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"China swoops on Falun Gong on anniversary eve"

by Jeremy Page (Reuters, July 21, 2000)

BEIJING, July 21 (Reuters) - Chinese police swooped on more suspected membersof the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement on Friday as they tried to protest in a packed Tiananmen Square ahead of the first anniversary of Beijing's ban on the group.
Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police mixed with swarms of Chinese tourists in the vast plaza, questioning people and checking identification cards and calling police vans over walkie-talkies to pick up anyone acting suspiciously.
Police detained dozens of mainly young men and women, some of whom identified themselves as Falun Gong members, and piled them into the vans which sped to a nearby police station.
Plainclothes officers kicked, punched and dragged one young man by the hair as he tried to resist detention.
Defiant members of the Falun Group have staged almost daily protests in Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters, since Beijing banned the group on July 22, 1999 -- and later declared it an ``evil cult.''
A statement from U.S. Falun Gong practitioners said tens of thousands of group members had been arrested or detained since the ban, and at least 5,000 sent to labour camps without trial.
Many had suffered police torture, rape and beatings, while others were drugged in psychiatric hospitals, said the statement issued on the group's official website www.falundafa.org.
Human rights groups have documented 24 Falun Gong deaths in police custody in the past year.
``We ask only to have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with government officials in China, to sit down and come to a mutual understanding,'' the statement said.
Beijing says Falun Gong cheats its followers and blames it for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care in favour of faith in the teachings of its leader Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the Unted States.
The website had no anniversary statement from Li, but in an earlier statement he urged his followers to keep their faith -- also known as ``Dafa'' or ``Fa'' -- and accused ``old evil forces'' of spreading lies about him.
``They manipulate wicked human beings to spread lies that Dafa forbids people to take medicine and that this has led to 1,400 deaths,'' he said.
``Think about it everyone,'' Li said. ``The enormous test at present is to see how Dafa fares and how students conduct themselves in Master's absence.''
On Thursday, the Communist Party declared a decisive victory in its crackdown on a movement it accuses of undermining social stability and ``unspeakable political aims.''
``However, like all evil forces, the Falun Gong cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage,'' said a front-page commentary in the People's Daily.
Security has been tight around train and bus stations all week, with police checking identification papers and questioning travellers.
Falun Gong, which combines meditation with a doctrine rooted loosely in Buddhist and Daoist teachings, first rattled the atheist Communist Party with a 10,000-member protest in Beijing on April 25, 1999.
The government says the group's membership has dwindled to about 40,000 from two million. Falun Gong says it has tens of millions of followers in China and 40 other countries.

"Persistent Protesters From Banned Sect Keep Beijing Police on Edge"

by Craig S. Smith ("New York Times," July 21, 2000)

BEIJING, July 20 -- The police and Falun Gong followers played a grim game in Tiananmen Square today, with lean young cadets dashing across the vast open space to snatch down ocher banners briefly unfurled by middle-aged members of the banned spiritual discipline. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of the group's followers have been taken into custody in recent days as protests increase to mark the first anniversary of the government's crackdown on the movement that swept the country in the late 1990's, gathering millions of adherents. The arrests and a pervasive anti-Falun Gong propaganda campaign may have shrunk the group's numbers, but they have also hardened the will of those followers who remain.
Meanwhile, exhortations by Falun Gong's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, have become increasingly urgent in recent weeks, as he praises followers who "defend the practice" and warns of destruction for those "evil beings" who stand in its way.
"The wicked and evil will soon be eliminated, the vile ones in the human world will receive due retribution, and sins will no longer be allowed to continue," he wrote recently on the group's official Web site (www.minghui.org/eng.html). "Disciples are waiting to reach consummation, and I can wait no more."
Mr. Li founded Falun Gong in the early 1990's, developing a series of yogalike exercises based on the Chinese practice of qigong, a discipline of breathing control and meditation intended to channel the body's qi, or life force, to various ends.
His message of personal salvation from a morally degenerating world struck a chord with millions of Chinese disillusioned with the spiritual vacuum created by the collapse of the country's Communist ideology and by rampant corruption.
But the Chinese government grew increasingly uneasy with Mr. Li's growing popularity, and in early 1998 he left under pressure and moved to the United States. He owns a house in New York.
China began arresting adherents of the sect a year ago in a midnight raid on the group's most prominent members. Despite well publicized prison terms of up to 18 years for the most active followers and reports of torture and death among believers who have been detained, Falun Gong adherents continue to arrive on Tiananmen Square, China's symbolic center and most public space, to bear fleeting witness to their faith.
The protests appear futile amid the crowds of tourists from across China who fill the square each day. So huge is the square that the small bands of protesters attract little attention in the few seconds that it takes for the plainclothes police officers spread among the crowds to subdue them. The protesters rarely manage to raise a banner long enough for anyone to read it, and they are whisked away in the blue-and-white police vans that cruise around the square for that purpose.
Because China's state-run news media rarely mention the protests, few Chinese are even aware of them.
"What was that?" asked one woman after a dozen young police officers had dragged down a banner and bundled several Falun Gong followers into a van that arrived within seconds.
"Some troublemaker," replied a man beside her.
The periodic scuffles, occasionally over elderly men or women who sat in the lotus position and raised their arms in the opening gesture of Falun Gong's meditative exercises, gave a bizarre edge today to the square's otherwise festive atmosphere.
Tour groups marched around behind guides, and children flew colorful kites.
Occasionally bystanders gathered to watch silently as the police pummeled a resistant protester. At one point, uniformed police officers could be seen punching a man in the back of one of their vans.
Falun Gong activists abroad have grown increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to reach people inside China and keep the movement alive.
Its members have established an expanding network of Internet sites that occasionally circumvent China's efforts to block access. And the group has begun daily Chinese-language broadcasts into China, though the broadcasts were jammed soon after they started this month.
The group's message has taken on an increasingly apocalyptic cast as China's effort to exterminate the movement grinds down its numbers. This week, a message on Falun Gong's main Web site reported that Mr. Li had been locked for nine months in a battle with evil forces that damaged his body and turned his hair gray.
"Fellow cultivators, let us strive forward diligently and courageously," the message said. "Let us cherish the repeated opportunities that Master, through tremendous sacrifice, has created for us to advance towards consummation!"
Mr. Li's writings do not explain the reference to "consummation," but the message suggested that it referred to a transcendent event of the sort promised by many religions, old and new. "That humankind has made it to the year 2000 is not to give humankind prosperity, and even less is it to allow humankind to continue creating karma for their own selfish interests," the message said.
It is that sort of talk that most worries Beijing's leaders. China has a history of millenarian movements that have led to tens of millions of deaths and marked the end of some dynastic governments. Invisible as the Falun Gong protests are to most Chinese, they represent the most coordinated and sustained challenge to Communist Party rule since the pro-democracy movement of 1989.
"The cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage," said an editorial today in People's Daily, the party's official mouthpiece. The fight against Falun Gong, it said, would be a "long-lasting, complicated and acute struggle."

"Falungong shows it is still a strong force"

("Singapore Strait Times," July 20, 2000)

BEIJING -- Scores of Falungong followers raised banners in Tiananmen Square yesterday in a burst of protest that provoked a frenzied police response and proved the sect remained quite a force in China a year after being outlawed.
Police swarmed over groups of followers -- middle-aged women and children among them -- wresting away banners and knocking protesters to the ground.
Police detained more than 100 group members in a 10-minute explosion of seemingly co-ordinated protests across the vast plaza in central Beijing.
Police cleared the square immediately, slightly earlier than scheduled for a mid-morning visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A year ago today, security agents detained dozens of key organisers of the sect. Group members responded with mass protests. Two days later, Chinese leaders banned Falungong as a public menace.
Followers have streamed into Beijing this month for protests, and police have picked up at least 200 practitioners from Tiananmen Square every day for the past week, said a Communist Party official involved in security work.
Chinese leaders have ordered police in Beijing and other cities to watch airports and train and bus stations to prevent followers from reaching the capital, the official said.
A Hongkong human rights group said yesterday that two Falungong members died in police custody this month, bringing to 24 the number of deaths from abuse since China outlawed the group last year.
The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said it had confirmed with relatives or fellow adherents the July 7 fatal beating of 44-year-old Li Zaiji and the July 12 death by apparent suffocation of 68-year-old Wang Peisheng.
Falungong is a mystic belief based on the teachings of exiled master Li Hongzhi, who advocates Buddhist moral values and teaches the group breathing and meditation exercises.
The government has accused the group ofcheating followers and causing 1,500 deaths, mostly of followers who it said refused medical treatment according to the group's teachings.

"Falun Gong followers keep the faith"

by Phuong Le ("Seattle Post-Intelligencer," July 20, 2000)

He has not been sick in more than two years, he says, and he feels healthier and has discovered answers to some of life's most puzzling questions.
Since he began practicing Falun Gong, software analyst Kim Eng says he has reached a higher level of mental and physical development.
"It's not easy to understand," Eng said of the spiritual practice that claims 100 million followers and was banned in China one year ago today.
"My outlook has become more positive, more relaxed, and I have a better understanding of myself," he said one evening in the International District, where he and others perform exercises designed to purify the body.
They sweep their hands in a slow, concentrated gesture -- first above their heads, to their sides and then clasped in front of their abdomens.
The recorded voice of Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi recites instructions in Mandarin. A meditative beat drums. Nearby, several people stop and stare.
Chinese authorities cracked down on Falun Gong, branding it unlawful and an "evil cult." Thousands of followers were jailed.
In an editorial in today's People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the government grudgingly conceded that a year of arrests, harassment and media campaigns has failed to eliminate Falun Gong.
Even as Chinese authorities continued to detain Falun Gong protesters in Beijing yesterday, followers staged demonstrations in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities.
Eng and 19 Seattle area followers plan to join thousands at a candlelight vigil tonight outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.
"We want to try to let more people know what it's about and that it's not what the Chinese government says it is," Eng said.
Last fall, the spiritual practice made news in Seattle when Mayor Paul Schell revoked a city proclamation celebrating Li and "Falun Gong Day." He said he didn't want to risk offending Chinese officials on the eve of the World Trade Organization conference here.
Introduced to the public in 1992, Falun Gong combines elements of Taoism, Buddhism, the meditation techniques of "qigong," a traditional martial arts, and Li's own teachings.
Not a religion
The government in China says Falun Gong has attracted about 2.1 million adherents, while Falun Gong claims 100 million. Some experts say the true number is in the tens of millions. There is no firm estimate of the number of followers in the Seattle area.
Falun Gong, which means Wheel of Law, does not consider itself a religion and has no clergy or formal places of worship. There is no official membership or real organizational center.
Li says that if Falun Gong is practiced diligently and at an advanced level, it brings freedom from sickness and illness. China blames Falun Gong for causing 1,500 deaths, mostly of people who, in accordance with its teachings, refuse medical treatment.
In the past year, the crackdown on Falun Gong has led to at least two dozen deaths, according to a Hong Kong human rights group.
The government has detained thousands, arrested hundreds, sentenced hundreds to labor re-education and seized and destroyed more than 1 million books, U.S. State Department human rights report says.
Kan Liang, a Seattle University assistant professor of modern Chinese history, said Communist leaders view Falun Gong as a threat to social stability.
He said Chinese authorities paid little attention to Falun Gong until April 25, 1999, when 10,000 practitioners staged a peaceful protest outside the Beijing leadership compound. It was the largest demonstration in Beijing since the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
"They just sat there," Liang said. "When they left, they left so quietly. Think about it. The government was shocked. Chinese leaders thought, 'Oh, this was so organized.' The mentality was: 'This is bad. The more organized, the more dangerous.'"
Li has denied his group has political ambitions. But Liang said the movement became politicized when followers gathered en masse in Beijing.
"Now, everyone knows Falun Gong," Liang said.
The group's founder was a former government clerk from northeastern China who distinguished himself from other qigong masters in the 1990s.
Supernormal powers
He preaches a form of qigong that combines meditation and healing. And he claims supernormal powers, including the ability to levitate and be invisible.
Li left China in 1998 and is living in exile in New York. He has given lectures worldwide, but has not been seen in public in the past year.
A Falun Gong spokesman in New York, Erping Zhang, declined an interview request.
Wei-ping Chen, an avid Seattle practitioner, heard Li speak at a 1996 conference in Houston.
"I don't know why the (Chinese) government doesn't want to let us practice," he said through a translator. "I think it's the best practice."
For years Chen tried more than 10 forms of qigong, hoping to find one to heal his back. He tried traditional medicine and folk remedies.
Then Chen's brother introduced him to Falun Gong. Chen read Li's book, "Zhuan Luan," and learned the five exercises.
His excruciating back pain healed after two months, he said.
One exercise, "Buddha Showing Thousand Hands," stretches his body and circulates energy. "Way of Strengthening Supernormal Powers," a sitting exercise, develops his "energy potency."
The breathing and stretching exercises, which Chen performs at Green Lake with two dozen others, cultivate one's qi, or vital energy.
Such energy leads to good health and a sense of well-being, he said. At the highest level, that energy allows the body to perform supernormal feats, including changing the body's matter at the cellular level. Not everybody gets there, Chen said. But Master Li has, he added.
Chen said he is attracted to Falun Gong mainly because it preaches the characteristics of the universe -- truth, compassion and tolerance.
"The ultimate goal is to be a better person," he said. "Your moral standard is raised above others."
Eng and Chen instruct newcomers during exercise sessions in parks and community centers in Queen Anne, Green Lake, Rainier Valley, the International District, Bellevue and Kirkland.
At one practice in Rainier Valley, Eng and nine others meditate for about an hour, using the recording of Li's voice featured at all practices.
Then the group gathers around a table to study the book, "Zhuan Luan." They take turns reading aloud in their own language -- English, Vietnamese and Mandarin.
Tan Truong, a Central Area resident who attends the Rainier Valley practice, later talked about how it has improved his character. Falun Gong explained moral virtue in a way that wasn't theoretical, the 28-year-old information analyst said.
"It offers me the raw material to do my personal work," he said. Each person develops his or her own understanding of the practice, he added.
Truong said he has tried to reduce his attachments, including eating less sugar, watching less television and spending less time surfing the Internet and less time trying to always be right. Falun Gong teaches him to be conscious of his actions, he said.
"If I give up such attachments, my relationships will be much more harmonious," said Truong, a baptized Catholic. "I've become a better person. I'm easier to be around. My mind is clearer.
"I tell people about Falun Gong and they laugh. They say, 'Oh, that's interesting' or 'Hey, are you doing that cult thing?' It's not for everyone."

"Beijing Projects Prolonged Struggle Against Falun Gong"

("Chicago Tribune," July 20, 2000)

BEIJING, CHINA China's leaders are settling in for a prolonged struggle against the banned Falun Gong sect, acknowledging in an official editorial that a yearlong campaign of arrests, harassment and political campaigns has failed to wipe out the group.
The statement comes after a burst of protests Wednesday by scores of sect followers on the eve of the anniversary of a government crackdown on the Falun Gong--proving the group remains a force in China despite being targeted by one of the biggest political campaigns in years.
The group's resilience was grudgingly acknowledged in an editorial to be published Thursday in the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily. Excerpts were carried Wednesday on the official New China News Agency.
"The cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage," the agency quoted the article as saying.
The fight against Falun Gong will be a "long-lasting, complicated and acute struggle," it said, and pledged to crack down on members with a "firm hand."
In Beijing on Wednesday, scores of Falun Gong followers raised banners in Tiananmen Square, prompting a frenzied response by police, who swarmed on groups of protesters, wresting away banners and knocking them to the ground.

"Sect marks anniversary with rain-soaked protest"

by Niki Law ("South China Morning Post," July 20, 2000)

More than 100 Falun Gong members protested on Thursday outside the Central Government Liaison Offices to mark the first anniversary of the mainland's crackdown on the meditation sect, amid a growing rift within the movement.
Organisers said some 120 practitioners were at the afternoon protest with more expected for a candlelight vigil later in the evening.
Many of the demonstrators, including children, were soaked by the sporadic showers that fell as they meditated across from the iron-grilled entrance to the Happy Valley office building.
A dozen protesters accompanied by police officers crossed Queen's Road East in late afternoon to deliver a letter. But after rattling the handles of the locked doors to the liaison office, they left the message leaning against the steel-and-glass panes.
Spokeswoman Sophie Xiao said the protesters were trying to get their viewpoint across to Beijing.
''We want to send a letter to the Chinese government to explain our view on the mainland's crackdown on Falun Gong, and to tell China that we have no political aims and motivations - we just want to improve our health and general well-being,'' she said.
But despite the repeated and disciplined protests by members of the movement, cracks are appearing among the practitioners.
Ms Xiao denounced well-known Hong Kong member Belinda Pang San-san, who has allegedly fallen out with other practitioners and asserted herself as a leader of Falun Gong.
Ms Pang has put up a Web site on which she has called for the removal of the Falun Gong's US-based spiritual master, Li Hongzhi, whose whereabouts are unknown. She has reportedly suggested herself as a replacement.
Ms Xiao said she suspected some of those following Ms Pang were collaborating with the mainland's efforts to break up the sect, although she offered no proof.
Ms Pang could not be reached for comment.
A Falun Gong believer - five months pregnant, without proper visa and said to be a member of Ms Pang's faction - was recently refused entry to Kong Kong and went on an 11-day hunger strike at the airport in an unsuccessful bid to get immigration authorities to relent. She had said she wanted to join other believers to witness an anticipated manifestation of the Buddha on a Lantau mountain top.
Falun Gong is banned on the mainland but not in Hong Kong.
Among other charges, Beijing has accused the sect of contributing to the deaths of more than 1,500 followers who adhered to its principles of refusing medical care.
The SAR's Security Bureau has issued several statements since the crackdown began saying that Falun Gong members were free to practice their beliefs so long as they obeyed local laws.

"Falun Gong defies China as ban anniversary nears"

by Paul Eckert (Reuters, July 20, 2000)

BEIJING, July 20 (Reuters) - Chinese police picked up scores of Falun Gong members trying to protest in Tiananmen Square on Thursday ahead of the first anniversary of the start of a draconian crackdown on the spiritual movement.
Most of those detained were middle-aged and female Falun Gong adherents, witnesses said.
Similar demonstrations involving small numbers have occured almost daily in the vast square, the focus of pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 which were crushed by the army with huge loss of life.
Falun Gong members usually emerge from throngs of Chinese and foreign tourists to unfurl protest banners or simply begin the distinctive exercises of the movement.
On the approach of any significant event, like a holiday or anniversary, Tiananmen Square is heavily reinforced by plainclothed and uniformed police ready to pounce on anyone who looks as though they might belong to the movement.
The Communist Party on Thursday declared a ``decisive victory'' in its crackdown on a movement it accuses of undermining social stability and ``unspeakable political aims.''
Since it banned Falun Gong On July 22, 1999 -- and later declared it an ``evil cult'' -- key leaders of Falun Gong have been jailed and hundreds if not thousands of followers have been sent to labour camps without trial.
Human rights groups have documented 24 Falun Gong deaths in police custody in the past year.
``China has achieved a decisive victory in the fight against Falun Gong after unremitting and determined efforts,'' said a front-page commentary in the People's Daily.
``However, like all evil forces, the Falun Gong cult will not voluntarily step down from the historical stage,'' it said.
A Western diplomat monitoring the group said: ``Sometimes the people they are declaring victory against aren't so cooperative.''
The Communist Party mouthpiece urged people to ``have a better awareness of the duration, acuteness and complexity of the fight against Falun Gong.''
Falun Gong, which combines meditation with a doctrine rooted loosely in Buddhist and Daoist teachings, first rattled the atheist Communist Party with a 10,000-member protest in Beijing on April 25, 1999.
Beijing says Falun Gong cheats its followers and blames it for 1,500 deaths by suicide or refusal to accept medical care in favour of faith in the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi.
The government, which says the group never had more than two million members, says membership has dwindled to roughly 40,000. Falun Gong says it has tens of millions of followers in China and 40 other countries.
``There's a spiritual vacuum in China and it's very hard for the Communist Party to recognise this,'' said a second diplomat.
``That void will continue until they lift the restrictions on normal religious activity,'' he said.
China forces believers of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and other faiths to join state-controlled ``patriotic'' religious bodies which many shun.

"HK Falun Gong members protest before ban anniversary"

(Reuters, July 20, 2000)

HONG KONG, July 20 (Reuters) - More than 120 Falun Gong practitioners took to the streets of Hong Kong on Thursday calling on China to end its year-long crackdown on the spiritual movement.
``The suppression is getting more and more serious in China. We want to support our fellow practitioners China,'' group spokeswoman Hui Yee-han said.
The demonstrators, including children, called on China to release all detained Falun Gong members and withdraw the arrest warrant on its founder Li Hongzhi, who now lives in exile in New York.
The Falun Gong followers went through slow-motion exercises and then sat quietly meditating outside China's representative office in Hong Kong, the former British colony which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
Under a ``one country, two systems'' formula, Hong Kong has a large degree of autonomy from Beijing and has not followed mainland China in outlawing the religious movement.
Falun Gong members said they would later hand a petition to the Central Government Liaison Office during a 10-hour protest.
China officially banned the spiritual movement, which combines elements of Buddhism, Daoist teachings and meditation, on July 22 last year, branding it an ``evil cult,'' after Falun Gong members demanded official recognition for their faith in a series of protests.
Hui said although the movement was legal in Hong Kong, the only place on Chinese soil, its members were being discriminated against and harassed, citing difficulties in booking venues for gatherings.

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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