Since 1996, Falun Gong has been banned and persecuted by the Chinese government. The authorities have called the peaceful meditation practice the “quintessential xie jiao,” meaning heterodox teaching or generally termed as an ‘evil cult’. When it was first introduced in 1992, it was exclaimed as a determining factor in assuring better physical and moral welfare.
In a previous discussion, Bitter Winter had a conversation about the notion of the term “xie jiao”. Chinese officials call it ‘evil cult,’ but the actual traslation is “heterodox teachings”. Xie Jiao lists were gathered up since the Ming Period and revived by the Chinese Communistic Party (CCP) in 1995. Anybody caught being involved in any groups that are listed as xie jiao are considered criminals and are persecuted heavily.
These days the main xie jiao are the Falun Gong group and the Church of Almighty God, dealing with the new religious movement of Christian Chinese, declared by the Chinese authorities. Falun Gong wasn’t part of the list until 1996 and understanding it requires delving into information about the practice.
Qi gong is a system using Chinese health techniques composed of physical exercises, martial arts, and controlling breath energy, qi. There were thousands of groups who taught qi gong and originally tolerated and encouraged by CCP and placed under the Chinese Association for Research into Qi gong Science. As mentioned in some studies, Bitter Winter published the “gray market,” dealing with religion China; perhaps this was a deliberate misunderstanding to promote and tolerate qi gong. Western scholars understood that qi gong had roots stemming from Buddhism and Taoism; but for China, it was a presentation of Chinese science and culture, rather than religion.
Falun Gong, known as Falun Dafa, was a qi gong group brought to the public, by its founder, Li Hongzhi in 1992 in the region of Changchun, Jilin. The life of Li Hongzhi is amidst controversy and his story has different accounts told by Falun Gong and the CCP. It goes even as far as his real birthdate. Early documents show July 7, 1952, but Li had it corrected to May 13, 1951; he claims it was a clerical error. May 13 correlates to the birthday of Buddha and the CCP thinks he changed it for religious reasons and 1952 is correct year. May 13 was the day Li first introduced Falun Gong to the world; it is also World Falun Dafa Day. Very quickly, many people followed and Li gained the support of the Chinese Association for Research into Qi gong Science. Statistics estimated that early on, there were about 70 million people who practiced Falun Dafa.
Falun Gong was successful because it had many health benefits. Millions of practitioners were usually up in the morning doing the five exercises (Buddha Stretching a Thousand Arms, Falun Standing Stance, Coursing Between the Two Poles, the Falun Cosmic Orbit, and Reinforcing Supernatural Powers). What really exalted Falun Dafa to the authorities was Li Hongzhi’s insistence that the exercises would not have necessarily beneficial results if one did not practice with virtue and moral, which was based on truth, compassion, and forbearance.
Alliance between Falun Gong and the CCP was full of uncertainty. The CCP believed Falun Gong was about morality and health, but Li presented even more. The genuine beliefs included the restoration of humans’ divine selves who fell to earth and are living the cycle of reincarnation. Falun symbolizes a Buddhist dharma wheel placed in a practitioner’s abdomen. Whatever the CCP decided to call it, Falun Gong is a religion—it takes the path where humans were deities who lost their high positions and are now in a lower world.
In general, qi gong had a general foundation based on religion. This attentively was noticed by Marxist CCP intellectuals, who used the media to attack both qi gong and Falun Gong. To counter it, Falun Gong organized protests and the media recanted, apologizing and correcting their published reports. Except in April of 1999, He Zuoxiu published a report in “Youth Science and Technology Outlook,” at Tianjin Normal University. This time, the police detained and arrested them; there were 10,000 practitioners gathered at Zhongnanhai, Beijing, where many of the CCP top leaders lived. On April 24, it caught them surprised and scared them because Falun Gong couldn’t be controlled. The CCP pretended negotiations but cracked down on July 1999, with 150 senior cultivators (not including Li who had moved to the US in 1998). On June 10th, a group called “Office 610” was formed and secretly established to persecute and arrest Falun Gong practitioners and other group members listed as xie jiao.
Being persecuted since being on the list as xie jiao, the intensity of the persecution against Falun Dafa was fairly matched in comparison with the crackdown on a religious movement in the 1950’s called Yiguandao and the oppression against The Church of the Almighty God since mid 90’s. By the time of 2006, approximately 100,000 Falun Gong members had died from torture and/or murder. Falun Gong also denounces the practice of forced organ harvesting (removal of organs from live prisoners to sell on the black market). The CCP has denied this and hired international academics and journalists who covered up the truth by saying it never happened or had been stopped.
After that, the number of practitioners were reduced even though hundreds are arrested and persecuted every year. Then, it became the worst nightmare for the CCP and government, when Falun Gong facilitated in greater number overseas by organizing anti-CCP protests in front of Chinese embassies, consulates, and wherever Chinese dignitaries went. And Falun Gong members did even better with their movement of promoting traditional Chinese culture and exposing the CCP; their activities included Shen Yun shows, ad managing among TV networks and other media outlets. As a result of this, the audience and public has become familiar with the CCP and Chinese government’s torture, persecution, and forced organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong practitioners.