China Shaken by Mass Meditation

By Hanson, Gayle M. B. | Insight on the News, August 23, 1999 | Go to article overview

China Shaken by Mass Meditation


Hanson, Gayle M. B., Insight on the News


China has outlawed the meditation movement Falun Gong and imprisoned thousands of its adherents in the worst crackdown on human rights since Tiananmen Square.

Truth; kindness; forbearance. These three words have launched the biggest human-rights crackdown in China since 1989's Tiananmen Square massacre. The words are the slogan of the Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a meditation movement that the Chinese government has outlawed in a nationwide crackdown that has seen reports of upward of 30,000 people jailed across the country -- even as Congress moved to renew "most favored nation" trade status for China.

Since the Chinese government first began its campaign against the meditation movement founded by Li Hongzhi in 1992, it has taken an increasingly militant stand against this group that claims 100 million followers worldwide. While the Chinese government increasingly has been critical of the popular movement since 10,000 practitioners gathered for a demonstration in Beijing on April 26, it now has taken formal steps to purge the Communist Party of practitioners and has herded up thousands in an effort to "re-educate" them about the fallacy of the popular movement that combines Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese Qigong exercise.

"In fact, the so-called `truth, kindness and forbearance' principle preached by Li has nothing in common with the socialist ethical and cultural progress we are striving to achieve" said a commentary from the government-run Xinhua News Agency, which claimed that the ban against the Falun Gong was essential to maintain the "vanguard role and purity" of the Communist Party. In the last week police across China have ransacked the homes of suspected leaders of the group and confiscated books, videotapes and posters. The zealousness of the campaign recalls the massive repression that took place during the cultural revolution in the 1970s.

According to first-person accounts circulating through the numerous Falun Gong Internet sites, practitioners are being forced to register with the government, renounce their ties to the organization and exercise self-criticism by pledging: "I'll stop practicing Falun Gong." During the last weekend anyone who turned on a TV set in China was subjected to an almost around-the-clock effort by the government to discredit the movement. In a widely broadcast documentary and in weekend talk shows the Falun Gong was portrayed as an evil cult bent on destroying the "social stability" of China. "This is a serious ideological and political struggle," warned an editorial in the People's Daily.

Li, who now lives in exile in New York, in a letter hand-delivered to the Chinese Embassy, has called on the government to open talks with Falun Gong. However, he may have a tougher time than the Dalai Lama in gaining an audience with Communist Party bosses.

To understand the power of the Falun Gong, it is helpful to understand the role that the concepts of "heaven" "earth" and "man" play in Asian philosophy. According to Buddhist beliefs, which largely inform the philosophy of Falun Gong, heaven is the space in which everything occurs, earth is the ground on which it occurs and man joins the two together. For serious change to occur, all three must be present. Despite the fact that Li disavows Falun Gong as a religion, the Chinese government sees in Falun Gong the joining of heaven and earth in a way that could foretell a major change in the political climate and mandate in China.

In the practice of Falun Gong, adherents work to "cultivate" their bodies, minds and spirits through exercise and meditation. While these practices existed prior to the cultural revolution under the term "Xulian" which means cultivation, in the aftermath of the Communist takeover practitioners formulated a new word, "Qigong" (pronounced "cheegong"), which literally means universal life energy and cultivation energy.

In 1992 Li introduced Falun Gong on the mainland and registered it with the Qigong Research Association of China, a governmental body that is supposed to oversee all such practices. …

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