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August 7, 1999
Column #936

CHINESE CRACKDOWN ON FALUN GONG

     The biggest threat to the Chinese Communist government is a group of mostly elderly Chinese citizens who used to gather in parks in mornings to practice traditional "aigong" exercises, moving their hands around an imaginary wheel to music and Buddhist meditation called Falun Gong (The Law of the Wheel Breathing Exercises).

     The number of Falun Gong is somewhere between the government's estimate of 2 million and the group's own figure of 100 million. The group has no apparent organization or buildings, charges no fees, and had no political agenda, except to defend its own right to cultivate Xinxing (mind nature and moral level) in public.

     And there's the rub. Communists fear any kind of independent group, particularly one with a religious agenda. As a State Department expert said, ''They are very conscious of the role religion played in Eastern Europe.'' Falun Gong denies that it is a religious group.

     However, while people are exercising, they listen to tapes of the group's founder, Li Hongshi, 48, who emigrated to America January, 1998. What is ''Master Li'' saying?

     ''You should always display compassion and kindness towards others and think of others before doing anything. There will not be any problems if the first thing that you will think of, whenever encountering a problem, is whether others can put up with this matter and if it will hurt anyone. Therefore, you should follow a higher and higher standard for yourself when you practice cultivation.''

     Falun Gong's philosophy is built on three universally admired qualities: ''Zhen-Shan-Ren,'' which translate as Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance. The movement has no advertisements and has spread from heart to heart, which has enabled it to be propagated quickly.  When Li stopped teaching it in person four years ago, there were only 20,000 followers.

     As he puts it: ''The Great Law is being promulgated far and wide. Those who have heard about it are looking for it. Those who have attained it are delighted with it. Practitioners are increasing day by day and they are countless.''

     In May, 1998 a physicist criticized Falun Gong for promoting pseudo science on TV. This infuriated the group and days later several thousand followers appeared at the TV station demanding apologies. After a few days, the station caved in, fired the reporter hosting the show, and praised the good deeds of Falun Gong.

     What good deeds?  An October, 1998 study of practitioners in Beijing Zizhuyuan (a large park in Beijing) revealed remarkable healing results.  Of 700 questionnaires designed by such experts as the Deputy Chief Physician of the People's University of China Hospital, 584 were returned, a big 84 percent of whom 174 were male and 410 female and two-thirds, aged 51-98. They were intellectuals: 39 percent were college educated; 21 percent had two years college.

     In such an elderly group, 58 percent had cardiovascular problems before Falun Gong; two-thirds suffered digestive problems; while 6 percent had incurable diseases. Their average annual medical expense before participating was 3500 Yuan.

     Practitioners said their costs plunged to an average of 70 Yuan, and 418 had zero medical expenses, 87 percent of those who answered that item. I interviewed Erping Zhang, interpreter of founder Li Hongzhi, who said he was cured of liver and stomach problems.

     No wonder Falun Gong practitioners are deeply committed.  When governmental leaders called the movement a cult and began arresting its leaders, an E-mail call sparked 10,000 to 20,000 Falun Gong followers to gather in silent protest at the famed Tiananmen Square. A stunned Chinese Premier Jhu Rongji (who visited the U.S. last spring) met
with the group's leaders. (They were later arrested.)

     A front page story in the ''People's Daily'' newspaper said the government was not opposed to Falun Gong practice, which is good for healing; that it was only a rumor that it would extradite Master Li from America. ''Months later, they are eating their own words,'' said Zhang.

     On July 22, Falun Gong was banned for practicing ''evil thinking'' and threatening social stability. In 30 cities, police rounded up tens of thousands of followers, put them in sports stadiums where they were interrogated over days and forced to sign letters disavowing the group. ''In scenes reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, more than 2 million
books and instructional tapes were pulped or crushed by steam rollers,'' said TIME.   And 1,200 Community Party officials involved in Falun Gong were sent to re-education camps.

     The parks are empty today. But the repression is infuriating and politicizing millions.

     Have not Chinese leaders heard that by the blood of martyrs, Christianity was built? I predict that today's repression is temporary.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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