China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Soon after more than ten thousand members of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious group, staged a silent demonstration outside the quarters of the senior Chinese leadership in Beijing, the government of the People’s Republic of China began mass arrests of the group’s members and outlawed the movement.

Summary of Event

Falun Gong (or Wheel of the Law; sometimes called Falun Dafa) is a quasi-religious movement that was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi. As well as the mystical teachings of Li Hongzhi, the movement’s broad ideology contains elements of Taoism and Buddhism together with the meditation and exercise techniques of Qigong, Qigong a traditional Chinese martial art. In Qigong, meditation and breathing practices are believed to tap and enhance the practitioners’ inner strength. The three guiding principles of Falun Gong are truthfulness, benevolence (sometimes translated as “compassion”), and forbearance. Religious groups;Falun Gong Falun Gong China;human rights abuses [kw]China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group (July 20, 1999) [kw]Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group, China (July 20, 1999) [kw]Falun Gong Religious Group, China Suppresses (July 20, 1999) [kw]Religious Group, China Suppresses Falun Gong (July 20, 1999) Religious groups;Falun Gong Falun Gong China;human rights abuses [g]East Asia;July 20, 1999: China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group[10400] [g]China;July 20, 1999: China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group[10400] [c]Human rights;July 20, 1999: China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group[10400] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;July 20, 1999: China Suppresses Falun Gong Religious Group[10400] Li Hongzhi Jiang Zemin Zhu Rongji

Falun Gong is controversial because of Li Hongzhi’s claim that he has the power to implant the wheel of law in the abdomens of his followers. Many adherents of Falun Gong believe that they can sense the wheel turning within their own bodies. Li also promotes “racial purity,” by which he apparently means racial segregation, and he is reported to have claimed the ability to become invisible and walk through walls. In China, Falun Gong classes and exercise areas sprang up rapidly after 1992, and Li’s first book, Zhuan Falun, Zhuan Falun (Li) became a best seller when it was released in 1996.

A day after the government ordered the arrest of the sect’s founder, members of Falun Gong meditate outside the Hong Kong branch of the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The Chinese government soon came to view Falun Gong as a threat. Many Chinese revolutionary movements, such as the Taiping and Uighur rebellions, have sprung from religious or quasi-religious societies. Falun Gong was quickly removed from the government’s list of approved martial arts. Li Hongzhi moved to the United States in 1998 and took up residence in New York City. Despite the opposition of the Chinese government, Falun Gong continued its growth in China, although public manifestations of the movement became greatly reduced, especially in Beijing. Falun Gong established a network of Internet sites through which lectures and videos were distributed.

The organization claimed a worldwide membership of 100 million people, of whom 80 million were said to reside in China. The Chinese government admitted that there were as many as 2.1 million Falun Gong members in the country, whereas independent experts estimated that there were tens of millions of Falun Gong adherents in China. However many there actually were, the movement had clearly become a significant ideological group in China, and the Chinese government was prepared to marshal great force against it.

On April 25, 1999, Falun Gong attracted worldwide attention by holding a massive demonstration in Beijing. Without prior announcement or notice, more than ten thousand people appeared at Zhongnanhai, the compound in which the leaders of the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party live and work. This was the largest demonstration of any kind that had occurred in China since the prodemocracy demonstrations of ten years earlier. It did not resemble an ordinary political rally. The demonstrators surrounded the former royal palace and stood quietly, either in meditation or exercising the slow movements of the Qigong exercises. By contrast to the prodemocracy movement, few of the demonstrators were students. Many were elderly, and they included a sprinkling of Communist Party members and government officials.

After some hours, Zhu Rongji, the premier of China, came out to speak with the demonstrators. They asked that the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau recognize Falun Gong as a legitimate organization—that it be added to the five officially recognized religions of China (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism) and that the martial arts exercises be restored to the list of officially approved martial arts. Premier Zhu listened to the demonstrators but made no promises.

Between April and July, 1999, the government decided that a mass-based religious or ideological organization might have dangerous revolutionary implications, and it began a series of anti-Falun Gong measures of increasing intensity. On April 27, the government announced that it was willing to listen to Falun Gong grievances but warned against any attempts to destabilize society. On June 6, about one hundred Falun Gong members were arrested and questioned by the security police. Mass arrests began on July 20, 1999. Thousands of Falun Gong were arrested throughout the country; in some places there were far more detainees than jail space, and the followers were held in custody in sports stadiums.

On July 22, 1999, Falun Gong was declared an illegal organization. A campaign in the official media began in which Falun Gong was charged with causing fifteen hundred deaths. Simultaneously, Li Hongzhi was accused of being an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. On July 28, an international warrant was issued for Li’s arrest for “seeking to overthrow the government.” Although Interpol refused to serve the warrant, the U.S. State Department urged Beijing to exercise restraint in its treatment of Falun Gong followers. Mass arrests continued, however.

On October 7, it was announced that a Falun Gong supporter had died in jail. On October 21, eleven of the senior leaders of Falun Gong were arrested. On October 25, the Chinese parliament adopted a law calling Falun Gong “an evil cult.” A number of show trials were held, and in November four members of Falun Gong received sentences of two to twelve years in prison. In December, four of the senior leaders were sentenced to terms of seven to eighteen years. Early in 2000, it was announced that fifteen more supporters had died while in custody. It is believed, although not verified, that they were shot. Many Falun Gong supporters were also imprisoned in mental hospitals and treated as psychiatric patients.

Significance

The Chinese government’s campaign against Falun Gong continued without remission after July, 1999. It was reported that President Jiang Zemin himself was fearful of Falung Gong and was directly concerned. A high-ranking committee of the Chinese government, the 6-10 Office, was established to root out Falun Gong from every level of Chinese society. The 6-10 Office reports directly to the Politburo. Under its orders, enormous numbers of practitioners have been persecuted. Many of the people arrested have been sent to forced labor camps or “reeducation centers” in which hundreds have died as a result of torture or mistreatment. In October, 1999, an official of the Chinese government admitted that more than sixteen hundred persons had died while in custody.

According to the National Organization for Women in the United States, women practitioners of Falun Gong in China have frequently been the victims of rape and sometimes of forced abortion. More than half of the inmates of Chinese forced labor camps are Falun Gong followers. The suppression tactics of the government have not, however, prevented Falun Gong members from staging protest after protest, often on the anniversary of earlier demonstrations or on Li Hongzhi’s birthday (May 11). During 2001, five members of the sect set themselves on fire in protest. At least three of them survived and were sentenced to long prison terms.

The Chinese government has been particularly sensitive to public demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Scores of blue-jacketed security police, readily visible to visitors, are constantly on duty in the square, where most of the demonstrations attempted since early 2001 have involved foreign adherents of Falun Gong who have been arrested immediately.

Political reaction in the West, and particularly in the United States, to the Chinese campaign against Falun Gong has not been vigorous. Although the U.S. State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom has condemned the Chinese government for persecuting Falun Gong, China has felt few practical repercussions in American policy toward China. The U.S. government has made increasing trade and other economic and diplomatic considerations a higher priority than human rights, despite the fact that the State Department’s conclusions are echoed in official reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

Even the revelation that China has attempted to suppress Falun Gong practices outside China by clandestine as well as diplomatic means has not brought about significant pressure against the Chinese government. In part this is surely because Falun Gong, in addition to its ethical and health-oriented teachings, has an esoteric and mystical element that—to Westerners—makes it appear cultlike. Moreover, Li Hongzhi’s views on racial purity run counter to Western thought, so it is hard for Western governments to endorse Falun Gong or to appear to be supporting its ideology. The result of Western concerns with trade and diplomacy and Western reservations about the content of Falun Gong is that China has been essentially free to do what it pleases with adherents of Falun Gong. Religious groups;Falun Gong Falun Gong China;human rights abuses

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ji Shi. Li Hongzhi and His “Falun Gong”: Deceiving the Public and Ruining Lives. Vancouver, B.C.: New Star, 1999. Presents a critical examination of Li Hongzhi’s ideas focusing on “racial purity” and his claims to mystical powers. Ji Shi may be speaking for the Chinese government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Li Hongzhi. Zhuan Falun: The Complete Teachings of Falun Gong. Gloucester, Mass.: Fair Winds Press, 2001. Offers a comprehensive discussion of the fundamental principles of Falun Gong: truthfulness, forbearance, and compassion. Also discusses the origin of Qigong and its relation to the teachings of Li Hongzhi. Now banned, this book was a best seller in China.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nordlinger, Jay. “Crackdown Time: Why Beijing Fears the Falun Gong.” National Review, September 27, 1999. Presents excellent analysis of the reasons for Beijing’s fear of the Falun Gong. Argues that the regime feels insecure and that it is in fact insecure.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schechter, Danny. Falun Gong’s Challenge to China. New York: Akashic Books, 2000. Provides a good summary of the 1999 events and discussion of the Chinese government’s failure to suppress Falun Gong. Very critical of the West’s “tepid reaction” to the crackdown on Falun Gong.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wong, John, and William T. Liu. The Mystery of China’s Falun Gong: Its Rise and Its Sociological Implications. Singapore: World Scientific/Singapore University Press, 1999. Brief volume discusses the rise of China’s Falun Gong. Somewhat dated, but informative.

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