"China Denies Falun Gong Beating"

(Associated Press, February 29, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - China denied on Tuesday a report that a jailed member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement died following a police beating, saying that the woman was never mistreated and died from a heart attack.
Chen Zixiu was at least the 11th Falun Gong practitioner to die in police custody, since the communist government banned the group seven months ago as a public menace. Some of those who died had been on hunger strikes.
News of Chen's death came just ahead of a visit to Beijing by the top U.N. human rights official. Mary Robinson said in Hong Kong on Tuesday that respect for human rights has deteriorated in China and she intended to raise freedom of expression and religion with Chinese leaders in meetings later this week.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China reported Monday that after detaining Chen, police in eastern Weihai city demanded her family pay a $120 fine. When they could not, police beat Chen to death, leaving her family a bruised, bloodied corpse to retrieve on Feb. 21, the group said.
In a written statement, the Information Office of the State Council, China's cabinet, disputed the center's report, saying there was no fine and never any mistreatment.
The government office described Chen, 59, as ``addicted'' to Falun Gong. She had traveled to Beijing previously to take part in ``illegal gatherings'' and was intercepted at the Weihai train station on Feb. 17 on her way to the Chinese capital, the government said.
Chen was not detained, but taken to an office for ``helpful education,'' the statement said. Four days later, it added, when her health worsened, Chen was sent to a hospital, where she died from a heart attack.
Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Falun Gong followers have been forced to attend government-ordered lectures meant to persuade them to renounce their beliefs. The Hong Kong group estimates that 300 sect members have been put on trial and 5,000 more have been sent to labor camps without trial.
Falun Gong drew millions of Chinese with its combination of slow-motion exercises and blend of Taoist and Buddhist cosmology and ideas drawn from founder Li Hongzhi, an ex-government clerk who now lives in New York. Practitioners say Falun Gong promotes health and morality.
The State Council has previously denied reports that Falun Gong members were being mistreated in custody. It has acknowledged that two other followers died while in police care, but said one died from a heart attack and the other jumped from a train while being taken back to her hometown.

"Falun Gong Member Dies in Custody"

by Charles Hutzler (Associated Press, February 28, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - Police beat to death a Falun Gong follower unable to pay a fine, a rights group reported today, and the parents of two jailed activists in the banned spiritual movement have asked China's leaders to release their daughters.
The report of the death of Chen Zixiu and the petition to free the jailed Li sisters came just before a visit to Beijing by the U.N. human rights chief, an event likely to energize Falun Gong practitioners to renew their protest campaign against the government's 7-month-old ban.
Mary Robinson's visit Wednesday and Thursday will occur ahead of Washington's plans to censure China at the annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The U.S. government has pointed to the crackdown on Falun Gong among other actions as evidence of China's deteriorating respect for human rights.
In reporting Chen's death, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China urged Robinson to speak out and not let Chinese leaders use her visit to mask abuses during her stay.
Chen was at least the 11th Falun Gong practitioner to die while in police custody, either from mistreatment or hunger striking, since the ban in July, the group said. It gave the following account:
Authorities in the eastern city of Weihai detained Chen Feb. 17, accusing the 60-year-old of heading to Beijing to join protests, and they demanded a $120 fine her family could not pay. On Feb. 20, a fellow detainee told her family that Chen was being beaten, and the next day, police notified them she was dead.
``The body the relatives saw was too horrible to look at. It was covered in purple and black bruises, the ears, nose and mouth had blood stains and the teeth were broken,'' the center said.
Police prevented the family from videotaping the corpse, and lawyers approached by relatives who wanted to sue refused to take the case, saying the government would never approve, the center reported.
Police officials in Weifang said they knew nothing about the case. The State Council, the cabinet, declined comment, but in the past has denied that Falun Gong members have died from police abuse.
Chinese leaders banned Falun Gong as a menace to public order and Communist Party rule and have launched the largest repression campaign since crushing pro-democracy protests in 1989. According to the Information Center, hundreds of followers have been put on trial and 5,000 more sent to labor camps without trial.
The group, believed to have drawn tens of millions of followers, advocates a combination of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and group founder Li Hongzhi. Believers say practice promotes health and morality.
Many leading members have been convicted of crimes for activities that were supposedly legal before the July 22 ban. The seemingly arbitrary and retroactive nature of the government prosecutions is at the center of the petition by the parents of Li Xiaobing and Li Xiaomei.
The sisters ran a book shop in Beijing that became a center for the sale of Falun Gong materials. They were arrested on July 20, convicted of running an illegal business and using a cult to undermine laws at a closed-door trial on Jan. 28. They were sentenced to six and seven years in prison.
``Before they were arrested, no law defined Falun Gong as a cult. When they were selling books, nobody told them these books were bad and could not be sold,'' said the petition from father Li Yi and mother Nie Zhen, also a Falun Gong member.
The petition, dated Feb. 5, has been sent to China's legislature, the Supreme People's Court, the chief prosecutor's office and the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

"Falun Gong member dies after China beatings-group"

(Reuters, February 28, 2000)

BEIJING, Feb 28 (Reuters) - A 60-year-old member of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong died after beatings by Chinese police, a human rights group said on Monday in a report issued days before the U.N. rights chief is to visit China.
The Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Movement in China said Chen Zixiu died from police beatings sustained after she was detained by police in Weifang in the eastern province of Shandong for failing to pay a fine.
The centre said family members called by police to fetch her body on February 21 -- four days after her detention -- found it covered with bruises, the teeth broken and blood coming out of the ears.
Chen, a member of the meditation sect China outlawed last July, was detained by police on February 17 on suspicion she was going to Beijing to petition the government over the Falun Gong ban, the centre said.
While Chen was kept in a government-run ``Falun Gong reconversion camp,'' police demanded her daughter pay a fine of 1,000 yuan ($120) -- a sum Chen couldn't raise because she had already paid a 5,000 yuan fine, the centre said.
Police in Weifang could not be reached for comment.
The Hong Kong-based centre said Chen's death brings to 11 the number of Falun Gong adherents who have died from beatings or hunger strikes in custody since China banned the sect in July.
China acknowledged three Falun Gong deaths as of December, but said one was a suicide and two died of heart failure.
The centre urged U.N. rights chief Mary Robinson, who will visit Beijing on March 1-2 and meet Chinese leaders, to ``frankly criticise these extremely grave violations of human rights in the handling of the Falun Gong issue.'' Robinson, will discuss technical cooperation with China and raise various human rights concerns with Chinese officials during her visit, according to spokesman Jose Diaz.
A scathing report issued last week by the State Department report which said China's human rights record ``deteriorated markedly'' in 1999 focused heavily on China's exhaustive campaign to destroy Falun Gong.
The report said thousands of members of the sect -- which mixes Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese Qigong calisthenics -- have been detained and others interned at psychiatric hospitals.
China's Communist government angrily rejected the report as interference in its internal affairs.

"For Whom the Gong Tolls"

by Peter Carlson ("The Washington Post", February 27, 2000)

It was strange, maybe even miraculous: As soon as Master Li saw Gary Feuerberg in the crowded Manhattan hotel lobby, he walked right over and shook his hand. Somehow, Master Li could sense that Feuerberg was one of his disciples.
"He knew I was a follower," Feuerberg says. "He could see it because when you become a practitioner of Falun Gong, it's evident to a clairvoyant." Master Li is a clairvoyant. It's just one of his many talents.
"Undeniably, he has supernatural powers," Feuerberg says. "But he doesn't show them, he doesn't display them."
Thin and balding, with a neatly trimmed beard, Feuerberg, 56, is a mathematical statistician at the Department of Transportation. He's eating his lunch in a cafeteria near his office, talking about Master Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong, the spiritual practice that the Chinese government crushed last year, causing an international controversy.
"The other spiritual paths I've done--Christian things--were all related to Earth and this planetary sphere," Feuerberg says, "but Master Li is beyond this planetary sphere."
He digs into the last item on his plastic plate--a piece of apple pie--and continues.
"He has gotten permission--put that word in quotes--from the higher world to do what he does. You cannot bring this kind of truth to the world without permission. He would be killed. He would be destroyed. The fact that he has been able to do this shows that he has support from above."
Clairvoyant?. . . Supernatural powers?. . . Beyond this planetary sphere? It sounds strange, but many strange things are said about Master Li Hongzhi--sometimes by his followers, sometimes by his enemies, sometimes by Li himself:
That he can levitate and become invisible.
That he knows "the top secret of the universe."
That he has 100 million followers in China.
That he might be, as the Wall Street Journal put it, "the greatest threat to China's ruling Communist Party."
That he teaches five simple exercises that have resulted in millions of miraculous cures.
That he discourages his followers from taking medicine, which has led to more than 1,000 deaths.
That he is a charlatan living in luxury on wealth gouged from deluded disciples.
That he is indifferent to money and lives in a modest apartment in Queens, N.Y., with his wife and teenage daughter.
That he has disappeared.
That he's on a desert mountaintop, watching over us all.
Li Hongzhi is a man and a myth and a mystery. He also has a PR woman, Gail Rachlin. I called her to request an interview.
She laughed. "You and thousands of others," she said. "I get calls daily. Unfortunately, it's not the right time. Officials have informed us that the Chinese government has sent people out to assassinate him."
What officials?
She can't reveal that. But they were, she says, Americans.
"How would you feel if there were assassins after you?" she says. "The Chinese government is very shrewd. Why would we expose our teacher?"
Last July, right after the Chinese cracked down on Falun Gong, Li held a news conference and did a few interviews in a Manhattan skyscraper. Those were his last public appearances.
"I haven't heard from him since then," says Rachlin, who is an avid Falun Gong practitioner. "I don't know where he is. But I know he's safe." How do you know?
"I've heard."
How did you hear?
She sighs. "I can just feel it," she says.
Bogus Buddha? The mystery of Li Hongzhi starts right at the beginning--with his birthday.
Li says he was born on May 13, 1951. The Chinese government says he was born on July 7, 1952, that he created a bogus birth certificate to give himself the same birthday as Sakyamuni--the Buddha.
Li denies it. "During the Cultural Revolution, the government misprinted my birth date. I just corrected it," he told Time magazine last July. "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."
Ordinary? A short biography that appeared as an appendix to Li's book "Zhuan Falun" tells a far different story: At the age of 4, Li was picked to apprentice with a famous Buddhist master. At 8, he attained supernatural powers: He could bend metal pipes, become invisible, rise into the heavens.
One day in fourth grade, he left his book bag in school and returned to find the place locked. "If only I could enter the classroom," he thought, and suddenly he was floating through the walls.
When he was 12, his first master left him, saying, "A new master will come to teach you." The new master took him to an isolated place and taught him kung fu and Li's body became as "soft as cotton and as hard as iron." A third master taught him inner cultivation and a fourth, a woman, tutored him in Buddhism. All in all, he was guided by more than 20 masters. From their wisdom, he created Falun Gong, which "will illuminate every corner of the earth, nourish all the living things, warm the whole world and play an unparalleled role in the realization of an ideal and perfect society on this planet."
This official biography praised Li in the most laudatory of superlatives: "Mr. Li has a deep insight into the mysteries of the cosmos . . . Whoever is lucky enough to meet him is deeply impressed by his simple life style, unadorned speech and unselfish service . . . He works excessively and knows no Sundays and holidays, often having no time to eat or rest. His only aspiration is to make more people healthy and happy . . ."
This praise of Li was signed "Research Society of Falun Dafa"--a group whose president is Li. It appeared in early editions of his book, but was later removed when Falun Gong was mocked as a cult of personality.


There is, of course, another version of the story. It's less mystical, more mundane, more verifiable.
Li Hongzhi was born in Jilin province in northeast China. After high school, he worked on an army stud farm, played trumpet in a police band and, in the 1980s, became a clerk for the Changchun Cereals Co.
By then, the post-Mao government had lifted restrictions on religion and encouraged entrepreneurship. This new openness led to a revival of qigong, the ancient Chinese spiritual practice characterized by slow, meditative exercises believed to improve body, mind and spirit. Scores of self-proclaimed qigong masters competed for followers, frequently touting their mystical healing powers. In 1992, Li Hongzhi joined them, hitting the lecture circuit to promote his brand of qigong, which he called Falun Gong.
"He was one of many qigong masters who were going entrepreneurial at that time," says Nancy Chen, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who has studied the history of qigong. "He created an amalgam that combined some meditation, some exercises and some healing. It's a combination of different traditions, a kind of New Age variety."
Li's "cultivation practice" is a mystical blend of Buddhism and Taoism, enlivened with cryptic references to "demonic interference," animal spirits and a spinning "falun"--a mystical "wheel of law"--that he claimed to insert into his disciples' abdomens telekinetically.
Li preached that illness is caused by evil deeds the sick person performed--in this life or a previous one. Modern medicine treats only the symptoms of a disease, he said, not its underlying spiritual cause, which can be cured only by practicing Falun Gong.
"The only way to find yourself comfortably free of illnesses," he wrote in "Zhuan Falun," "is through cultivation practice!"
Li quickly attracted millions of followers, many of them elderly women. Part of his appeal, says Chen, was that Falun Gong classes were free, although Li did sell millions of his books and tapes. Also, his message arrived at the perfect time: As state-run industries were closed or privatized, millions of Chinese were losing government health benefits and, as Chen says, "Falun Gong promised to cure diseases."
At first, the government permitted Li to proselytize freely but in 1997, fearing his increasing popularity, it banned Li's books and curtailed his meetings. Feeling the heat, he moved his family to Queens and began lecturing in America, Australia and Europe.
Back in China, his disciples, who by then numbered in the tens of millions, became increasingly militant. When a Beijing TV program denounced Falun Gong as a "cult" in 1998, the station was besieged by hundreds of Li's followers. When a teen magazine ran an essay attacking Falun Gong last April, thousands of his disciples surrounded its offices. Cops broke up that demonstration, allegedly beating some protesters.
Two days later, on April 25, 1999, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners surrounded Zhingnanhai, the Chinese equivalent of the Kremlin, in a silent protest. It was the largest demonstration seen in Beijing since army tanks crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square 10 years earlier.
Shocked at the group's audacity and its organizing ability, the government cracked down, banning Falun Gong and arresting thousands of practitioners. Many were tortured, according to Amnesty International, and a 42-year-old woman was beaten to death in police custody. In December, four Falun Gong leaders were sentenced to terms ranging from seven to 18 years for conspiring with Li Hongzhi to "spread heresy." This month, hundreds of Falun Gong prisoners went on a hunger strike, and one died after being force-fed by his captors.
To outsiders, it seemed absurd to bring the full force of state power down on what may appear to have been little more than a cult of old ladies doing calisthenics. But, in terms of purely Machiavellian power politics, it was not an irrational move, says Merle Goldman, co-author of "China: A History."
Throughout Chinese history, charismatic religious groups have sparked political uprisings. In the mid-1800s, a man who claimed to be Jesus's brother led a revolt resulting in a civil war that killed millions. In 1900, the so-called "Boxers"--a qigong cult that believed its exercises made members impervious to bullets--rose up in an attempt to expel foreigners. The attempt failed; it turned out that they weren't impervious after all.
China's rulers see Falun Gong as a similar threat, Goldman says: "It's widespread and they can't seem to stop it. They are really frightened."
In his last public appearances before he dropped out of sight, Li tried to reassure the Chinese rulers that he had no political agenda. They responded with an indictment and a relentless barrage of propaganda against him. The government produced a videotape called "Falun Gong--Cult of Evil" and a comic book titled "Li Hongzhi: The Man and His Evil Deeds." They accused Li of being a fraud, a "swindler," a rich tax evader, a decadent patron of foreign casinos and brothels and a "despotic tyrant like Hitler."
Even the description in the government's official arrest warrant was insulting: "Li is about 1.78 meters in height with slanted eyebrows, single-edged eyelids, a little bit fat . . ."

Magic Happens

"I met Master Li," says Lisa Fan. "His skin is glowing. His face is glowing. You see this glowing around him."
She is sitting with her husband, Robert Nappi, at the dining room table in their spacious Alexandria split-level. She is 35, a Chinese immigrant who works as a computer engineer at the Department of Health and Human Services. He is 47, an American who worked at a wastewater treatment plant until he was nearly killed seven years ago in an auto accident that left him with a bad back, a numb arm and so much brain damage that he could no longer read.
But when he looked at Master Li's book, he claims, he could suddenly read again.
"When you pick up the book, magic happens," he says.
Fan first learned of Falun Gong while riding the subway in Washington in 1997. She saw a woman reading a book in Chinese, so she started reading over her shoulder.
"It stirred up something deep down inside myself," she says.
The book was "Zhuan Falun." The woman lent it to Fan, who raced through it in two days. It emitted an energy, she says, that made her feel young and excited. Nappi was a smoker in those days, so she read him a brief passage about smoking. Immediately, he quit.
"That's the first miracle," he says.
Later, he stopped drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Those were miracles, too, he says. And one day, he cut his finger working in the garden. It was a nasty wound that turned the finger black and blue. He thought of going to the emergency room. Instead, he did Falun Gong exercises. A half hour later, he says, the cut was gone and his finger was healed.
"I thought, 'This is spooky,' " he recalls.
Last year, they traveled to New York to hear Master Li lecture. During the question period, Nappi stood up but he was so nervous that he started babbling on and on about his brain injury and he never did say anything coherent. He was mortified. So was Fan.
But Master Li just smiled. "I have observed your thoughts," he said. "Your mind is in a very confused state right now."
He was so calm, so kind, Fan says. "I was very touched."
A picture of Li hangs on the wall of their living room. Another is propped on the fireplace mantle. But that doesn't mean that they worship him.
"Master Li says, 'Don't worship me,' " Fan says. "That's why he keeps a low profile. Master Li doesn't want people to focus on him. He wants people to focus on the lesson."
She gets up and takes out a videotape. It's the first of a nine-part set of Li's lectures. She pops it into the TV set. Li appears on the screen. He's sitting in front of a yellow backdrop, wearing a white shirt and a blue blazer. He's speaking in Chinese, with an English translation dubbed in. He's telling the story of how a famous qigong master chose him as an apprentice when he was just a small boy.
"It was predestined," Fan says. "He was selected to carry out this task."

The Hustler

"Li Hongzhi is what you call a hustler," says Yu Shuning, smiling mischievously.
Yu is the official media spokesman for the Chinese Embassy. He's a middle-age man wearing the international uniform of the nondescript bureaucrat--white shirt, blue suit, subdued tie, black-framed glasses.
"He deceives people--that's why I think hustler is the word," he says. "He changed his birthday to coincide with that of Sakyamuni. We have records of that. Then he says he's much greater than Sakyamuni. He's the greatest savior in the world. He can save anybody. He can save everybody."
Yu laughs at the idea. He's sitting in a little room in the embassy. Thick red drapes block out the sun. Plush green chairs are crowned by prim white doilies. The coffee table holds big bottles of Sprite and Diet Coke. There is no portrait of Mao, no hammer-and-sickle--and absolutely no noise. The room has the feel of a septuagenarian's parlor.
Yu pours himself half a glass of Diet Coke and runs through the official rap on Li Hongzhi: He preached against medicine and 1,400 of his followers died because they stopped going to the doctor. Others went mad. Some killed themselves. One killed his parents. Meanwhile, Li was making millions and evading taxes. His organization harassed anyone who criticized it. And he masterminded the April 25 demonstration in Beijing.
The government had no choice but to ban the evil cult, he says: "By taking these measures, we're trying to protect the human rights of all citizens, including the ordinary Falun Gong practitioners." It's a masterful bit of spin--arresting people for their religious beliefs is protecting their human rights.
He is disappointed, he says, that the United States government continues to give Li sanctuary. "We have asked Interpol to have Li Hongzhi arrested and extradited back to China. As a member of Interpol, the United States government is morally obliged to extradite because Li Hongzhi has been declared a criminal leader of a cult."
He scoffs at rumors in Falun Gong circles that the Chinese government has dispatched a hit squad to kill Li. "This is the kind of rumor they spread to smear the Chinese government," he says. "The Chinese government does not have a policy of terrorism."
Later, he faxes over a packet of material on Li. Most of it is pretty dry but the last page is an anti-Li poem written in a weird pidgin English: I think my Falun Gong is fine, It can help collect money to dine, And drink a lot good wine, I have lots followers here and there, And now I'm a billionaire, What about anything else that I need to care? He Doesn't Call, He Doesn't Write In early January, the New York Post reports that Li Hongzhi, fearing Chinese death squads, has moved out of his Queens apartment and "gone into hiding."
The paper attributes this information to Gail Rachlin, Li's PR woman. I call her. She says the story is "full of lies." She says she has no idea if Li has left Queens or not.
"I don't think he's there," she says, "but I don't know." Why don't you know? "Master Li doesn't call me," she says.
Why not? There's no need for him to call, she says. Besides, he doesn't speak English and she doesn't speak Chinese.
So I call a man who does speak Chinese--Erping Zhang, a Chinese immigrant who translated for Li on speaking tours in the United States, Australia and Europe. I mention the Post story and ask if Li has really fled Queens.
"I have no idea," he says. "It's not my concern. Of course, I hope he's safe but that's his private life. I don't even have the desire to know." You've traveled around the world with him, I say. What's he like? "He is very prudent, very modest, very nice, very kind," he says. "He always thinks of others before himself. He's a very great individual." I'm hoping for something a little more specific. An anecdote or two, perhaps. What was it like, I ask, to hang out with him after lectures? "I didn't associate with him at all after the lectures," he said. "I have my own private life and he has his."
Obviously he doesn't want to talk about Li. But he's eager to talk about Li' steachings. He says Falun Gong is not a cult. He says practicing Falun Gong cured his ulcers. He says Master Li never told his disciples that they shouldn't go to doctors--that choice is up to each practitioner. And he says that it doesn't matter where Master Li lives--or even if he lives. "I don't even pay attention to those things," he says. "The practice is good for my health and I like the values but I don't put a whole lot into the person. He's a great teacher. I respect him highly. But I'm not into worshiping."

Their Master's Voice

Master Li's voice whispers out of the boombox.
He is giving commands in Chinese, directing his disciples in the exercises he has invented.
"Up," he says, and their hands move up.
"Down," he says, and their hands move down.
But these aren't calisthenics, and Master Li is not Richard Simmons. The movements are soft and slow and Li's commands are low murmurs that are barely audible over the tape's gently tinkling music. Twenty people stand in a circle around the boombox in a gym in a Rockville middle school. Most of them are Chinese immigrants but about a third are Americans. One of them is Feuerberg, the statistician for the Department of Transportation. He comes here every Friday night to do the exercises and study Master Li's book.
"Up," Master Li whispers. "Down."
This exercise is called "Penetrating the Two Cosmic Extremes." It expels bad qi--or energy--from the body, Li claims, replacing it with purifying qi from the cosmos. It ends with the practitioners resting, hands cupped at the navel. Now, the room is silent, except for the sounds from the gym next door--basketballs bouncing, sneakers squeaking on shellacked wood.
After a pause, Li's voice leads the group into the final exercise. It's called "Falun Heavenly Circulation." Li claims that it expands "energy potency and supernormal powers." Moving very slowly, the practitioners trace the outlines of their own bodies, head to foot, back and front. They repeat this nine times, then return to the resting position.
Now the exercises are over. The practitioners take out their copies of Master Li's book and sit in two circles on the floor--one for Chinese speakers, one for English. Feuerberg directs the seven English speakers to page 227, where they stopped reading last week.
"Maybe we should start with the paragraph before it," he says, "because it's a very good paragraph."
He starts reading: "There is still another form of demonic interference that every practitioner, including each member in our cultivation way, will encounter. It is the demon of sex . . ."
Sex is very serious, Li says. It is necessary to reproduce the human race, of course, and he does not require followers to "give it up completely." But sex can interfere with one's spiritual life. "Desires and sex are such things that belong to the human attachments," he wrote, "and these things should all be abandoned."
Li discourses on sex for several pages. In the circle, each practitioner reads a paragraph aloud in turn. When the chapter ends, they discuss it.
"Sex does have a role," says one woman, "but it shouldn't take over."
"That would be out of balance," says another.
They move on to the next chapter, then the next, then the one after that. Li tells the story of a Falun Gong practitioner who had a cerebral hemorrhage and fell to the ground and was hustled to a hospital. After learning to walk again, he blamed Falun Gong for his injury. But, Li says, if he had not practiced Falun Gong he would have died where he fell.
Then Li raises a question: "How can you distinguish between fake and genuine qigong masters?" Not by healing powers, he says: Some fake masters can cure illnesses. Some of them are possessed by animal spirits. They are dangerous. He urges his disciples not to attend their lectures.
"There are many fake qigong masters nowadays," he warns, "and some of them are quite well-known."
So how can you spot a fake master? Li never says, but he leaves the distinct impression that a fake is anyone not named Li Hong Zhi.

King of the Hill

Master Li is sitting cross-legged, hands folded in his lap. He's perched on a rocky desert mountaintop overlooking a lush valley full of tall trees.
It's a photograph. It appeared on Falun Gong Web sites on Jan. 19. It's a new picture, never before seen by his disciples. The caption is in Chinese. It says that Li left New York last summer and is now on a mountain, watching over Falun Gong practitioners and ordinary people.
It's the first news about Li since he dropped out of sight last July and it caused quite a stir among practitioners. They've been printing it, framing it, sending it all over the world via the Internet, and speculating endlessly on what it might mean.
Feuerberg says he thinks it means that "Master Li is now going to make America his next center of activity."
Nappi says he figures it means that Master Li has ended his teaching "and the rest of us have to finish it."
Fan says, "he definitely is doing his part but it's beyond our understanding."
Chen, the anthropologist, says the picture is a Chinese metaphor that means that "he's going into obscurity--basically hiding out."
Rachlin says the photo was probably taken before July and posted by someone who has no idea what Master Li is doing.
Master Li says nothing, of course. He just sits there with his eyes closed, looking serene, inscrutable, mysterious.

"Sect member 'dies after force-feeding'"

("South China Morning Post", February 23, 2000)

A hunger-striking Falun Gong member died after force-feeding by authorities damaged his windpipe and infected his lungs, a human rights group said yesterday.
Liu Xuguo, a Falun Gong practitioner from the eastern province of Shandong, went on hunger strike over the Lunar New Year holiday, which began on February 5, to protest against his imprisonment in a labour camp, the Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
The Hong Kong-based group said Liu fainted after nearly a week without food. Police took him to a hospital where, working with medical staff, they stuffed a plastic pipe down his throat to force-feed him, the group said.
Their actions seriously injured Liu's windpipe and infected his lungs, the centre said, and he died on February 11.
An official at the labour camp in Shandong's Jining city where the rights group said Liu had been held denied the report.
"This did not happen," he said.
The Information Centre said Liu, a 29-year-old technician at a fertiliser factory, was detained after going to Beijing in October to protest.
Thousands of practitioners have demonstrated in Beijing against the Government's ban on Falun Gong and have been detained in recent months.
Before the Lunar New Year, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labour camp - a punishment police can hand down without trial, the centre said.
Beijing banned Falun Gong in July as a menace to society and a threat to the Communist Party's rule

"Banned Sect Member Dies in China"

(Associated Press, February 22, 2000)

BEIJING (AP) - Chinese authorities force-fed a hunger-striking member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, injuring his wind pipe, infecting his lungs and eventually causing his death, a human rights group said Tuesday.
Liu Xuguo, a Falun Gong practitioner from the eastern province of Shandong, went on a hunger strike over the Lunar New Year holiday, which began Feb. 5, to protest his imprisonment in a labor camp, the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said.
The Hong Kong-based group said Liu fainted after nearly a week without food. Police took him to a hospital where, working with medical staff, they stuffed a plastic pipe down his throat to force-feed him, the group said.
Their actions seriously injured Liu's wind pipe and seriously infected his lungs, the Information Center said. It said he died on Feb. 11.
An official at the labor camp in Shandong's Jining city, where the rights group said Liu had been held, denied the report. He refused to give his name.
The Information Center said Liu, a 29-year-old technician at a fertilizer factory, was detained after going to Beijing in October to protest. Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have demonstrated in Beijing against the government's ban on their group and have been detained in recent months.
Before the Lunar New Year, Liu was sentenced to three years in a labor camp - a punishment police can hand down without trial, the Information Center said. It said he started his hunger strike to protest the sentence.
China's communist leaders banned Falun Gong in July as a menace to society and a threat to their rule.
The spiritual movement has attracted millions of followers with its blend of meditation exercises and Buddhist- and Taoist-based ideas, which practitioners believe promote health and good citizenship.

"China slams U.S. asylum for Falun Gong members"

(Reuters, February 17, 2000)

BEIJING, Feb 17 (Reuters) - China told the United States on Thursday not to give asylum to Chinese members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement and said U.S. criticism of a tough crackdown on it threatened to create ``new difficulties'' in ties.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said China ``resolutely opposed'' any grant of asylum to Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong -- a mishmash of Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises designed to harness energy in the body and heal.
He urged Washington to ``understand and respect the Chinese government's principled stand'' on a crackdown on the movement which has drawn widespread criticism abroad, especially in the United States.
Otherwise, U.S. criticism risked ``creating new dificulties'' to bilateral relations, he said.
China says 1,400 practitioners have died following Falun precepts for self-healing rather than seeking medical help, and justified a crackdown on Falun Gong describing it as an ``evil cult that endangered Chinese society and people.''
Zhu told a news conference the crackdown on the movement was designed to protect the basic human rights and freedom of Chinese citizens and maintaining social stability.
Some 20 Falun Gong leaders have been jailed for up to 18 years in the crackdown on the group, which claims 100 million members worldwide. Beijing says there were only two million in China.
About 300 other leaders face trial, while 5,000 have been sent to labour camps to undergo ``re-education,'' administrative punishment that requires no judicial process, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights watchdog.
Defiant adherents have staged repeated bold protests in Tiananmen Square, the political heart of China, since the group was outlawed last year.
The movement's charismatic leader Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States, says his movement is apolitical and poses no threat to Communist rule. He preaches salvation from a world corrupted by science, technology and decadence.

"U.S. May Grant Asylum for China Sect"

(Associated Press, February 16, 2000)

HONG KONG (AP) -- The United States may grant asylum to members of a sect banned in mainland China if there is proof they are being persecuted for their beliefs, a U.S. immigration official said Wednesday.
Jean Christiansen, district director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said asylum-seekers would need to show that they have ``a fear of living in China.'' Asylum would not be granted automatically to anyone claiming to be a sect member, she said.
Christiansen, who was in Hong Kong after meeting officials in mainland China, said she had no information on how many members of the Falun Gong sect have sought asylum.
Beijing outlawed Falun Gong in July last year as a public menace and a threat to Communist Party authority. Thousands have been detained and some sentenced to jail terms of up to 18 years, but adherents continue to defy the government by refusing to stop practicing.
The spiritual movement, founded in 1992 by an ex-government clerk who later moved to New York, has attracted millions of followers with its blend of slow-motion exercises and Taoist- and Buddhist-based ideas.
Only 13 percent of the thousands of people in mainland China who apply for asylum in the United States each year are successful.
Christiansen traveled to Hong Kong after meetings with mainland Chinese officials and members of the state-controlled media on a brief two-day visit to the southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Fuzhou.

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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