Falun Gong: a brief but turbulent history
HONG KONG -- Falun Gong is said to be a form of breathing exercises, known as qigong in Chinese, which aims to refine the body and mind through exercises and meditation similar to tai chi.
But Falun Gong also incorporates Buddhist and Taoist principles, combined with exercise and body cultivation. Where it differentiates itself from other qigong practices is in placing emphasis on not only the physical but also the moral character.
The group, somtimes referred to as Falun Dafa, denies being a religion and says it is "a network for transmitting information and practices, into which people may dip on an occasional basis or more regularly."
The Chinese Government is said to have become concerned about the popularity of the Falun Gong when the number of practitioners exceeded the number of people in the Communist Party.
The group was outlawed in China on July 22, 1999. The Chinese government accused it of "spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardizing social stability."
On July 29, Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Falun Gong founder Li Hung-zhi. The Ministry of Public Security said he "spread superstition and malicious fallacies to deceive people, resulting in the deaths of many practitioners."
The state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported what it said were many cases of people committing suicide, having psychiatric illness, or refusing to see doctors because they believed that Falun Gong can heal serious illness.
The government accuses the sect of leading more than 1,600 followers to their deaths by encouraging them to eschew modern medical care and deluding them into suicidal acts.
Falun Gong claims to have a membership of 70 million in China and 30 million in 40 other countries, mostly in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe. It also claims that many practitioners are Chinese Communist Party members.
The philosophy is said to spread largely by word of mouth, making it hard to calculate exact numbers. But the teachings are also articulated in two books, Falun Gong (Law Wheel Qigong) and Zhuan Falun (Turning the Law Wheel).
Falun Gong's tight organization was seen on April 25, 1999, when about 10,000 Falun Gong members besieged the government compound in Zhongnanhai, Beijing. It was the largest mass gathering in the capital for a decade. The incident led to a large-scale crackdown on the group and, in July, the banning of Falun Gong.
More recently, the group has taken to interrupting television broadcasts and beaming their own message into the homes of Chinese viewers. In the past year, Falun Gong supporters have interrupted cable broadcasts in at least six cities, often simply showing banners reading "Falun Dafa is good."
The government attributes the brazen hijacking of state-run satellite signals during the soccer World Cup finals to the group. (Full story)
War of words and deeds
Falun Gong was founded by Li Hongzhi. He is a former government grain clerk now living in the United States. Li introduced the philosophy to the public in 1992. He then taught it for two years in China. Li has also given public lectures in other countries.
In July 1999, Falun Gong was officially declared illegal in China. Falun Gong books and tapes were destroyed. Its Web sites were blocked and jammed. The organization believes tens of thousands of practitioners were arrested, beaten up, detained, or sent to psychiatric wards, labor camps and prison.
Followers say there were more than 40 documented cases of otherwise healthy practitioners being beaten and tortured to death while in detention.
The Chinese government condemned Falun Gong, calling it a notorious cult with an evil political will. It was called a "reactionary political force" that should be destroyed. In January, three more practitioners were sentenced to six years imprisonment and 20 were arrested in Shandong.
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