"China imposes new laws for mass activities"

("Reuters", November 24, 1999)

BEIJING, Nov 24 (Reuters) - China has set tough new rules for public gatherings that require groups of more than 200 people to first get government approval, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.
Public gatherings of more than 200 people now must be approved by public security departments above the county level and gatherings of more than 3,000 people by a security body at or above the prefecture level, Xinhua said.
The regulations, issued by the Ministry of Public Security ``for security reasons,'' took effect on Wednesday, Xinhua said.
The regulations require individuals not affiliated with government bodies, companies or social institutions to get approval from relevant government departments.
Xinhua said the regulations allow police to levy fines and compulsory measures on those who do not follow the rules and stressed that organisers were subject to criminal prosecution if crimes were committed.
China's Communist rulers were shocked in April when more than 10,000 members of the Falun Gong movement staged a surprise protest outside Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound to demand official recognition.
The government banned Falun Gong, which mixes Buddhist and Taoist beliefs >with calisthenics, in July, later declared it a cult and has vowed to wipe it out. More than 100 Falun Gong leaders have been formally arrested.

"China sends 12 Falun Gong members to labour camp"

("Reuters", November 23, 1999)

HONG KONG, Nov 23 (Reuters) - China has sent 12 members of the banned Falun Gong to labour camp as part of a sweeping crackdown on the spiritual movement, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Tuesday.
The Information Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Movement in China said in a statement that authorities in Qiqihar city in northeastern Heilongjiang province sent four Falun Gong members to labour camp for re-education.
Another eight members in China's Jilin province were given three years in labour camp, it said. The Chinese government banned the Falun Gong in July and has vowed to wipe out what it sees as a threat to communist rule.
More than 100 Falun Gong leaders have been formally arrested. Many more are under various forms of administrative detention, like labour camps, which are not subject to the judicial process.

"China recruits Canadian [James Randi] in Falun Gong fight"

("CBC News", November 22, 1999)

BEIJING - Authorities in China have called in a Canadian fraud expert in their fight against the spiritual movement known as Falun Gong.
James Randi has made a career of exposing swindlers who claim they possess supernatural powers.
The government considers Falun Gong an evil cult that threatens China's security.
The movement's leaders disagree, saying its millions of followers are law-abiding citizens who simply combine meditation, philosophy and exercise.
Chinese police have been cracking down against Falun Gong since April, when thousands of people demonstrated outside government buildings.
In July the movement was banned altogether, and police regularly arrest suspects they claim are a threat to national security.
Randi says he's opposed to making Falun Gong illegal. He says he came to China to inform people about how easy it is to get misled by faith healers.
"Education is the secret to the whole thing," Randi says.
"If you start to legislate against these things: (a) it's too late; and (b) it will never work," he says.
"Anything that is legislated against, like prohibition in the United States, becomes even more popular."
Before a room crowed with Chinese journalists, Randi demonstrates one of the oldest tricks in the book: bending a spoon.
Spontaneous applause erupts as Randi appears to use magic to turn a spoon he's holding into rubber.
Eventually, he opens his palm and reveals how he secretly snapped the metal handle during the demonstration.
It's unclear what magic tricks have to do with Falun Gong -- except, perhaps, that the government hopes to use its own power of persuasion to stop the movement from spreading.

"A Star Turn for China's Cult Buster"

by Elisabeth Rosenthal ("The New York Times", November 20, 1999)

BEIJING -- The animosity between Sima Nan and the Falun Gong spiritual movement goes back a few years, ever since Sima, China's one-man cult-bashing machine, denounced the group as a fraud in 1995, and the group's leader predicted that Sima would go blind and be crippled, Sima says.
"As you can see my eyes and legs are fine," Sima said recently, with the swagger of a man who routinely captivates audiences by eating glass shards and cracking chopsticks with paper bills, all to prove that supernatural powers do not really exist.
Indeed, in the course of his decade-long campaign against Chinese groups that he says encourage superstition and mystical beliefs, Sima seems to have made enemies across the political spectrum.
He has been beaten by members of sects he has denounced and shunned by the government as a flamboyant upstart willing to "out" officials who believe in the supernatural, like the vice minister who for good luck invites a master of qi gong -- slow-motion exercises said to harness unseen forces -- to important events.
But these days, Sima's longstanding feud with Falun Gong has transformed him into an establishment darling, featured in newspapers and sent to state companies all over the country to lecture. In July, Chinese leaders banned Falun Gong and they have since labeled it an "evil sect."
The new role is unlikely and somewhat awkward for the 43-year-old former liberal journalist who turned to cult bashing -- and took the name Sima Nan -- when he found himself out of a job after the 1989 government crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.
"In 1995, I said Falun Gong was a cult and everyone said I was crazy," he said. "Now that President Jiang Zemin says it, people agree with me."
Still, Sima is careful to maintain some distance from the government, refusing its payments for his lectures. "There are not many people like me who are willing to take on these masters," he said. "I do this because I feel a responsibility to tell the truth."
Falun Gong has denied that it is a cult. The group says it blends traditional Chinese exercise, mysticism, Buddhism and Taoism to promote physical and spiritual health.
Sima says he supports the government's ban on Falun Gong, which he thinks is duping China's masses. But he remains ambivalent about the government's campaign against the group, with vitriolic propaganda and hundreds of arrests.
"I don't think they should let these people sit in Tiananmen Square, but I also think it's really bad that the government is treating this like a political movement," he said. "To have people criticizing each other for practicing and old ladies in tears confessing on TV -- you don't have to humiliate people like that."
Sima says the government's omnipresent anti-Falun Gong messages have actually elevated the profile of what was, in his eyes, an undistinguished group, catering to people looking for meaning at a time of vast social transformation.
"People are tired of all the criticism, and they think if the government is paying so much attention to something, maybe it's important and interesting," he said.
In fact, he said, the state media's daily broadcasts and articles on the group "have been free advertising for Li Hongzhi," the founder and leader of the Falun Gong, who lives in New York.
Sima, the son of a traditional Chinese medical doctor, said he began his adult life as a believer in qi gong, which is said to improve health and, some say, gives practitioners magical powers.
Falun Gong considers itself a type of qi gong, and there are hundreds of other schools in China that have flourished in recent years, most with their own belief system and master. Sima said that in his youth he certainly made the rounds.
"I used to believe in supernatural powers, and I was very impressed with those masters who could do amazing things," he said. But over time, he said, he grew skeptical of some of the stupendous claims, like being able to levitate or cure cancer. He says he still believes that qi gong exercises are good for body and soul.
In 1990, he embarked on a personal quest against many large qi gong and other quasi-religious groups that he says promote superstition and unscientific thought.
Until this summer Falun Gong was just one of his many targets. Sima said it is by no means the most popular of China's qi gong sects. He listed several others -- Zhong Gong, Yuan Ji Gong and Wang Gong -- which he said are bigger.
He is critical of China's leaders for suddenly singling out Falun Gong, noting that other groups that he considers equally unscientific have been granted legal status because they enjoy the patronage of government officials.
"Instead of just saying Falun Gong is an evil sect, they should be using science to be proving generally that there are no supernatural powers," he said.
The government's troubles with Falun Gong started after 10,000 members surrounded the leadership compound in Beijing in April, demanding recognition.
Not one to shy away from confrontation, Sima has been know to travel long distances to gate-crash qi gong meetings, confronting faith healers and qi gong masters. Last February, followers of one man, Hu Wailin, beat Sima and trapped him temporarily in a house in Shandong Province.
Some critics say that with his broad smile and theatrical bent, Sima's greatest skill is not exposing superstition, but engaging in self-promotion.
But after 10 years of crossing China in old trains and hundreds of nights in spare government guest houses, he denies that fame or money are his motivators. He lives on the income of a small television production company he owns.
Still, he's a natural on stage -- breaking spoons with a touch of the hand and passing handkerchiefs though fire without igniting them. He clearly loves the limelight. This week he took a brief respite from his government assignments to perform with an American magician, James Randy, offering a huge reward to anyone who could prove to be in possession of supernatural powers.


"China warns US lawmakers for continued backing of Falungong movement"

("Yahoo Singapore News", November 20, 1999)

China has warned the United States that continued backing for the banned Falungong movement could harm Sino-US relations boosted by this week's deal on China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
The warning was sounded by a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington.
"I would like to appeal (to) them not to tarnish their great institution by supporting an evil cult so as to spare China-US relations from gratuitous harm," Yu Shuning said.
Yu described the Falungong as "an evil cult widely known for spreading heretic ideas, causing violent deaths and massive suffering of its followers, disrupting public order and undermining social stability."
The warning came in response to a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives late on Thursday.
It urged the Clinton administration to use "every appropriate public and private forum" to demand that Beijing release jailed Falungong followers and allow them to pursue their religious beliefs.
According to Falungong leaders, their movement seeks internal harmony among individuals through a combination of physical and spiritual exercise based on a mix of Buddhism and Taoism.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged jailing 111 leading members of the group since it was banned in China in July.
Beijing has been waging a campaign against Falungong since April, when the movement demonstrated its organizational strength by holding a sit-in in front of a government residential compound in the Chinese capital.
The demonstrators numbering at least 10,000 were protesting the arrest of some of Falungong's leaders.

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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