Falun Gong
Falun Gong is one of several groups based in China whose
belief and practice is centered upon the practice of qigong, an
exercise process not unlike yoga, believed to stimulate the flow
of qi, or life energy, through the body. It was founded by Master
Li Hongzi (1951– ) in 1992, but had emerged as part of
the support that the Chinese government had given to research
on, and the practice of, qigong in the 1980s. Qigong practice
has been perpetuated in China, with government approbation,
through the National Qigong Federation. In 1992, Li Hongzi
withdrew from the federation and through Falun Gong has
spread his own peculiar teachings based upon the traditional
practice.
Above and beyond the simple practice of the exercises, Master
Li has emphasized the ‘‘cultivation of the XinXing,’’ a path
of life emphasizing the key virtues of truthfulness, benevolence,
and forbearance. Practicing cultivation leads to enlightenment,
a concept tied to the teachings of the Buddha. Followers believe
strongly in reincarnation and karma, and Master Li teaches
that passing through tribulations are a necessary part of relieving
oneself of past karmic debts. He also teaches the
existence of a pantheon of deities and spirit entities (including
demonic ones) that interfere with life and history on Earth.
Possibly most offensive to other qigong practitioners and the
Chinese government, Master Li suggested that he was the only
person who could lay out the exact course for the practice of
the exercises and demanded that all of the secrets of the tradition
be made available to the public. The basic concepts are laid
out in a book, China Falun Gong, authored by Li.
Falun Gong also emphasizes the concept of the Falun, part
of the invisible human anatomy assumed to exist in traditional
Chinese teachings. The Falun is a center of energy located in
the region of the lower abdomen. It is believed to be a microcosm
of the universe and contain all of its secrets. The practice
of qigong awakens the qi energy to flow more freely through
the body, bringing good health and well-being.
Falun Gong spread quickly through China and Hong Kong,
and then through the Chinese communities in diaspora worldwide.
With almost no attention from the press, strong centers
developed in Singapore, Taiwan, and throughout southeast
Asia. Practitioners soon created centers across North America
and Europe. In 1998 Master Li moved to New York City.
In 1999, China began a new campaign against unofficial religious
movements that included Falun Gong prominently
among its targets. The movement has millions of followers in
China, though in spite of the spiritual aspect to the teachings
concerning ‘‘cultivation’’ and the recognition of supernatural
entities, the Falun Gong membership insists that it is not a religion.
Nevertheless, the Chinese government has moved against
it, arresting several hundred of its leaders, at least four of whom
have died while in custody. The government has also insisted
on the extradition of Li back to China to stand trial, but the
United States government has responded by condemning the
persecution of the group. In the meantime, Chinese government
officials have enlisted the aid of Western anticultists, including
the magician James Randi, known for his hostility to
occult and minority religious practices, to assist them in developing
a publicity campaign to justify their actions to Western
nations.
In facing the authority of the Chinese government, Falun
Gong leaders have shown remarkable commitment to their
movement and insisted that it is not a challenge to the reigning
authority. Outside of China, the massive coverage of the movement
has led to its further growth, including the attraction of
many non-Chinese. The Chinese government and the movement
have also waged a war of words on the Internet. The primary
Falun Gong sites are at httpwww.falundafa.org and at
httpminghui.ca. The ongoing controversy is being monitored
by several researchers, including Massimo Introviugne of
the Center for Studies on New Religions in Turin, Italy, whose
webpage on Falun Gong may be found at http
www.cesnur.org. Falun Gong has no official headquarters in
the United States. It operates through a set of volunteer contacts
whose names and phone numbers are posted on the Internet
sites.
Sources
Falun Gong The Real Story. Pamphlet informally published
by American Falun Gong practitioners, 1999.
Li Hongzi. China Falun Gong. Hong Kong Falun Fo Fa Publishing,
1992, 1998.