places, on busy streets at rush hours. Additionally, Li himself said at an Australian press conference that Falun Gong and yoga are "totally different" Master Li, , but this statement does not appear to have been published in the media.
Nor do most exercise classes ask you to believe that the moon is hollow Li, b, p. On the few occasions reporters asked participants about these unusual beliefs, practitioners replied that they were not aware of them. Similarly misleading are the descriptions of the exercises as easy — just a few gentle arm movements and a seated exercise.
However, holding one's arms over one's head for long of periods of time requires stamina especially at 6am. The gentle "seated exercise" is actually in the Lotus position, and in my experience usually goes on for over an hour. Li acknowledges that this can cause intense burning pain in the legs, but teaches that the pain is karma being burnt off — and therefore one should remain in position Li, b, p. Many reporters describe Falun Gong as a meditation technique. The Townsville Sun, for example, offers an appealing invitation: "With spring here, why not try the ancient and powerful meditation-exercise system of Falun Dafa to revitalise body, mind and spirit?
Readers who follow the newspaper's advice and visit Falun Gong may get a few surprises. Newcomers are given scriptures in which Li warns that they will be attacked by demons while doing the exercises Li c, pp. Later they will discover that Falun Gong isn't about doing the exercises at all, in fact Li is contemptuous of those who just do the exercises everyday Li, a, p.
The real purpose of Falun Gong, as set out in Li's teachings, is to save people from the imminent apocalypse. Falun Gong's concealment of their apocalyptic doctrine from the public is illustrated by Falun Gong members' responses to the media in when Li visited Sydney and spoke at a convention.
Journalists asked the conference organisers to release an English translation of the speech to the press. The organisers declined, but one told the Australian Associated Press: "Essentially it Master Li's address could not be summarised," but that the movement's "teachings were based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance and involved cultivation of body, mind and soul in a way which most people would describe as a form of meditation" Stavrinos, However, the transcript of this speech now available online , shows little instruction on meditation, and instead much apocalyptic rhetoric that the end of the world is upon us.
Li tells disciples that they are in the last days the time of the "great havoc" , and thousands of demons are entering the world. This, he says, is evidenced by numerous evils including interracial marriages, homosexuality, and ugly toys for children. Only he can save humanity. His teachings, he says, surpass those of Jesus and Buddha, and his spiritual body is so large that disciples would be looking upward from under his big toe Li, b.
Even more significantly, in this speech Li preaches that true followers do not seek medical help — a teaching that participants deny when questioned by outsiders. For example, when a reporter questioned a New Zealand practitioner about followers not seeking medical treatment, the woman responded by laughing, and exclaimed "That's ridiculous" Disturbing the peace, The inevitable outcome of keeping Li's teachings secret and passing the apocalyptic religion off as a healthy exercise plan, is that practitioners are left unable to explain why Falun Gong is illegal in China.
Unable to say that Falun Gong was banned because Li's divine claims and other unusual teachings were considered to be a threat to public safety, and his ability to mobilise large numbers of protesters was a political threat, they tell reporters, that they are "mystified" by the ban. Members imply that they are arrested because of their wholesome life style: "As a practitioner of Falun Gong her the practitioner's lifestyle of meditation and exercise led to her arrest. Reporters seem to agree: "It seems hard to believe that shutting your eyes and gently waving your arms around could threaten a nation's safety, but insecurity works in funny ways" Greeks, In a recent speech, Li criticises the media of "each country in the world" for not reporting on the persecution and "keeping silent while crimes and sins are committed" a, p.
There can be little doubt that these events happened — that adherents have been detained and sent to labour camps, and many have been tortured. Practitioners describe — to name a few methods — members being shot with electric stun guns, hanging from shackles on the wrist for prolonged periods, and piercing with sharp bamboo sticks. Protestors often re-enact scenes in public demonstrations. Banners with photographs of victims highlight the harrowing nature of the experiences.
There is no way of verifying the numbers of human rights abuses. The press often quote Amnesty International, but Amnesty's reports are not independently verified, and mainly come from Falun Gong sources for example, Amnesty, A slightly more reliable source is the Hong Kong Centre for Human Rights, which is actually not an organisation, but one man — Lu si qing. However, statistics of arrests from both Amnesty and the Hong Kong Centre are often much higher than those reported by Western journalists who were at the scene in China Rahn, , which suggests that other information may be similarly exaggerated.
Nevertheless, one aspect of the persecution that is well-reflected in the media is the predominance of women as victims. Sixty eight percent of the articles involving torture or kidnapping of Falun Gong members were stories about women. Chang , p. One of the most powerful stories, which The Canterbury Express quotes, is that of Wang Lixuan, a 27 year old woman who was arrested in China with her eight-month-old baby. Police allegedly hung the baby upside down to force the mother to recant. Wang Lixuan refused to renounce her faith, and both she and her baby died of torture Peaceful art, For Falun Gong members, Wang Lixuan is a heroic martyr.
She went eight times to Beijing to protest, including three times while pregnant and twice while carrying her child Clearwisdom, Readers may be left wondering what is it about Falun Gong that inspires such intense devotion that a woman risks her baby's life. Participants I spoke to were unanimous that the appeal of Falun Gong was the sensation of peace they feel. After a compelling meditation outside Wellington Parliament building, one practitioner asked me rhetorically, "Can you see why people are willing to be shot for this? However, meditation benefits are rarely the only impetus for martyrdom, and there is another angle to this story.
Li teaches that he has only planned enlightenment for a limited number of Falun Gong members. So, with allegedly swelling numbers and the imminent end of the world, he is fast weeding people out. Members therefore have to pass a test called "stepping forward" Li, a, Li, c. Stepping forward means activism and the resulting martyrdom forces the victim's karma to be burnt off, thus gaining them a place in Li's paradise. There are strict criteria for stepping forward. When enduring severe torture, practitioners must not recant their faith, even if their retraction is insincere. This is a serious "disgrace" Li, c , and those who recant are "malignant tumours" whom Li purposely orchestrated the torture to expose Li, b.
Falun Gong members have long complained that they are harassed by Chinese spies, and accusations reached a peak in June when Communist party defectors told the media that a thousand Chinese spies in Australia monitor Falun Gong. Within a week the number jumped to 2, and then to 3, As this works out at one spy to every one to four members, the majority of these spies are obviously informants. Nevertheless, the stories became increasingly dramatic, with allegations of people being abducted by the Chinese government.
The claims continued, although the Sunday Age interviewed security experts who described the idea of 1, spies as "ridiculous" and "absurd" Spy scandal, During the year I spent with Falun Gong I was not aware of any evidence of spies; however I was not looking for them. Undoubtedly, Chinese embassies identify Falun Gong members so they can stop them from entering China. However, this would not require a sophisticated network of spies because members meet outdoors publicly, often in front of Chinese embassies, and meeting times and places are easily accessible.
My main reservation about the spy stories is that members attribute events to spies when there were more obvious explanations. Claims that practitioners are photographed while doing the exercises may well be explained by the fact that they are inclined to practise in parks outside tourist spots such a parliament buildings, libraries, railway stations — places in which people, especially Chinese tourists, typically take photos.
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Also, any religious group that proselytises outdoors and blocks pedestrian access is likely to receive complaints, but some members attribute these criticisms to interference from the Chinese government. When the research was finished, I was quoted in a press release on new religious movements, in which I said that the FBI's definition of a potentially violent religion was so broad that several groups in New Zealand would fall into it, and cited Falun Gong as one of several examples.
Falun Gong members monitor the media daily, and discovered the press release even before I did. They were offended that they were classified with other religions that they perceived to be "totally evil", and I received several emotionally—charged phone calls requesting the press release be removed from the Internet.
A member relayed accusations that I was being paid large amounts of money by the Chinese government, and repeatedly said that the situation was "extremely dangerous". Another warned me that I would be deluged by a hundred callers from a Falun Gong email list. The response was understandable, in the sense that during the time I shared with Falun Gong I never disagreed with them and seemed to be enjoying their practices, yet now I was speaking in an academic voice. This experience nevertheless highlighted for me the similarity between Falun Gong's view of what constitutes fair media treatment and the Communist party's model, which suppresses any dissenting voices.
Public opinion is very important to members, and they are willing to protest and bring defamation suits against those who write less than favourable material. In the case of Falun Gong, the negative treatment that the media often give to new religious movements seems to be redirected into anti-Chinese sentiments. Much of the information is misleading. While I do not in any way support the Chinese government's ruthless treatment of Falun Gong members, I share Rahn's concern that unsubstantiated media reports influence government policy.
For example, in the United States Senate House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution demanding, amongst other things, that the Chinese government cease using diplomatic missions to spread falsehoods about the nature of Falun Gong United States Senate.
This statement, and other parts of the resolution, seems to be influenced, at least in part, by media reports. Journalists have tight deadlines. Nevertheless, there are more objective sources that they could consider, and other angles to the Falun Gong story. I would like to see more challenging questions in the newspapers especially of suspicious claims , more expert or academic opinion, less canned propaganda spouting from both sides, a deeper look at Falun Gong beliefs, and less publishing of Falun Gong marketing material without attribution. It would also be helpful if trusted organisations, such as Amnesty International, acknowledged their sources when speaking to the media about Falun Gong, and were careful to add that their statistics could not be confirmed.
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Truth on Falun Gong | New academic study challenges tenets of Falun Gong
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