This is a short, fascinating study of Falun Gong by Maria Hsia Chang, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno. Born in Hong Kong of Chinese refugee parents, Professor Chang migrated to the United States after completing her high schooling.
The book is presented in five sections. Firstly, the recent history of Falun Gong in China; the history of religious movements in China; the philosophy of Falun Gong; the Chinese Communist Party’s crack down; and lastly, other religious groups that have suffered persecution in China.
Falun Gong is essentially a distillation of the ancient mystical Chinese faiths, Daoism and Buddhism (the latter of which originated in India), with a few other things thrown in, like the belief in UFOs and a coming apocalypse. Daoism also has its own branch of medical and pharmaceutical science, a practice known as qigong: a set of breathing exercised supposed to improve health. When you see Falun Gong practitioners stretching their arms out in your local park, this is what they are doing. Jennifer Zeng (who’s book I have written about), claimed that practicing Falun Gong’s cured her of her hepatitis.
The movement was founded by Mr Li Hongzhi in 1992, a former minor government official. He has been described by Western journalists as peaceable and ‘baby faced’. In the beginning, the movement had practitioners high in government circles who lauded its health benefits. By 1996, Falun Gong had become enormously popular. The Communist government feared that this could lead to some type of revolution, and so the crackdown started. The US State Department itself says some 250,000 practitioners are currently doing time in the regimes notorious re-education camps. A huge propaganda campaign was started through various media that painted Falun Gong as an evil cult.
In an interesting chapter on the history of religion in China, the author shows how China has a habit of growing these religious groups who lead revolts against the state, and that Falun Gong could be the latest incarnation of this. She argues that the Communist Party is nothing more than a cult itself, and this is why the Communist Party is so scared of Falun Gong: it takes one to know one.
The section of the book that deals with the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party make for fascinating reading. For example, the law making process is completely ridiculous. The National Peoples Congress, which passes laws, only meets once a year, for a week. The 3000 people which comprise the congress are of course handpicked by the Communist Party. How can the laws that govern a nation of over a billion people be debated, amended etc. over a week? Furthermore, laws are promulgated by Beijing, but not approved by congress until months later. It would be like John Howard declaring a new law from Canberra, without having it passed through the Senate. It really is an Orwellian-Kafkaesque political culture.
Other problems include the fact that 99 percent of trials bring a guilty verdict. Most trials are held in secret. Worse still, since the 1979 Re-education Through Labour Act, individuals can be detained for up to three years solely at the discretion of local officials.
Professor Chang describes a country with enormous social problems, and says that this may be the reason why so many are seeking solace in Falun Gong. She even sees Falun Gong as possibly having the power to overthrow the Communist Party. This, she warns, would not necessarily lead to more democracy, but perhaps more of the same, perhaps a more benign version of the Communist Party in power today.
CORRECTION: In my post on Jennifer Zeng’s book Witnessing History, I wrote about the acts of self-immolation in Tiananmen Square: ‘In 2001 the Communist government even set up five people to self-immolate themselves in Tian’anmen square, then went on to say they were Falun Gong practitioners. (It’s suspected they may have been suffering terminal diseases, and were promised big payouts to their families is they complied.)’
I should have noted that this claim has never been proven true, but has been put forward by Falun Gong. In Professor Chang’s book she says they were alleged Falun Gong members. CNN was there and happened to film and witness the event, but the authorities confiscated their video tape. An interview with one of the survivors, twelve year old Liu Siying, whose mother perished, said her mother had tricked her into setting herself alight, believing that if she did so she would go to the heaven that Li Hongzhi has described in his books.