CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

"Falun Gong: Dailing Up to Freedom "

by Sarah Klein ("Detroit Metro Times," February 13, 2001)

Falun Gong's practitioners are of all ages and races, and live in more than 40 nations. The group has a warm, inviting aura; newcomers are welcomed and gently guided by veterans, who later discuss their personal relationship with Falun Gong.
They hardly seem like a threat to the world's most populous nation.
A handful of people stand silently, eyes shut, as traditional Chinese music plays on a tape recorder. They perform smooth, linear movements, slowly extending their arms in wide arcs of synchronized grace and calm.
These peaceful exercises are part of the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement that has met with hundreds of arrests, beatings and even deaths over the last decade. Banned in China in 1999, Falun Gong (also called Falun Dafa) focuses on meditation and mental and physical well-being, and has become the target of a massive, brutal crackdown by the Chinese government.
In response to the Chinese government's actions, Falun Gong practitioners around the world have organized to heighten public awareness and peacefully protest such suppression, their networking accomplished largely due to the Internet. The ancient fight for spiritual freedom has taken a new twist in the era of the dot-com.
Falun Gong's practitioners are of all ages and races, and live in more than 40 nations. The group has a warm, inviting aura; newcomers are welcomed and gently guided by veterans, who later discuss their personal relationship with Falun Gong.
They hardly seem like a threat to the world's most populous nation.
Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a former Chinese government grain clerk who fled China in 1998 to take up exile in the United Sates. It consists of five basic exercises, combined with the teachings of Hongzhi which promote truthfulness, compassion, tolerance and nonviolence. The basic exercises are derived from qi gong, the spiritual teachings -- loosely -- from Taoism and Buddhism.
The practice has spread rapidly, largely through word of mouth. Proponents estimate there are 100 million practitioners, most of them in China. The Chinese government contends this number is vastly inflated.
Followers say it is not a religion, cult or sect, and that it defies traditional media labels, combining spirituality and mental and physical health in an indefinable package. Many practitioners claim Falun Gong has relieved chronic pain and improved their general quality of life.
So why such a vicious backlash? In addition to the public beatings and arrests of practicioners, China's People's Daily and other official organs depict Falun Gong as "wicked," "notorious," "a cheap tool" of anti-China forces in the West, not to mention "anti-humanity, anti-society and anti-science."
These extreme reactions are difficult to understand without delving deeply into Chinese culture, government and politics.
The Chinese government, particularly with its aging leadership facing a period of transition, is threatened by any possible challenge -- especially a movement that can stage protests inside China and has managed to form an effective global network via the Internet.
In fact, Stephen D. O'Leary of the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, has written that both the Chinese government and Falun Gong recognize the importance of the Internet in moving outsiders to "either condemn or tolerate this group."
The official Falun Gong Web site (www.falundafa.org) links to regional sites, information on group practices around the globe, and the teachings of Honghzi.
In China, however, online Falun Gong information is routinely censored through blocks and filters dubbed "The Great Firewall of China."
But just as the ancient Great Wall eventually failed to block outsiders, "hacktivists" are sabotaging government Web sites and breaking down content filters.
In response, China is developing two second-generation versions of the Internet, C-Net and the China Multimedia Network. These would supposedly block pornography, but the potential for a complete political blackout is ripe.
Tim Sun, 29, a Chinese native and computer engineer, now practices Falun Gong in the U.S.
"The Chinese government has used hacking techniques to forge e-mails so it looks like Falun Gong is spamming people, when, in fact, Falun Gong will never advertise or recruit," Sun says.
"They have programs that will search e-mails for the words 'Falun Gong.' If it's found, the e-mail will be deleted." Sun has friends in China whose private e-mail has been blocked in this way.
"At the beginning of Master Li's teachings, the Internet wasn't common, especially in China," says Sun. "It's only become an important part of Falun Gong in the past few years.... When the teachings are put on the Net, it reaches a lot of people."
Although Internet access is still limited in China, it's growing rapidly, and Sun worries about cyber censorship. "It's a very serious issue. Chinese citizens can only view what the government wants them to."
Practitioner Cheng Wang is a Web master for the official Falun Gong site. In a telephone interview from his home in New York, the 32-year-old network engineer says he has faced many cyber attacks.
"I received an anonymous e-mail from China that said the government had hired some companies to attack my site; the next day our servers went down for two days. On another occasion, I received a phone call from the American Department of Transportation. They said their machines had received numerous attacks from Falun Gong Web sites. Someone had forged the attack so it looked like it was coming from our Web site."
A news service managed to track down the computer where the attacks originated, and turned up a phone number of the Beijing Public Security Bureau.
"Most Chinese servers are controlled by the government, so it's easy for them to attack sites," he said. "The day after Falun Gong was officially banned, 100 percent of the Chinese Falun Gong Web sites were gone. In just one day -- all gone. If you post something about Falun Gong on a message board, it won't last a minute. It will immediately be deleted."
Wang doesn't believe in retaliation and disapproves of hacktivists: "I just make sure all my anti-virus software is up-to-date and make backups of the server. I personally believe hacking is wrong ... I think it's better to file an official complaint, but in China if you file a complaint you will be arrested. So it can be difficult to voice your opinion."
Falun Gong practitioner Jennifer Zhou hopes the spread of information will bring more allies to Falun Gong and shed light on stories such as that of her mother, who she said recently came to live with her after being imprisoned and tortured in China for stopping a policeman who was publicly beating a Falun Gong member.
Groups such as Amnesty International, the European Parliament and the U.S.
Congress have urged China to cease the persecution of Falun Gong. Still, the Chinese government shows no signs of easing its crackdown. Falun Gong estimates that more than 100 practitioners have been killed in China, and the government seems to have temporarily succeeded in silencing all pro-Falun Gong discussion in Chinese media.
However, the war over Falun Gong will continue to be waged both online and off. Web sites and forums beyond the reach of China's censorship will likely play a critical part in the movement's future.
"I think the whole world is watching, and as more reports come out, more people will stand up and speak out," says Zhou. "The real situation will be revealed."

"`Diary' of sect man vilifies Falun Gong "

("Hong Kong Mail," February 13,2001)

BEIJING - The mainland yesterday published excerpts of what it said was a diary kept by a penitent member of the outlawed Falun Gong group who criticised the movement for ``brainwashing'' its members.
Wang Heqing, 32, wrote in his diary that the mass suicide attempt late last month in Tiananmen Square had further convinced him of the evil ways of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, Xinhua News Agency reported.
``The flesh and bone ... of his followers were burned to a crisp by fire, but [Li] refused to acknowledge them as his practitioners,'' he wrote in an entry one week after the incident.
One person died and four others, including a 12-year-old girl, suffered severe burns when they set themselves on fire in the square on January 23.
The Falun Gong denies they were members of the movement.
``Falun Gong practitioners are brainwashed into believing that if they submit unconditionally to the commands of the leader, they will reach true spiritual peace,'' Mr Wang said according to Xinhua.
It said he voluntarily shared the contents of his diary in the hope that ``die-hard Falun Gong followers will learn from his disturbing and unforgettable conversion experience''.
It is not the first time that mainland authorities have sought to influence public opinion through the publication of a diary.
The most famous example, the 1960s diary of a reportedly selfless People's Liberation Army soldier Lei Feng, is widely seen as a fraud, made up by propagandists eager to promote socialist values.
Mr Wang is serving time in a labour camp in Hainan province for spreading sect messages, Xinhua reported. He went to Hainan five years ago to work as an insurance salesman, but got caught up in Falun Gong activities after reading a book advocating the principles of the movement, the agency said.
``The supernormal mental state the book promised to its practitioners enchanted me so much that I thought I had been led into a magic world created by Li Hongzhi,'' Wang said according to Xinhua.
``My eyes were blurred by the disguise of Falun Gong's apparent good teachings of keeping the body fit and sound,'' he said. ``Hypnotised by the premise, I abandoned all sense and reason to it.''

"China Denies Torture Claims"

(AP, February 13, 2001)

BEIJING -- Maintaining that torture is strictly prohibited, China on Tuesday denied claims by Amnesty International that it is regularly carried out by Chinese officials.
Even though a new Amnesty International report on torture cited examples from state media, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said the London-based group ''often made irresponsible remarks concerning China according to rumors and hearsay.''
Zhu said China prohibits torture and promised that ''those who torture will be punished in accordance with law.'' He noted that China ratified a United Nations convention against torture in 1988.
''The human rights situation in China is the best in its history,'' Zhu told a press briefing. ''The allegation that China has systematic and large-scale torture is totally groundless.''
The report issued Monday by Amnesty International said the government is not doing enough to combat torture. Chinese laws contain loopholes, abuses are rarely punished and the use of torture to extract confessions ''remains commonplace,'' the group said.
Besides police and prison officers, a growing range of officials are using torture, including tax collectors, family planners, neighborhood watch groups and security guards, Amnesty said.
The range of victims has expanded from criminals and dissidents to include prostitution suspects, migrant workers, officials suspected of corruption, the mentally ill and religious believers, the group said.
Allegations of torture have been widespread in China's efforts to suppress separatist sentiment in Tibet and the western Muslim region of Xinjiang and in the 18-month-old crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

"China protests Falun Gong Bangkok plan"

("ABC News," February 13, 2001)

China has objected to the Falun Gong spiritual group's plan to hold a meeting of 500 Thai and overseas practitioners in Bangkok in April.
A Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman has confirmed reports that Thailand's embassy in Beijing had received a complaint over the planned gathering of the sect, which is banned in China as an "evil cult".
He said Thailand was sympathetic to China's stance, but indicated the Government would not prevent the meeting going ahead as long as organisers did not break any laws.

"China's crackdown on Falungong takes on draconian proportions"

(AFP, February 13, 2001)

BEIJING -A section called Bureau 610 is in charge of suppressing the outlawed Falungong spiritual sect, and following the detention of more than 1,000 members of the group at Tiananmen Square on January 1, its duties have taken on a drastic new look.
"It's like a Russian pogrom," one Western diplomat said, referring to the organized means by which Tsarist Russia decimated the country's Jews last century.
"They are going after Falungong followers in an unabated and methodical fashion," he told AFP.
Following the January 1 protests, Bureau 610 issued orders for local government and police to take all necessary measures to prevent Falungong followers making similar protests on Tiananmen Square during the Lunar New Year holiday and the March parliamentary session.
Luo Gan, the Chinese Communist Party's main official in charge of the maintenance of law and order, ordered police nationwide "to intensify their struggle against the Falungong cult by keeping a close watch on their movement," the official Xinhua news agency said.
The warning came three days before five members of the group breached tight security around Tiananmen Square on Chinese New Year's eve and set themselves on fire.
The grisly mass suicide attempt sent shock waves throughout China and worldwide.
However very few other Falungong followers were seen on or around the square during the holiday, a sharp contrast to the January 1 demonstrations and the last Lunar New Year, when at times protesters were seen being dragged away by police nearly every two minutes.
"Previously they would imprison the hard core followers and try to 're-educate' and then release the marginal believers, but now it appears that even the marginal believers are getting lengthy prison sentences," the diplomat said.
During the 18-month crackdown police have obtained the names and addresses of thousands of Falungong followers they have arrested and re-arrested, allowing the state to set up surveillance at their homes.
Falungong followers in Beijing told AFP that before the Lunar New Year, police and officials from local neighborhood committees came to their homes either to detain them or make them sign statements promising to end their public protests.
"They are using a variety of methods to control them, including pressure by local police, neighborhood committees and work units," Frank Lu, of the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy told AFP.
Lu said China's reform-through-labor detention centers were also witnessing a large rise in detainees since January, but the actual numbers were hard to estimate because of the secret nature of police and judicial systems.
"They are also making families responsible for the actions of other family members through the use of economic penalties," he said.
Such sanctions include firing family members from state-run enterprises and institutions, withholding salaries and retirement pay and refusing promotions, health care and education benefits, Lu said.
The newly-intensified crackdown also calls on police in jails and detention centers to step up efforts to "re-educate" the followers.
This often means an intensification of torture and beatings aimed at making followers sign written denunciations of the group, Lu said.
The information center has documented the deaths of 112 Falungong followers in police custody since the beginning of the 18-month crackdown, while reports of prison beatings of group members in prisons is widespread.
Meanwhile a new propaganda campaign has also saturated the state-run press, alternating between incessant footage of the self-immolation on Tiananmen Square with condemnations and denunciations of the group from every sector of Chinese society.
"The fight against the cult will be complicated, keen-edged and long," an editorial in the leading People's Daily said this week.
While stepping up pressure on foreign news agencies in Beijing that have reported on Falungong activities in China, the state press has also stirred up opposition to "hostile Western foreign forces" who are blamed for inciting the banned group to action.

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


CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

cesnur e-mail

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]