17 years after China banned Falun Gong (July 22, 1999), branding it as a ‘harmful cult that is engaged in anti-government activities,’ the movement is still active in China and around the world.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, recently reported that in May 2013 police arrested 16 followers, saying that “allegedly staged pictures depicting scenes of torture.” 1
The report is a tacit acknowledgement that the movement survives in China despite years of violent suppression.
As stated at Wikipedia, in China “hundreds of thousands [of Falun Gong followers] are believed to have been imprisoned extra-judicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities.”
Falun Gong followers have long documented the various ways in which followers have been tortured, sometimes illustrating the accounts with re-enacted scenes (clearly labelled as such).
Falun Gong at a Glance
- What: Billed as an exercise practice, Falun Gong is in essence a quasi-religious movement that engages in occult practices. While the movement and its followers are subjected to religious intolerance and persecution, mainly in China where Falun Gong originated, Falun Gong denies being a religion — even though its teachings has a theological nature.
Scholars have described the movement variously as a religion, a new religious movement, a qigong discipline, or a spiritual movement.
- Formal name: Falun Dafa. Falun is the Wheel of the Law (Dharma), in this case referring to the ‘absolute truth’ taught by the Buddha, which inexorably rolls forward. Dafa is ‘The Great Law’. The full term, Falun Dafa, means ‘The Great Law of the Wheel of Dharma’.
- Informal name: Falun Gong. Gong refers to a technique or practice, with a particular sense of a spiritual or meditation practice
- Note: technically Falun Dafa refers to the teaching, and Falun Gong to the practice, but over the years the terms have become interchangeable. Sometimes the term is written as Falungong.
It is a mixture of ancient Chinese exercises, meditation, Eastern religions, and the books and lectures by the movement’s founder and leader, Li Hongzhi.
The movement borrows heavily from Buddhist and Taoist philosophies and styles itself as a school of qigong, a traditional Chinese practice that uses meditation and martial arts exercises to channel unseen forces and improve health. 2
It also includes elements of Confusianism and the New Age movment.
The Dharma Wheel (falun) “is described by Mr. Li as a miniature of the cosmos that he says he installs telekinetically in the abdomens of all his followers, where it rotates in alternating directions, throwing off bad karma and gathering qi. Many Falun Gong adherents say they can feel the wheel turning in their bellies.” 3
In fact, Hongzhi says that those with supernormal capabilities can see Falun revolving.
Once a practitioner has obtained the falun in his or her lower abdomen, it will continue to rotate even while the believer is not exercising.
When it rotates clockwise, it will absorb energy from the universe. When it rotates counter clockwise, it gives off energy. One pro-Falun Gong website says this “solves the time conflicts between working, studying and practicing.” 4
According to Falun Dafa, illness and suffering is caused by evil — a result of karmic accumulations obtained throughout previous incarnations, which can be purged by Falun Gong.
Followers believe that by practising the movement’s three principles of truth, compassion and forbearance, they will obtain clairvoyance and other supernatural powers.
Honghzi promises that those who then reach enlightenment will look younger and feel ‘light all over.’
- Founder: Chinese martial arts master Li Hongzhi founded Falun Gong in 1992, in the Chinese city of Chang Chun as one of many qigong practice groups. 5
Hongzhi emigrated to the U.S. in 1998, one year before the Chinese government started to arrest and imprison Falun Gong practitioners on the claim that the movement is a harmful cult.
Many followers believe Hongzhi is enlightened and the sole possessor of the Buddha’s truth.
- Key Texts: Zhuan Falun (The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma) and Falun Fofa (Buddha Law of the Wheel of Dharma). Like most of the books used by the movement, they are collections of Li Hongzhi’s speeches
- Adherents: It is impossible to determine how many followers this movement has. Press reports cited by adherents.com give figures ranging anywhere from 70,000,000 in China, to 100,000,000 around the world.
Cult-critic Sima Nan, a Chinese version of skeptic James Randi, says Falun Gong is not the most popular of qigong sects. According to him, several other such groups — Zhong Gong, Yuan Ji Gong and Wang Gong — are bigger.
- Organization: This is a decentralized, informal movement.
As a matter of doctrinal significance, Falun Gong is intended to be “formless,” having little to no material or formal organization. Practitioners of Falun Gong cannot collect money or charge fees, conduct healings, or teach or interpret doctrine for others.
There are no administrators or officials within the practice, no system of membership, and no churches or physical places of worship. In the absence of membership or initiation rituals, Falun Gong practitioners can be anyone who chooses to identify themselves as such. Students are free to participate in the practice and follow its teachings as much or as little as they like, and practitioners do not instruct others on what to believe or how to behave.
Falun Gong is centralized in that spiritual authority is vested in the corpus of teachings of the founder, Li Hongzhi, but organizationally it is decentralized with local branches and assistants afforded no special privileges, authority, or titles. Volunteer “assistants” or “contact persons” do not hold authority over other practitioners, regardless of how long they have practiced Falun Gong.
– Source: Falun Gong: Organization, Wikipedia entry 6
- Controversies: Li Hongzhi promotes racism — for instance by claiming that there are different heavens for believers from different races.
While practitioners reportedly include gays, lesbians and bi-sexuals, Hongzhi’s expressed views regarding homosexuality are considered homophobic. During a lecture in Australia he mentioned ” organized crime, homosexuality, and promiscuous sex,” saying “none are the standards of being human.” 7
Hongzhi has told Western reporters that humanity will soon be wiped out, that space aliens are on Earth trying to replace human beings with clones, and that he is invested with supernatural powers allowing him to move through dimensions.
Li’s rambling dissertation, Zhuan Falun, has only added to accusations that Falun Gong is a cult. Li writes he can personally heal disease and that his followers can stop speeding cars using the powers of his teachings. He writes that the Falun Gong emblem exists in the bellies of practitioners, who can see through the celestial eyes in their foreheads. Li believes “humankind is degenerating and demons are everywhere” — extraterrestrials are everywhere, too — and that Africa boasts a 2-billion-year-old nuclear reactor. He also says he can fly.
On April 25, 1999, the Chinese government was caught off-guard ten-thousand-plus-member sit-in at its government compound in Beijing.
On July 22 that same year the government announced a ban on the practice of Falun Gong, claiming that it is a threat to China’s political order.
The government supported “People’s Daily” wrote 8
We should be highly vigilant against superstition for it may confuse our thinking, undermine our fighting will, shake our beliefs and destroy our cohesiveness.
- Category: Though the Chinese government refers to it as a ‘cult,’ Falun Gong is probably best categorized as a New Religious Movement. Theologically it is not a cult of an existing religion 9, and it doesn’t have clearly defined religious boundaries in terms of a set of doctrines that must be adhered to in order to practice Falun Gong.
- Brief introduction to Falun Dafa [Pro]
- China’s Falun Gong: The World is Watching…and Joining [Contra] Christine Dallman, J. Isamu Yamamoto, Christian Research Journal, volume 22, number 02 (1999).
The last of the 13 “Basic Requirements and Points of Attention for Practicing Falun Gong” contain some eerie words from Li: “If you are interfered with by some terrifying scenes or feel threatened, just say to yourself: I am protected by my Master. I am not afraid of anything. You may chant the name of Master Li, and continue with your practice.”35 10
Although the statement is intended to reassure Falun Gong practitioners of Master Li’s protection while they practice his prescribed exercises, they reveal two realities about Li and his spiritual disciplines. First, contact with spirit beings (i.e., demons) is a real possibility when one engages in Li’s exercises. Second, from the Christian perspective it is clear that Li himself has some connection with the domain of darkness. If North Americans in general should be distressed with Li’s teachings, Christians should be even more disturbed with the occult nature of his exercises.
- Falun Gong (a.k.a. Falun Dafa) Entry in the Skeptic’s Dictionary
- The Falun Symbol An explanation of the symbol, at a pro-Falun Gong site (Archived by the Internet Archive)
- What is the Falun Gong? And why does the Chinese government want to destroy it? Todd Hertz, Christianity Today, Feb. 1, 2002.
- What Falun Gong Really Teaches
Beneath Li’s superficial teachings of “truthfulness, compassion and forbearance” are teachings that are intolerant of dissent and homophobic, that discourages sick people from seeking needed medical treatment and that manipulate followers to blindly follow Li’s absolute authority. Unfortunately while the media has focused only on the human rights issues in China, it has failed to educate Americans about how deceptive and harmful the Falun Gong can be in our own country.
Books — Online
News & Archive
- At Religion News Blog you can find Falun Gong news via its topic, its tag, or the Google-powered search engine. Older news items, dating before February, 2002, can be found here.
- Current news about the group at Google News
- The Battle Against Falun Gong in Historical Context Hubert Seiwert, Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Switzerland), July 14, 2001
- China.org [Contra] The China Internet Information Center, where you “get news and read Chinese government white papers, including ones on human rights, Tibet, and arms controls and disarmament. Also includes propaganda regarding Falun Gong.
- Crushing Falun Gong TIME Asia, July 2, 2201. Collection of articles. [$ Full content behind paywall]
- Key dates in emergence of China’s banned Falungong movement, AFP, Jan. 23, 2001
- Expose the Fallacies of Falun Gong [Contra] One of several sites sponsored by the Chinese government. Part of a widespread information campaign against the movement.
- Facts [Contra] This website, which looks a lot like that of the Falun Dafa Information Center (see below), is operated by Chinese authorities.
- Falun Dafa [Official] Official website. Best source to learn about the movement’s teachings.
- Falun Dafa Information Center [Official] One of several primary Falun Gong sites. “The Falun Dafa Information Center is both the official press office for Falun Gong as well as a primary resource for information about the human rights abuses Falun Gong practitioners face at the hands of the Chinese Communist regime.”
- Minghui.org [Official] One of several primary Falun Gong websites. Minghui is an all-volunteer organization that operates Minghui.org, a website dedicated to reporting on the Falun Gong community worldwide. The focus of Minghui is reports from China. Minghui also serves as a central communication hub for Falun Gong practitioners around the world to share insights and ideas, expose the persecution faced inside China, and comment on its ramifications. It is the primary site read by Falun Gong practitioners. It is also watched closely by China’s regime officials.
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About the Author
He lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with his wife, Janet. They are involved in helping people leave cults, abusive churches or abusive relationships.
Anton’s interests vary from Christian apologetics to street photography. He’s a coffee connoisseur who grinds his favorite coffees with an antique, cast-iron #3 Spong for use in either a stove-top Bialetti, a french press, or the Aeropress.
- 14 years on, banned Falun Gong is still alive; 16 arrested, Saibal Dasgupta, TNN Jun 4, 2013 ↩
- Chinese cult draws many followers, USA Today, Apr. 26, 1999 ↩
- Sect Clings to the Web in the Face of Beijing’s Ban, New York Times, July 5, 2001 ↩
- An Introdcution to Falun Dafa, archived by the Internet Archive ↩
- Falun Gong itself says it is “one of the 84000 Law cultivation schools”. ↩
- Last accessed Tuesday, June 04, 2013 – 8:09 PM CET ↩
- Li Hongzhi, Lecture in Sydney, 1996, FalunDafa.org. Last accessed Tuesday, June 04, 2013 – 4:16 PM CET ↩
- Cited in China Calls for End to ‘Superstition’, CNN Interactive, June 21, 1999: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9906/20/ BC-CHINA-SECT.reut/index.html (No longer online) ↩
- Normally religions have a core set of essential doctrines that must be believed and/or practices for someone to be considered an adherent of that religion. Cults deviate from such religions by militating against one of more of those essential doctrines/practices ↩
- The reference along with this article says: Li Hongzhi, China Falun Gong, rev. ed. (1998 English version) (http://www.geocities.com/falunfofa/ENG/China_FLG/chpt4-6.htn). That web page is no longer available, but a mirror of the page is available here. In a revised edition of the book the wording is slightly different: “I am protected by Falun Gong’s Master.” And currently the same information at the Falun Dafa site reads, “I am protected by Falun Gong’s teacher.” ↩