Eye of the Storm

As the Chinese Government calls for his arrest, the exiled leader of the massive Falun Gong movement talks about living in New York and watching politics and belief collide back home.

by JONATHAN S. LANDRETH & J.S. GREENBERG ("New York Times Magazine", August 8, 1999)


I don't want to get involved in politics. I don't care for it. Governments focus only on the problem at hand, instead of looking at what has caused this problem in the first place. If ordinary people's society does not become more virtuous, any number of problems may occur, and I cannot concern myself with this prospect. I am only responsible to the practitioners of Falun Gong.

I think it has done quite a bit of damage to me, personally. Were cultivators of Falun Gong to know that I was ranked among the influential people of the world, they would most likely laugh at me. As cultivators, we do not seek fame and profit. My masters are all practicing in the mountains. If they don't want to be seen, even I couldn't find them. I "came out" only because they said that I should. Otherwise I would not.

The difference is quite enormous. Chinese people's mentality is deeply influenced by their ancient cultural heritage. But Americans are unfettered by ancient culture. In terms of human characteristics, because Chinese people are so rational, they will consider the substance of what they do. A Westerner will make sure that it is done well on the surface. For instance, everyone knows Chinese food is quite delicious. But when it comes to surface qualities, it is not very particular. Chinese restaurants are often very casual, and all you really need is a pair of chopsticks. But Western cuisine, while it doesn't necessarily taste any better, pays much closer attention to exactly which fork is to be used when eating a certain food. Chinese people are concerned with the inner quality of culture, whereas Westerners are concerned with the surface qualities of culture.

Personally, I have no opposition to it. I need to have a quiet and calm place to concentrate on the practice. So I don't watch TV and movies often. But I know they have created irreversible pollution to the world. And human beings can never reverse the pollution and get back to its purest state, no matter how hard we try.

If they do not look carefully they will not recognize me. I seldom communicate with others because of the language barrier, and because of my personal practice, I seldom walk down the street. Sometimes on weekends, we go to the mall. You know, sometimes I help my wife do the grocery shopping. I love that I can get Chinese sauces in New York.

My wife and I have registered our own small company. We are preparing to publish my books. But I've been thinking, if the Chinese Government would not treat their people as they do now, and if they were willing to solve the issues through dialogue, I think that would be good for the Chinese Government and people as well. If they want me back, I would go back. But the Government is nervous and they don't want me back. I don't want to be any trouble to them. I can live wherever I am.

It is a practice that can remove illnesses, keep people fit and make one live longer. Like tai chi, it's a morning exercise. People practicing Falun Gong are expected to follow the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. And they must speak truthfully, have compassion, be benevolent, be tolerant. But whether people have other faiths or not, they can all practice Falun Gong. We do not get involved in faiths. We respect all of them.

A cult advocates end-of-the-world theories and leads people to do many bad things. I am only teaching people the practice for healing and fitness. Not only that, I am teaching people to have good moral characters. I think this is good and meaningful to society. The Chinese Government accused me of advocating a doomsday and of saying I can delay the end of the world by 30 years. That's really ridiculous. And very often people assume that in order to study the Great Way of Falun they would have to live like a monk and give up everything. Actually, all practitioners are members of society; they do ordinary things just like anyone else.

Normally people who do not like the principles of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance would not be very likely to study Falun Gong. Only the people who like these principles would come to learn. But people come and go as they please, you know; it's voluntary.

Translated from the Chinese.

"China Touts 'Healthy, Scientific' Alternatives To Falungong"

(Agence France Presse, August 11, 1999)

Shanghai's official Liberation Daily Wednesday published a two-page spread of instructions for "healthy, scientific" alternative exercises to those practiced by the banned Falungong sect.

Promoting government-approved substitutes for Falungong is playing a major role in the authorities' campaign to eradicate the quasi-religious doctrine in this sprawling city of 13 million.

The detailed instructions -- complete with more than 100 step-by-step body diagrams -- ran under the headline: "Criticize Falungong, encourage healthy, scientific exercises."

Sponsored by a domestic drug company, they outline an "Eighteen-Step Practice" that won a Shanghai Scientific and Technological Progress Prize.

Like the exercises at the core of Falungong, it incorporates slow, choreographed full-body motions coordinated with deep breathing.

The steps are called such things as "drawing the bow to the left and right" and "a pair of hands scoop the heavens."

The instructions not only provide information on how to perform the 18 sequences but explain with graphics which muscle and bone groups are developed, listing the physical ailments they can help to correct.

One of Beijing's chief propaganda tools in denouncing Falungong has been to brand it a cult promoting superstitious, non-scientific beliefs about supernatural healing powers.

But analysts say the July 22 ban -- which kicked off a mammoth propaganda campaign -- stemmed more from the political threat posed by the organizational abilities of Falungong's growing army of adherents.

Beijing has named the sect's founder Li Hongzhi, who lives in the United States, a wanted criminal.

More than 1,000 practitioners of non-Falungong exercise disciplines -- some based in martial arts -- have in past days been officially invited to perform in public areas such as Shanghai's riverside Bund.


Interview: Li Hongzhi
"I am just a very ordinary man"

by Anthony Spaeth ("Time Magazine", vol. 154, n. 4, August 2, 1999)

As Chinese authorities were arresting his followers on the mainland, the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, spoke by phone from New York City with TIME reporter Isabella Ng. Excerpts from the interview:

Li: This is unfair. The Chinese government has no understanding of Falun Gong, the practice of qigong or the masses. They should not impose such a ban on Falun Gong.

TIME: Why do you think the Beijing government is doing this?

Li: Probably they think there are too many people practicing Falun Gong, or that some Communist Party members are practicing as well.

TIME: Are they afraid people will listen to you instead of the Communist Party?

Li: I don't see anything wrong with that. I don't know why the government is so against it. I only know that I am working for the country and the people. And I think Falun Gong is good for the community. Isn't it nice if everyone can be virtuous and healthy?

TIME: Do you have relatives in China? Are they in trouble?

Li: My mother, my sister and her kids are in China. They are watched by the authorities. But I don't know if they have been interrogated by the police.

TIME: Do you believe that someone may have tried to use Falun Gong to engage in illegal activities?

Li: A true Falun Gong member will not do anything illegal. Most of them are people of good nature. As Chinese say, "They don't hit back when you hit them, and they won't answer back when you scream at them." They will always look into themselves first when a conflict occurs. A true member of Falun Gong will never in his life be a criminal.

TIME: Do you think that you should be held responsible for what is happening now in China?

Li: I taught Falun Gong in China for only three years. I have not been in direct contact with the members for almost four years. They practice on their own. I have never forced them. People passed my book around, and the practice got known through word of mouth.

TIME: But Falun Gong members seem to be well-connected and always seem to be in touch with each other.

Li: They just call each other and ask if they will practice. It's not very organized.

TIME: If you were given a chance to talk to China's leaders, what would you say to them?

Li: I would sincerely tell them, "If I have done anything wrong, I will change. If there is anything wrong with Falun Gong, it can be changed. Don't hit Falun Gong. It's no good for the community, and no good for the government."

TIME: The government has accused you of changing your date of birth to when Sakyamuni [Siddhartha Gautama] was born.
Li: During the Cultural Revolution, the government misprinted my birthdate. I just corrected it. During the Cultural Revolution, there were lots of misprints on identity. A man could become a woman, and a woman could become a man. It's natural that when people want to smear you, they will dig out whatever they can to destroy you. What's the big deal about having the same birthday as Sakyamuni? Many criminals were also born on that date. I have never said that I am Sakyamuni. I am just a very ordinary man.

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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