Ancient Wisdom for Modern Predicaments
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Predicaments: The Truth, Deceit, and Issues Surrounding Falun Gong
Frank Tian Xie, Ph.D.Department of MarketingDrexel University
Tracey Zhu, M.D.New Haven, CT
Editor's Note: This paper is a revised version of a presentation given at AFF's conference in Enfield, Connecticut, October 17-18, 2003. It includes an appendix, a statement by Mr. Gang Chen, also presented at the conference. It is part of an ongoing print dialogue concerning Falun Gong and the Chinese government. Other articles on this subject include: Rosedale (2002), Langone (2003), Luo (2003), Rahn (2003), Robbins (2003), and Rosedale (2003). On April 23, 2004 AFF's directors approved a statement clarifying the organization's position on Falun Gong and the Chinese government.
AbstractThis paper presents the point of views of two practitioners in Falun Gong. The authors intend to give their personal accounts of the issues, explain what Falun Gong really is and is not, discuss the deceit of the Chinese government, explain the motivations behind the persecution of Falun Gong in China, and respond to the issues and questions raised at previous American Family Foundation (AFF) conferences and publications. In addition, the authors offer a caveat to scholars in the field about the limitation of conducting research on qigong and cultivation under the auspices of empiricism and positivism.
I. What Exactly Is Falun Dafa (Falun Gong)?
1. Falun Gong is a Cultivation Practice
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, was introduced to the public by Mr. Li Hongzhi in 1992 as a form of qigong.
The term “qigong” appeared during the Great Cultural Revolution and became popular in China since the 1960’s. Modern in its name only, it actually representsmany forms of cultivation practices, including those in the Taoist and Buddhist schools, throughout ancient history. Cultivation is the oriental method of attaining the Buddhahood and/or the Dao (or Tao), and is highly regarded and well respected in Eastern cultures. In Chinese history, many high-ranking court officials and even emperors were Taoist cultivation practitioners or Buddhist monks in their early life. Two examples were Prime Minister Zhang Liang of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and Minister Liu Bowen of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Cultivation to achieve the "Dao" ("Tao") was considered the ultimate achievement of personal self-realization. The Dao is an indigenous Chinese name for deity. The concept of Buddha was introduced into China from India. Derived from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, a Buddha is an enlightened being or someone who has achieved the highest level of human fulfillment in his/her system of cultivation.
Buddhism should not be considered the only method of cultivation in the Buddha School since Buddha Sakyamuni indicated that there were eighty-four thousand cultivation ways in cultivating Buddhahood or reaching enlightenment. Other than Buddhism and Daoism, many more methods of cultivation were secretly taught from master to disciple in seclusion in history.
In Mr. Li Hongzhi’s 9-day lectures, which were later compiled into the book Zhuan Falun, he began his introduction by pointing out that Falun Gong is a way of cultivation practice in the Buddha School. Falun Gong’s core principles are Truthfulness, Benevolence (compassion), and Forbearance (tolerance), and it aims atbringing practitioners to a higher level of morality through cultivation of these principles and doing the exercises. Although healing and curing diseases are not the goal of Falun Gong practice, the healing and health efficacy of Falun Gong made it extremely appealing to many who suffered various chronic, serious, and even life-threatening diseases.
Because of its healing power and the fact that it is free to everyone, Falun Gong spread quickly by word of mouth from its introduction to the public in 1992 until today. Many started to practice Falun Gong because of its healing capability but then became dedicated practitioners after realizing its unique ability in upgrading people’s moral standards. Others first came to learn Falun Gong’s principles and then started to cultivate even before they realized Falun Gong’s health benefits.
2. Is Falun Gong a Religion?
Falun Gong is not a religion. The founder of Falun Gong, Mr. Li Hongzhi, never intended to make it a religion but foresaw that “future generations will regard it as one” (Li 1996). Precisely, Falun Gong is a cultivation practice that is deeply rooted in Chinese history and tradition, and such a practice does not have a word “directly corresponding to the Western term ‘religion’” (Madsen 2000). Like many religions and cultivation methods, Falun Gong does have spiritual content and beliefs.
Practitioners’ personal experiences have proved that by cultivation in line with the guidelines of Falun Gong’s principles, one is able to become a better person who is able to contribute positively to the society. So in this regard, Falun Gong’s goals are similar to that of other cultivation practices and orthodox religions. However, Falun Gong does not have all of the other aspects of religion, including worship of a god or a deity; religious ceremonies and rituals; places of worship such as churches, temples, and synagogues; and organizational forms of membership or hierarchy. Falun Gong is most appropriately called an ancient form of self-cultivation practice, or a form of qigong.
3. What Falun Gong is not
Falun Gong is within the spectrum of indigenous Chinese spiritual practices, and cannot be considered to be a cult (Madsen 2000). Neither is Falun Gong a “xie jiao” (“devious religion," or more loosely, an “evil cult”), as the Chinese government under Jiang Zemin’s regime denigrated it. If “cult” is defined according to Margaret Singer and other scholars, Falun Gong is not a cult (Wong and Liu 1999). It is further argued that “the style of governance (in Falun Gong) is neither totalitarian nor suggestive of exclusivity and isolation” and “there is no clear evidence of any public idol worship of Li Hongzhi” (Wong and Liu 1999). As we will discuss in later sections, in Falun Gong there is no amassing of wealth for the founder, no worship ofidols, and no harm towards practitioners for the benefit of its “leader”. So Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, as a cultivation practice, is not a cult or a religion, let alone an “evil cult” or “devious religion.”
4. The Growth of Falun Gong between 1992 and 1999
Mr. Li Hongzhi started teaching about Falun Gong on May 13, 1992 in the city of Changchun, Jilin Province, with about 180 people attending. Between 1992 and 1995, 54 classes were held, with nearly 100,000 people attending those classes. In 1995, Mr. Li discontinued his teaching inside of China. From 1995 until the start of the persecution in 1999, Falun Gong had been promulgated in China mostly via word-of-mouth among friends and families. An investigation by the Public Security Ministry of China in 1997, using undercover agents, found no culpability of practitioners nationwide, and estimated the total number of practitioners at around 70 million, or about 5% of China's population. (citation?)
Beginning in Paris on March 13, 1995, Mr. Li started giving lectures overseas, traveling to countries in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and North America. Now Falun Dafa is practiced by millions of people in over 60 countries with the book, Zhuan Falun, now translated into over 30 languages, with nine more translations currently in progress.II. What Has Happened Since the Persecution?
Persecution of Falun Gong started in 1999. Hundreds of thousands of practitioners were expelled from the parks where they used to do their morning exercises, and thousands were detained, nationwide, in the morning of July 22, 1999. An intense, all-encompassing campaign of propaganda immediately ensued. In the first 30 days of the persecution, between July and August of 1999, as many as 347 articles appeared in The People’s Daily alone, criticizing and ridiculing Falun Gong, with more than 10 articles per day. It was a Cultural Revolution style of a concerted state scheme almost akin to organized crime and state-sponsored terrorism against a group of unarmed civilians. The persecution is cruel and vicious, and the slogan used by the regime is that they will crush and devastate Falun Gong and its practitioners “financially, spiritually, and physically.”