Name: Falun Gong (pronounced fah- luhn goong , and means "the Practice of the Wheel of the Dharma"). Falun Dafa originally referred to the movement that practices Falun Gong. Now the movement itself is being called by the name of its practice, Falun Gong. 1
Founder: Li Hongzhi.
Date of Birth: Li Hongzhi says that his birthday is May 13, 1951. This is supposedly the exact birthday of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Chinese government records contest this” they list his birthday as July 7, 1952. The government claims that he changed his birth date in order to assume relations to the Buddha. Li Hongzhi maintains that the government records are a misprint, and disavows the importance of the Buddha's birthday. He is quoted as saying, "what’s the big deal? Many criminals were also born on that date." 2
Birth Place: China , Changchun, Jilin, a northeastern province. 3
Year Founded: 1992
Sacred or Revered Texts: Zhuan Falun (Revolving the Law Wheel) , and China Falun Gong , both books written by Li Hongzhi. Although not required reading, nor used ritually or for any other purpose than discussion and delineation of Falun Gong's major teachings, beginning practitioners are encouraged to investigate the texts. The covers of these books and others by Li Hongzhi can be viewed here .
Size of Group: Li Hongzhi claims 100 million members worldwide, 80 million of which are in China. The Chinese government claims that the group has 2 million members. It is likely that both numbers are exaggerated. The Falun Gong might be overestimating in an effort to maximize the group's power, while the government could be underestimating in order to minimize the group's success.
Chinese religion historically has focused on the rewards of physical health, longevity, and even immortality. This tradition gave rise to Chinese medicine, which concerns the manipulation of life's basic energy ( ch'i ) for increased health. Chinese medicine is most closely linked to the Chinese concepts of yin-yang , and the five phases . Permeating all of Chinese culture, the concepts appear to have pre-historic roots that may date back many millennia. The ideas and philosophies of ch'i, yin-yang, and the five phases arose independently of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, however are closely related to them. 4
Today this tradition is called Ch'i gong (pronounced chee-gong). Ch'i means universal life energy; and Gong means cultivation energy 5 . Ch'i gong consists of cultivation methods including physical stretches, meditation, and slow movements. It is common today to see large numbers of Chinese practicing these techniques early in the morning across public parks.
The Falun Gong movement is one practice within the ancient Chinese cultivation methods. A part of the this tradition, the Falun Gong also exceeds the scope of more common Ch'i gong forms that limit their focus to physical health. Onetime member of the national confederation of different Ch'i gong groups, Li Hongzhi and the Falun Gong left the Qigong Research Association of China in 1992. Apparently the association’s emphasis conflicted with Falun Gong's emphasis on guiding people to higher dimensions. Over the Falun Gong's specifically spiritual beliefs and practices, Li Hongzhi withdrew the movement from the Association. 6
Li Hongzhi (a.k.a. Master Li) has said that, in the past, the Falun Gong secrets were passed only from a master to select students. These used to be highly classified teachings once imparted exclusively from master to trusted disciples since antiquity in China. At the instruction of his own teachers, Hongzhi made the teachings public in 1992, they have since been available to everyone. When questioned about his decision to reveal the previously classified information, Li Hongzhi has said that his teachers instructed him to doso. 7 Falun Gong rapidly grew in popularity throughout and beyond China. It currently has member groups throughout the world. They are easily accessible via the Internet.
Today the Falun Gong exists in high tension with the Chinese government. This is explored in the Issues and Controversies section below.
Falun means law wheel , Gong means the cultivation of energy and capabilities . 8
The Falun Gong symbol consists of a spinning swastika surrounded by four smaller spinning swastikas and four spinning yin-yang symbols. These are primarily Buddhist and Taoist symbols. The spinning swastika is seen as a rotating wheel that represents a miniature of the universe. It operates as an energy vortex. The smaller surrounding yin-yangs represent the many galaxies in the universe. 9
Li Hongzhi's core teachings contain knowledge for the cultivation of oneself towards higher stages of energy attainment. Master Li's teachings are expounded in the Zhuan Falun (Revolving the Law Wheel) , and China Falun Gong . These are a summary of the principles and exercises, andare recommended for beginners. After reading the texts and making contact with local groups, beginners are encouraged to attend a free nine day seminar to familiarize themselves with the movements, group philosophy and lifestyle. 10 .
Falun Dafa is a set of five exercises specially designed to complement one's cultivation of body, mind, and spirit. Three of the exercises involve physical movements and maneuvers while the other two exercises require remaining still for extended periods of time. The exercises are considered exceptionally powerful and effective even though they are simple and easy to learn 11 .
The Falun, is located at the dan-tian (lower abdomen). As an intelligent spinning body of high-energy substance, the Falun automatically absorbs energy from the universe and relieves the body of negative influences and elements. The rotation of Falun synchronizes with the rotation of the universe. Possessing the same characteristics as the universe, it is the universe's miniature model. The Falun is constantly rotating, making the cultivation state 24 hours a day. 12 .
Falun Gong concentrates on the virtues of Zhen-Shan-Ren, or truthfulness, benevolence, and forbearance. 13 . These are historically Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist virtues. Practitioners are encouraged to conduct themselves with these three in all situations. The goal is to become enlightened to the truth of human life and to cultivate oneself to higher levels of existence. Li Hongzhi proclaims there to be innumerable levels and dimensions of existence. Although there are some politicians who practice Falun Gong, the movement itself has not claimed affiliation to any political party or government. The focus is on an individual's self-examination and self-improvement rather than the development of an organization or a group 14
Falun Gong members have repeatedly claimed that Falun Gong is not a religion, but a cultivation discipline of a routine set of practices .Li Hongzhi has stated that Falun Gong members can be of many different faiths, as Falun Gong does not contradict nor preclude any faith. 15
Although the teachings of Falun Gong contain some phrases and many concepts similar to those used in Buddhism and Taoism, it is not a branch of the Buddhist religion, just as Tai ch'i is not a branch of the Taoist religion and Hatha Yoga is not a branch of Hinduism.
While practitioners show respect to Master Li Hongzhi, he does not encourage anyone to worship him. Master Li has maintained that he simply teaches the principles of the universe and members should "take the Law as the teacher". 16
Li Hongzhi has also expressed some views not related to traditional Chinese religion. In several interviews he has explained that he believes in the presence of alien life on earth. He considers the aliens a menace, and describes their intent as to corrupt and eventually replace humanity. He holds alien influence responsible for the rapid expansion of computers, machines, and for the advancement of technology in general. 17
Membership is free and open to everyone. There is no member list. There is no hierarchy of leaders or clergy. Falun Gong maintains that they are just a loose network of volunteers. People of many different backgrounds practice together. All students are regarded as equals, no matter how long they have practiced.
In Zhuan Falun , Master Li has said, "When you promote it [Falun Gong],you should not seek fame or profit. You should serve others voluntarily." 18
Master Li does not allow donations, fundraising activities, or money to be accumulated in the name of Falun Gong. If a person is inspired to give a seminar or class, or print an information package such as this, then they find the money to pay for it themselves. These are spontaneous, individual actions rather than an organizational decision or requirement. The emphasis is supposed to rest upon personal development, not organizing events 20 . This point has been examined in a the first scholarly book written on the movement, The Mystery of China's Falun Gong: Its Rise and Its Sociological Implications , by National University of Singapore sociologists John Wong and William T. Liu. They examine the movement prior to the crackdown, and find an organization in China including 39 teaching centers, 1,900 instruction centers, and 28,000 practice sites, thus raising doubts to the group's claim of a fundamentally loose, non- structured, and unorganized nature.
Issues and Controversies
Summary of Escalation and Conflict
Timeline of Events as seen at CESNUR, taken from the Chinese newspaper, the South China Morning Post , April 25, 2000. CESNUR is an excellent scholarly resource. As it is updated daily with reliable news articles, CESNUR is the best source for staying abreast of the situation surrounding the Falun Gong.
In early 1999 the Chinese government launched a renewed effort against various spiritual movements. In response the Falun Gong held a silent, non-violent, mass protest. Over 10,000 people participated. The illegal protest occurred outside the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing on April 25, 1999. 21 The government was frightened both by the size of theprotest and by the lack of fore- knowledge of Chinese intelligence. The government points to the size of the protest as an indication of a high level of the movements. Li Hongzhi and other Falun Gong members continue to claim that the demonstrations have always been spontaneous. They argue that the lack of hierarchy and the loose nature of member networks prevent any such organization. 22
In the following months, practitioners were harassed while performing their group exercises throughout China. Falun Gong members were told that their phones were being monitored and that their retirement pensions would be terminated. Police broke into practitioners' homes and confiscated Falun Gong materials. Some followers have been arrested and have disappeared. The movement claims that many of its incarcerated members have died while imprisoned. Thousands of members have continued to demonstrate peacefully in about 30 Chinese cities. 23
The group was outlawed on July 22, 1999. The government accused it of lying, cheating, threatening the government, and harming Chinese social fabric. The Chinese government has an official anti-Falun Gong website where they seek to discredit Falun Gong members, beliefs, practices, and Li Hongzhi. They have many 'statements' by Li Hongzhi that are most likely Chinese propaganda. Falun Gong is defined by the government as a dangerous cult, and accused of the murders and destruction of many Chinese and their families. 24
On July 29, Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Master Li. The government claims that by manipulating others through the Falun Gong, Hongzhi is responsible for many deaths of members. He is also accused of organizing demonstrations without first applying for permits. 25 China has repeatedly asked the US to arrest and return Li Hongzhi, who fled to New York in 1996. 26
In a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which China recently signed, the government has arrested hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners and is proceeding with trials. Some have been sent directly to labor camps without trials. Others have received over a year long incarceration sentences. There are many reports of harassment and abuse, from drugging to beatings, to the kidnapping of members. A spokesperson for the Falun Gong Practitioners in North America has stated that "lawyers in China have already been told not to defend these civilians unless they agree with the government. Also, no legal representation on behalf of them from the concerned international community is allowed to be present at the trial." 27
The U.S. House and Senate unanimously passed resolutions on November 18 and 19 which criticized the Chinese government for its crackdown o fthe Falun Gong. The resolutions called for the Chinese to observe the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the halting of all incarceration, torture, and persecution against the Falun Gong. The Chinese government has answered that they see the movement as not simply another harmless Ch'i gong group. It is seen as a destructive cult that harms Chinese society and its people. China has voiced that the US resolutions are a gross infringement of China's autonomy. 28
In late November 1999, over 700 Falun Gong practitioners went to Seattle, WA during the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings. Their intent was to launch a global campaign that they hope will pressure the Chinese government into negotiating with them. 29
The Chinese government has not backed down despite international appeal for human rights and religious tolerance. The Chinese government has launched a massive media and propaganda campaign against the group. It is the most serious government crackdown since Tiamen Square, over a decade ago. Falun Gong has received global political attention as other nations specify this incident of China's religious intolerance as grounds to limit trade and normal relations. The proliferation of Falun Gong websites and information on the internet has quickly expanded an international awareness. Also, the free access to Li Hongzhi's teachings via the internet have aided the spread of the practice, promoting a global movement.
Reflections on the Escalation and Conflict
Several scholars have advanced many different viewpoints evaluating China and Falun Gong's turbulent relationship. James Wong in his new book (see bibliography or click here for a synopsis of the book on CESNUR) supposes that China's fear of Falun Gong is a manifestation of their fear of the Internet. Wong forecasts the groups survival in and outside of China, concluding that the Chinese government's campaign against the Falun Gong has been effective. He thinks the movement will decline within China as a result of continued government action and intervention. He also sees the possibilities of other movements filling the leftover space as the Chinese search for meaning and spirituality in the face of the Communist Party.
Wong investigates the movement’s tremendous popularity and points to an interesting indicator. He indentifies China's growing elderly and retired population seeking cheaper health care alternatives to the state's system. 30
The Chinese government may perceive the Falun Gong as a political threat for several reasons. The Chinese government had become concerned about the popularity of the Falun Dafa. While the exact number of Falun Gong practitioners is in question, the movement probably does outnumber the Communist party. Further, Communist party members and military officials are also known to participate. That the Falun Gonghas such a large international membership is also reason for the historically isolationist Chinese government to be wary.
Of very considerable significance is the fact that the Falun Gong emphasizes spirituality, which is incompatible with the Chinese government's communist atheist doctrine. The government is most likely reacting to the sheer numbers of this past year's mass demonstrations. Perhaps most importantly is China's long history of religious rebellion. The Tai P'ing the most noted, even the Ming dynasty began a religious rebellion. It is most likely that China's government is fighting this tradition of religious insurgence signaling the end of empires rather than the actual Falun Gong alone. They probably fear the Falun Gong's implications in terms of China's own historically rebellious movements more than the Falun Gong themselves.
Another scholar, Michael Lestz, argues that rather than feeling the historical pressures of regime toppling religious rebellion, the Chinese government is reacting in their standard response to any perceived target, threat, or antagonism. That is the root of the government's propaganda campaign. Lestz also points to the international makeup of the Falun Gong as another point of contention for the government. He concludes that instead of religious intolerance, the government's crackdown is motivated by a need to keep face, preserve predictability and re-establish state control and order with this flagrant group flaunting surprise demonstrations in Tienanmen Square. 31
Anti- Falun Gong Sites
Safegaurd the Wellbeing of the People
This is the Chinese government's website on the Falun Gong. It has extensive materials discrediting members and practices. There are many statement purported to be from Li Hongzhi, quoting him as plotting his deception of the Chinese people.
www.rickross.com on the Falun Gong
Rick Ross's anti-cult site, with disparaging articles about the Falun Gong, as well as a well organized and diverse listing of article scovering criminal charges, the government crackdown, protests, and world reactions. He mainly highlights one of China's primieranit-cultists, Sima Nan. Ross also illegitimates the movements Taoist relations, and implies that Li Hongzhi has laid false claim to Taoism. http://www.rickross.com/groups/falun.html
Glossary of Important Chinese Religious Terms
Definitions have been quoted from the Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism (see bibliography).
Ch'i: Literally Chinese for air, breathe, vapor, ether, energy. Related to temperament, strength, and atmosphere. Ch'i is a central concept in Chinese religion, and means "the vital energy, the life force, and the cosmic spirit that pervades and enlivens all things and is therefore synonymous with primordial energy. In the human body ch'i is accumulated in an area near the navel, known as the ocean of breath, and must be carefully tended to prevent it from being wasted, which results in sickness and death." (p.16) Chinese medicine originates from a worldview that understands disease as a fundamental imbalance in one's ch'i, which can be manipulated in many ways from herbalism to massage to acupuncture to exercise and more.
Ch'i Gong: "Roughly translated as "working the energy"; physical exercises important in Chinese medicine. These health exercises combine Buddhist and Taoist elements and cover a wide range of practices, such as techniques for regulating the body, the mind(by reducing or quieting thought activity, and the breath; movement exercises; self- massage etc. In a wider sense the various martial arts are also a form of ch'i gong." (p.20)
Five Phases: Known in Chinese as wu-hsing , literally the five movers. They represent "five phases of transformation, or five energies, that determine the course of natural phenomena. These five elements- water, fire, wood, metal, and earth- are not be understood as real substances but rather as abstract forces and symbols for certain basic characteristics of matter: e.g., it lies in the nature of water to moisten and flow downward; and of fire to heat and rise; of wood to bend and straighten again; of metal to be cast or hammered into various forms; and of earth to be fertile.
At the time of the Warring States Period (475-221bce), the notion arose that the elements not only give rise to each other but also may help conquer or destroy each other: wood can give rise to fire, fire to earth (in the form of ashes), earth to metal, metal to water (from melting), and water to wood (through irrigation). At the same time water will conquer fire, fire vanquishes metal, metal can destroy wood, wood can conquer the earth, and earth overcomes water. With a more complicated system of correspondence, the five elements are related to the seasons of the year, the cardinal points, colors, flavors, numbers, internal organs, and other groupings." (p.203)
Yin-Yang: "Two polar energies that, by their fluctuation and interaction, are the cause of the universe. Yin and Yang are manifestations of the supreme ultimate, their concrete manifestations being Earth and Heaven. From the intermingling of of yin and yang arise the five elements. This manifestation of all phenomena is seen as a cyclic process, an endless coming into being and passing away ,as everything, upon reaching its extreme stage, transforms into its opposite. The underlying shared characteristic of yin and yang therefore consists in giving rise to this continuous change.
Originally the word yin designated the northern slope of a mountain, i.e., the side facing away from the sun- and was further associated with cold, turgid water and a cloud- covered sky. Yang denoted the mountain slope facing the sun and was associated with brightness and warmth." (p.217) Yin and yang became representative of all polar relationships. Yin became "the feminine, the passive, the receptive, the dark, the soft. Symbols of yin are the moon, water, clouds, the tiger, the turtle, the color black, the north, and all even numbers. Yang corresponds to what is masculine, active, creative, bright, and hard. Symbols of yang are the sun, fire, the dragon, the color red, the south, mercury, and all odd numbers. The well known yin-yang symbol (the black and white circle) stands for the universe composed of yin and yang, which form a whole only in combination. The two spots in the symbol indicate that each of the two energies- at the highest stage of its realization- already contains the seeds of, and is about to transform into, its polar opposite." (p.217-218) As for Chinese medicine, "the body is healthy only when yin and yang hold each other in balance. Too much yang causes heightened organic activity; too much yin, an inadequate functioning of the organs." (p.219)
Carlson, Peter. 2000. "For Whom the Gong Tolls". The Washington Post . February 27, 2000. Article available at http://www.cesnur.org/testi/falun_035.htm#Anchor-11481
Dallman, Christine, and Isamu Yamamoto. 1999." China's Falun Gong, the world is watching...and joining". Christian Research Journal . 22: 2 pp. 22-45.
Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid. 1996. The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Hongzhi, Li. 2001. Zhuan Falun: The Complete Teachings of Falun Gong. Fair Winds Press.
Hongzhi, Li. 1994. Zhuan Falun (Revolving the Law Wheel) . Hong Kong: Falun Fo Fa Pub. Co.
Hongzhi, Li. 1998.China Falun Gong . Hong Kong: Falun Fo Fa Pub. Co.
Lestz, Michael. 1999. "Why Smash the Falun Gong?" Religion in the News , Vol. 2, No. 3.Article available at http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RINVol2No3/Falun%20Gong.htm
Wong, John, and William T. Liu. 1999.The Mystery of China's Falun Gong: Its Rise and Its Sociological Implications . Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. and Singapore University Press.
Yang Zhonghu. 2001."'Spiritual Practice or Evil Cult'?: Comprehending Falun Gong in the Context of China's Religious Policy." Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion (Nov 11).
Created by David Kime Androff Jr.
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 08/21/01