div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Scholarly Book on Falun Gong Published in Singapore"

A Note by Massimo Introvigne (March 20, 2000)

A short book published in Singapore is the first scholarly book-length discussion of Falun Gong. The book is "The Mystery of China's Falun Gong: Its Rise and Its Sociological Implications", by National University of Singapore sociologists John Wong and William T. Liu (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. and Singapore University Press, 1999).
In the first part of the book, Wong examines the organization of Falun Gong.
Its growth rate is, he says, "an astonishing phenomenon". Although Falun Gong claims to be a very loose and informal group, in fact it had (before the crackdown) an organization in Mainland China including 39 teaching centers, 1,900 instruction centers, and 28,000 practice sites. What was unique to Falun Gong was the use of the Internet and E-mail to maintain the contacts between the organization and the U.S.-based leadership. This non-organized organization has been regarded as a new threat by the regime, and the fear of Falun Gong is also the fear of the Internet. Wong concludes that Falun Gong has been now "effectively curbed" in China: the repression will cause its decline, and possibilities for a growth overseas are also limited by the movement's peculiar Chinese character. However, "the suppression of the sect still leaves a vacuum, which cannot be filled by the Party". A useful summary of Falun Gong's doctrines and relationship to Buddhism, by Chen Hee Tam, completes the first part.
In the second part, Liu discusses the regime's claim that Falun Gong is a "xie jiao" (evil cult), or indeed a religion. If "cult" is defined according to Margaret Singer and other hostile Western sources, Falun Gong is not a "cult", Liu concludes: "the style of governance is neither totalitarian nor suggestive of exclusivity and isolation" and "there is no clear evidence of any public idol worship of Li Hongzhi". And, contrary to Chinese claims, "there appears to have been no mention of the end of the world" in Falun Gong. On the other hand, if "cults" are regarded as independent offshoots of larger religions, Falun Gong as an offshoot of Buddhism may be regarded as a "cult". But its status is unclear, as a mix of religion, esotericism and qi gong exercices, and the term Liu prefers is "quasi-religion". Its success is due to a combination of factors, prominent among them being the lack of credibility of the Party's nationalist and marxist ideology, and the ageing of Chinese population (also due to the regime's demographic policy), which has created a growing group of retired citizens over 60 years of age.
This group now includes 10% of the Chinese population: it is relatively well-off, disenchanted with the official ideology, an unhappy about public health services. As such, it is ready for a quasi-religious movement filling the ideological vacuum and emphasizing health and healing.
Although occasionally using Western anti-cult sources, the book is certainly a valuable addition to the meager body of scholarship on Falun Gong.

What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne


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