"China Says Its Future Depends on Routing Banned Spiritual Movement"

by Erik Eckholm ("New York Times", November 6, 1999)

EIJING -- Just when it seemed that official invective against Falun Gong could grow no harsher, Friday's issue of the People's Daily has suggested that the very fate of China hangs on the struggle against the banned spiritual movement.
A front-page commentary in the newspaper, which speaks directly for the Communist Party, carries the headline "Totally Expunge Evil, Pursue It to the End."
First declaring that the government has achieved a "decisive victory" against Falun Gong, which it banned last July, the editorial goes on to say that the struggle to defeat the movement will be a "long and arduous one."
"We must be fully prepared, with powerful countermeasures, for the bitterness and complexity of struggle against this evil force," the commentary said. "This is a major political issue that concerns the future of the country, the future of its people, and the future of the great endeavor of reform and opening up and of socialist modernization."
Friday's article was the latest in a series of increasingly fiery official diatribes about the group in the last two weeks. The stepped-up campaign has coincided with preparations for the trial of the movement's top leaders but also, more importantly, with embarrassing evidence that thousands of followers or more -- among the millions of Chinese who were drawn to Falun Gong in recent years -- have refused to buckle under.
In many cities, it has become clear, a vigorous struggle continues as believers defend the movement and continue to practice its trademark slow-motion exercises, only to face fines, detention, threats to their jobs and even banishment to labor camps. Thousands of followers converged on Beijing last week, many of them showing up in Tiananmen Square only to be shipped back to the police in their hometowns.
In the eyes of the Communist government, which brooks no organized opposition, this defiance in itself is proof of the group's supposed cultish and subversive nature.
In private, many Chinese express bafflement at the ferocity of the government reaction, which is turning once solid citizens into criminals and Falun Gong into an international human rights cause. One party official suggested that the leadership may fear the prospect of laid-off workers forming an alliance with such a mass movement, creating a huge political threat.
In any case, the official denunciations and prosecutions send an effective warning to most Chinese to keep their distance from Falun Gong.
The movement, founded in 1992 by a former grain clerk named Li Hongzhi, is an off-shoot of traditional Chinese qigong exercises, which claim to enhance the body's vital energies, mixed with elements of Buddhism and Taoism.
As the movement expanded, attracting large numbers of retirees and laid-off workers as well as some government officials and Communist Party members, it came into occasional conflict with the authorities. Li had bitter disagreements with other qigong masters and the national qigong society expelled him, or he quit, in different versions of the story.
In 1998, Li moved to New York, where, as Falun Gong's revered spiritual "master," he communicates with followers around the world on the Internet.
The banning of the group followed the surprise gathering of 10,000 members around the leadership compound in Beijing in April, to protest published criticisms and demand official recognition.
National leaders were clearly unnerved by its ability to mobilize so many supporters so quickly under the noses of the police. Since then, as the campaign to wipe out Falun Gong has apparently faltered, the authorities have pulled out all the stops.
In at least two northeastern provinces, Liaoning and Jilin, special anti-Falun Gong task forces combining the police, prosecutors and courts have been formed, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
The center also said Wang Zhiguo, a former policeman who described his faith in Falun Gong at a clandestine news conference in Beijing last Thursday, was arrested and charged with cult-related crimes in his home province of Liaoning.

"China says Falun Gong will 'vanish' - An official said that members of the group had not been able to adapt to the nation's 'fast-developing society.' "

by John Pomfret ("The Washington Post", November 5, 1999)


BEIJING - As Chinese police bundled at least a dozen protesters away from Tiananmen Square yesterday, the nation's top religious-affairs official said that social strains caused by economic reforms had helped swell the ranks of the banned Falun Gong movement, but he vowed that the group would "vanish" soon.
"There are people who haven't adapted to this fast-developing society, who feel unbalanced, spiritually empty," Ye Xiaowen, head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, told foreign and Chinese journalists. "So some cults like Falun Gong have emerged to attract them."
Ye also defended China's harsh crackdown on the exercise and meditation organization, denying that the suppression constituted a violation of human rights.
"Only when you crack down on what is wrong," he said, "can you encourage what is right."
Ye spoke to reporters as the small protests against China's ban on Falun Gong continued in Beijing. At least a dozen practitioners gathered on Tiananmen Square, which bristled with police while China welcomed German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on a visit to the Chinese capital.

A quieter scene

According to witnesses, the protesters, mostly dressed in the slightly shabby clothes of China's working class, milled around the square. Police approached them, asked if they were practitioners and then escorted them into a waiting van. Witnesses reported no repeat of the hair-pulling and the pushing that had marked previous police encounters with the mostly elderly demonstrators.
So far, two people are reported to have died in police custody during the crackdown.
China banned Falun Gong on July 22, almost three months after 10,000 followers materialized without warning around the headquarters of the Communist Party in Beijing on April 25 to demand, in a peaceful protest, that the government legalize Falun Gong.

'People's government'

Instead, the government charged that Falun Gong was responsible for the deaths of 1,400 people - many of whom died because they had stopped taking medication. Falun Gong's founder, Li Hongzhi, in the past has admonished his followers to forgo traditional treatments for disease, arguing that true practitioners did not need drugs.
Last week, the government announced that it had determined that Falun Gong was a cult. Then China's parliament passed a law banning cults and raising the possibility that some of Falun Gong's leaders could be charged with capital crimes.
Ye said the group constituted a threat to China's security.
"Our government is a people's government," he said. "Any threat to the people and to society is a threat to the party and the government."
So far, several senior Falun Gong leaders have been arrested and charged with crimes. Ye suggested that those charged so far probably would not face the death penalty: "The death sentence is only handed out in a few cases in China."
Ye also hinted that the crackdown would not be broadened to include the hundreds of thousands of people who have shunned government-regulated Christian services to worship in unofficial Protestant and Catholic "house churches."
Ye acknowledged that despite the crackdown some practitioners continue to practice Falun Gong and that some of them "were willing to die for this cult."
Li Bin, a government spokesman, declined to say how many protesters had been detained in Beijing since the demonstrations began on Sept. 30. A Beijing-based scholar with close ties to the government said more than 3,000 people had been detained by police both on Tiananmen Square, in safe houses and hotels around the city, and in the government's complaints bureau in west Beijing.
Ye said the one lesson for the government to learn in the crackdown was that "we should have outlawed it earlier."


"While Defending Crackdown, China Admits Appeal of Sect"

by Elisabeth Rosenthal ("New York Times", November 5, 1999)

EIJING -- The government continued to lash out at the Falun Gong spiritual movement Thursday, comparing it to "organized crime" and predicting it would soon "vanish."
"The government can not sit back and do nothing about Falun Gong, a group that has seriously endangered public safety and order," said Ye Xiaowen, director general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, at a news conference at the Great Hall of the People.
Defending the crackdown on Falun Gong, in which thousands of members have been detained since the group was banned in July, Ye said: "We should have outlawed it sooner."
Falun Gong, which blends traditional Chinese exercises and meditation with elements of Buddhism and Taoism, promises its followers improved health and spiritual peace. It was wildly popular, particularly among the middle-aged and the retired, until the government banned the movement and labeled it an "evil cult."
But some members have continued to practice, and a number have recently come to Beijing to protest the ban. Every day for the past 10 days, the police have been carting off small numbers of Falun Gong members from Tiananmen Square, where they sat and sometimes meditated in acts of silent protest.
Thursday's news conference highlighted what Chinese officials called the "dangerous" and "superstitious" aspects of Falun Gong with video clips that showed the movement's leader, Li Hongzhi, discussing supernatural powers, millennial visions and reincarnation.
Li, a former government clerk who started the movement in 1992, now lives in New York.
"I am the oldest in the universe -- I produced my parents," he says at one point in the tapes. And, at another: "I have so many incarnations, I can protect you all."
Other segments are said to show him urging practitioners to forgo medical care with admonitions like this: "If you go to the doctor it shows you don't trust me."
The group's leaders have said they do not forbid members to seek medical care, but they have also said that practicing Falun Gong promotes health and may limit the need for medical treatments. "The Chinese government has produced more fabricated stories about Falun Gong practice, but the truth will prevail since the Chinese people keep coming back to Tiananmen Square," said Erping Zhang, a Falun Gong spokesman based in the United States.
Chinese officials insist that 1,400 Falun Gong followers have died because they did not seek medical treatment, and the government has made this a major justification of the current crackdown.
In the past week, the government has announced its intention to prosecute leaders of the group under a new anti-cult law. Most had been arrested over the summer.
At Thursday's news conference, officials spoke for the first time of the fate of the hundreds, if not thousands, of ordinary practitioners -- including office workers, farmers, students and business people -- who have been detained in Beijing this week.
The detainees were not arrested but "taken away and and given some education," said Li Bing, vice minister at the State Council Information Office. He said that practitioners who told the police where they were from were sent home.
But he added that some had been "unwilling" to say where they came from and so "we are still trying to reason with them so they can be sent back." The information office said there "were no accurate statistics" concerning how many had been detained or sent home.
While insisting that Li Hongzhi had duped millions of Chinese, officials at the news conference acknowledged that the social upheavals of contemporary China provide fertile ground for groups like Falun Gong.
"There are people here not used to the fast-changing society," said Ye, the religious affairs official. "They feel upset and disoriented. I don't deny that. Cults like Falun Gong have emerged and attracted them."
But he characterized those still devoted to the group as "a few die-hards" who "will surely be punished."
Also reflecting the government's intense crackdown, five Western journalists who attended a clandestine news conference with Falun Gong members on Oct. 28 were summoned to the Public Security Bureau for questioning on Wednesday and had their journalist accreditation cards and residence permits confiscated. The documents were returned today to three of the reporters, including Erik Eckholm of The New York Times.


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.

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