Falun Gong is one of the largest groups of Chinese facing persecution from the Chinese government. Because of the brutalities suffered by its members in China at the hands of the Chinese government, and because its unique role as a religious opposition group, it has enjoyed a great deal of positive press in the west. This in turn earned them a lot of good will among the western audience. In some sense, they have become the face of Chinese opposition in the eyes of Americans.
But are they?
There had always been some sort of rudimentary mysticism component of Chinese culture throughout its history. But for the most part it’s not different from other forms of superstition, perhaps just a little more “mysterious.” The Star Wars “may the Force be with you” really distilled it and westernized it. Although George Lucas did a good job of translating it as "the force", the Chinese concept is really "Qi", which means "air" or "gas". But it is indeed that mysterious mechanism with which you affect things supernaturally. Interestingly, the era of the Star Wars, the late 1970's, was also the beginning of the Qi Qong fever in China.
At the same time in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was also a blind reverence of anything to do with science and technology. But the population was largely ignorant of real science. So the combination of ignorance, the belief that anything “scientific” is good, and the tradition of oriental mysticism, led to some very bizarre popular practices. In succession, we went through waves of injecting chicken blood, drinking red fungus tea, exercise of swinging arms, and finally “Qi Gong.” Each wave swept through the whole China like a craze, with everyone doing it – our family didn’t escape it either. Imagine that at one time every family in Beijing had a jar of red fungus for drinking. It was all through person-to-person network. We got the red fungus from our neighbor. The foreigners would never learn about this.
Remember here in the US we had the stock market bubble, followed by the housing bubble? This episode from late 70’s to early 80’s in China was quite similar and can be thought of as a “superstition bubble.” Each new superstition that replaced the old one was a little more sophiscated, and swept over more people, and at the same time went a little crazier. Qi Qong was the last wave, and Falun Gong was the apex of the Qi Gong wave, and craziest of them all.
Falun Gong actually came quite late on the scene. There were already many very influential Qi Gong masters with millions of followers when Falun Gong was started. In order to grab more followers, and beat out the competitors, Falun Gong had to go quite a bit further in their practices. Most Qi Gong masters only claimed health benefits, but Falun Gong talked about the salvation of the soul. So it got much closer to a religion than the other Qi Gong cults. It also employed more aggressive recruiting and propaganda tactics. Although almost all Qi Gong masters relied on some degree of deception to convince people to believe in their magical powers, Falun Gong's propaganda practices reached the level of outright fraud. For example, in order to claim that he is the re-incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder Li Hongzhi changed his birthday from July 27, 1952 to May 13, 1951 (the day that Buddha Shakyamuni was born). In recruiting new members, they relied heavily on "insiders" (firm believers who are willing to lie to convince potential new believers). One type of insiders were recovering cancer patients. They started to practice Falun Gong after surgery and chemotherapy to help recovery. But once they joined, they almost always told people that they were cured by Falun Gong, not medical treatment. Another type of insiders were former engineers. One famous case was a retired engineer Jing Zhanyi. He went to university campuses to recruit students and teachers. He told them that his soul was able to leave his body and examine machine parts that were unreachable by any detection equipment. This allowed him to make new inventions and got huge bonuses. These were not merely lies in order to convert believers. They collected steep membership dues, so these lies were the tools for them to get to people's money. The founder Li Hongzhi is said to have made millions from donations of his followers.
But the damage was not limited to members' purses. Members were told that they were protected by Falun Zhao and needed not to seek medical help when sick. One university student was said to have refused eating and drinking because he was practicing Falun Gong. When his life was in danger, he was rushed to the hospital for treatment. But after he got out, he did it again and had to be sent to the hospital again. This was repeated until the university intervened and forced him to give up the Falun Gong.
Another big problem with Falun Gong is that it spreads the message of hate in the name of religion. It teaches that homosexuality is abnormal and gays are evil. It brainwashes people into hating gay people. It did not change this stance even after it was driven out of China and had to survive among the "liberal" population of California and New York. Here is a letter to the editor on SF News Sentinel in 2006:
My name is Samuel Luo and my parents are both Falun Gong practitioners who have been hurt and exploited by this cult. Among the many harms done to them, I have been seriously concerned that they have refused needed medical treatment. In 2002, my step-father initially refused help when he had a stroke and he has suffered painful gout attacks unnecessarily for five years. He did so because he was being brainwashed into believing that Li Hongzhi, the founder and leader of this cult has the power to cure illnesses and taking medicine is counter productive.
The Falun Gong is also extremely homophobic. Li teaches that homosexuality is not the standard of being human, the priority of Gods will be to eliminate homosexuals and that gays are demonic in nature. These teachings are honored by all Falun Gong practitioners. Recently when I confronted my mother with these teachings she said that the elimination of gays is already happening. When I wanted her to give specific examples she said that all the natural disasters that happened recently are directed at corrupt people, gays included.
In my efforts to warn the public about the harmful and cultish nature of Falun Gong, my free speech was suppressed. Last year when the International Cultic Studies Association organized a program on the Falun Gong in which I was one of the presenters, the Falun Gong threatened the organization with a lawsuit and successfully suppressed our freedom of speech.
The Falun Gong is preying on the residents of this city I just want people to know that the Falun Gong is not what they claim to be.
The trigger for the Chinese government crackdown was when two scholars published an article on a newspaper in Tianjin criticizing Falun Gong as superstition. Falun Gong followers gathered at the city government demanding that the newspaper retracts the article. I don’t know what led to violence there. Falun Gong claimed that they were beaten. Evidently they couldn’t get it resolved in Tianjin so Falun Gong leaders called for a protest in Beijing. Then came the crackdown.
Their practice of deception and lie was moderated quite a bit after coming to the US. However, the lies are still quite plain (and sometimes bizarre) for people who can think for themselves. For example, since 2004 Falun Gong started a campaign asking Chinese Communist Party members to resign their party membership. The progress of this campaign is tracked by their website. As of today, they report that a total of 94,982,725 people have resigned their CCP membership. That's nearly 95 million people. The actual total membership of CCP since 2003 is:
2003 67 million
2004 68 million
2005 69 million
2006 71 million
2007 72 million
2008 74 million
2009 76 million
2011 80 million
Now we all want to see CPP membership go down. But we cannot substitute fantasy for reality. Where is any indication of the 95 million people who resigned from the CCP?
Falun Gong is a group of hate-mongering, anti-science, money-grabbing, lie-spreading fraudsters. They are the Chinese version of scientology. If we mistake them for a force representing China's hope for democracy, then we will simply lose our credibility in the minds of Chinese people.