Falun Gong: Persecution, Propaganda & Controversy

Instructor: Lisa Millraney

Lisa has 27 years of experience treating speech, language, memory and swallowing disorders. She has a master's degree in speech pathology from Vanderbilt University.

Falun Gong is a Chinese practice of martial arts and spiritual discipline that is centered on peace and self-improvement. So why did the Chinese government viciously crack down on it?

Newcomers to the Campus

Jeff and his twin sister Carole were enjoying college. They both loved to learn and were taking advantage of every opportunity, both in class and outside it. Carole was especially interested in Asian martial arts, so when she heard a new group called Falun Gong was starting on campus, she decided to attend and check it out.

''I really enjoyed it,'' she told her brother later. ''They teach qigong, which is a slow-moving martial art from China. The group leader also talked about how they incorporate meditation, and work to improve themselves and help others. Everyone there was very nice and welcoming.''

Jeff listened with interest. Later, he mentioned it in conversation with Li, who lived right down the hall in his dorm. Jeff was surprised when Li reacted with horror: ''Jeff, you must not allow your sister to be tricked! These people are dangerous cultists. They will brainwash her, and she may harm herself or even you. Their followers have burned themselves in public and killed many, many people. Falun Gong is bad!''

Is Falun Gong a Dangerous Cult?

While Jeff fully trusted his sister's judgement, Li's comments concerned him, so he decided to do a little digging. He learned that Falun Gong originated in the 1990s, and that its name translates to 'practice of the wheel of dharma,' or divine law. It was founded by Li Hongzhi, who lectured about his ideas in China and all over the world.

For a number of years, Falun Gong was supported by the Chinese government. Communist party members even joined and led groups. As the movement grew, however, the authorities became less tolerant. In 1999, 10,000 practitioners held a rally in Beijing to request a halt to governmental harassment. The premier of China met with them, and they hoped they had achieved their goal. But the head of the Chinese Communist Party was reportedly furious. He declared that Falun Gong was a threat to the nation and the party, and must be eliminated.

From then on, Falun Gong was banned in China. The government used media propaganda to facilitate information against the following. Government sources accused the founder of preaching an apocalyptic doctrine that drove his followers to madness and caused suicides and murders. It accused Falun Gong of claiming it could heal illness, which lead to hundreds of deaths. Li Hongzhi fled to the U.S. to escape arrest, where he lives today.

Is Falun Gong a Peaceful Means Toward Betterment?

Knowing every story has at least two sides, Jeff began to investigate the writings of Falun Gong's founder and members. He found that Li Hongzhi had started his approach to qigong with an emphasis not on merely promoting health, or on reaching higher realms of awareness, but on purifying oneself and working toward perfection. Truth, compassion, and tolerance were said to be Falun Gong's watchwords. It derived much of its teaching from Buddhism, which strives for pacifism.

In the 1990s, reports indicated that millions of Chinese, from factory workers to the wives of prominent communist leaders, practiced Falun Gong. By 1999, it was said that more people belonged to it than to the Communist Party itself. It was at that point when the party banned it.

Falun Gong's members rejected the communists' charges. They said the crimes they were accused of either did not happen or were committed by others and blamed on them. Whether true or false, however, the government's attack on the movement was fierce. Human rights organizations blasted China for arresting and torturing practitioners, falsely imprisoning them, and even taking their body organs against their will in order to sell them.

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