2014 marks the 15th anniversary of the outlawing of Falun Gong in mainland China.
“Falun” is “The Wheel of Law.” “Gong” is good deeds, service, worthy achievements. It can also mean to practice. Falun Gong, aka Falun Dafa, is roughly the “Practice of the Wheel of Law.” Sounds harmless enough. Yet, tens of thousands of practitioners have been detained in mental institutions, labor camps and prisons in China and have been brutally tortured physically and psychologically.
Now, I am definitely of the opinion that this is a tragic violation of human rights and I applaud the work of religious freedom activists. But before we Westerners get too worked up defending the faith itself, let’s take a cold shower first and revisit Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s interview with Time Magazine where they got into this:
TIME: Why does chaos reign now?
Li: Of course there is not just one reason. The biggest cause of society’s change today is that people no longer believe in orthodox religion. They go to church, but they no longer believe in God. They feel free to do anything. The second reason is that since the beginning of this century, aliens have begun to invade the human mind and its ideology and culture.
TIME: Where do they come from?
Li: The aliens come from other planets. The names that I use for these planets are different. Some are from dimensions that human beings have not yet discovered…
It all makes sense now.
This quackery is, of course, beside the point. The point is one should be free to indulge in it as long as you don’t serve Kool-Aid at your parties. When it comes down to it, I side with the Little Guy here, or rather the principle that should protect him, but doesn’t the Big Guy have a point labeling them a Fa-loony superstitious “cult?” Or have I got it all wrong? Is that too easy?
Scott Chinn, practitioner since 1999 and volunteer for FalunInfo.net told Barbarian Subject,
“At the time this Time mag article came out around 1999, I had just learned the practice from a Chinese co-worker and found it really good. I had read through most of Li Hongzhi’s books and listened to his lectures… the vast majority is rooted in the Buddhist and Daoist principles related to how to elevate yourself and become a better person. It was pretty shocking because the Time article gives you the impression that Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong are just a bunch of “crack-pots”, very much like the CCP propaganda was doing. I’m not sure if Time was just interested in some sensational content to help boost reader ratings, or if there was some other influence, but later I heard from a friend, who was the interpreter during that interview, who said that it was a really long interview, but what ended up in print were only the sensational things and many were quoted out of context. As you probably can guess, in the past 14 yrs I’ve been practicing Falun Gong, I’ve rarely thought about aliens, and it’s a topic that very rarely comes up in discussions with the hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners that I know.”
What did the interpreter say was taken out of context?
“I don’t recall the specifics, but she said that there were many questions in the interview, covering a variety of topics related to Falun Gong and the persecution in China, but what was printed were pretty much only the questions about supernatural abilities and aliens. The CCP then used this article to bolster it’s claims that Falun Gong practitioners are fanatics and their brutal crackdown be justified. I had several people contacting me around that time worried that I was following a cult-leader of some sort. I certainly appreciate “freedom of the press”, but in this case since the printed portion of the interview is so short, it really misleads an audience who has little to no background on China issues, and even less on Chinese spiritual practices. “I believe similar things happened in other media interviews around that time and Li Hongzhi thus completely stopped accepting any media interviews, and hasn’t done any since then. I had a similar experience with a couple of other media here in NY, where they contacted me and did interviews about my experiences with FLG … but what ended up in print was really shocking, they spun it into making me look like a fanatical cult-follower. I have now become pretty skeptical of anything I read in the media. “To be fair to Time magazine, they have since done several other articles about Falun Gong and they were actually very good. Perhaps a regular Time reader will have eventually gotten well-rounded understanding of Falun Gong and the situation in China.”
Sima Nan, pen name of journalist Yu Li and perhaps China’s best known critic of Falun Gong, famously offered to pay one million yuan on top of James Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to any FLGers who could prove they had supernatural powers, as Li Hongzhi claimed he had. In this interview about the group and its founder he says,
“Everyone will seek for a kind of faith after the satisfaction of living necessities. They may find their faith in God or Buddha and by doing so, they believe that they have come to the ultimate reality. It is normal for ordinary people to pursue faiths and it exists right in the sub-consciousness of everyone. If one’s psychology is disordered, the sub-consciousness will turn to consciousness. When a man could not get promotion, he might blame his destiny; when a man had cancer, he might think about the life beyond his death; when a man thought about being killed, he might have the faith that he would come back again in a future life to take revenge. However, such ideas seldom occur to the true materialists. In the past 20 years, great changes took place in China and the interests of different social classes have been re-adjusted. A lot of ideological problems that cannot be solved emerge day after day. The psychological imbalances of some people are becoming more and more severe. Under such circumstance, the urge of pursuing faiths can easily become stronger.”
Sima Nan is something of a grown up fenqing, who have the insufferable ability of confusing things beyond repair, but it’s hard to argue with some of his points there. If you look around the rest of that website (Facts.org.cn), you might start looking sideways at Falun Gong, too.
Scott Chinn had this to say about that interview,
“It’s CCP propaganda at it’s “best”. Seems about 80% fabrication and 10% quoting out of context. I’ve read all of Li Hongzhi’s teachings and have listened to him lecture about 30 times in the past 14 yrs and I’ve never heard any thing close to these crazy things Sima claims. His description of FLG is way off. I think the “test of time” has confirmed this.”
For heaven’s sake, what the hell to believe?
Dr. Heather Kavan at Massey University in New Zealand gives us a good idea in “Falun Gong in the media: What can we believe?” She spent a year among Falun Gong practitioners in New Zealand and analyzing Li Hongzhi’s oeuvre and international media’s treatment of him and his movement. She told Barbarian Subject, regarding Sima Nan,
“He’s coming from a culture that dismisses all things transcendent, and these types of cultures make it very difficult for sensitive, intuitive people to thrive, so it’s understandable that they’re drawn to Qi Gong and Falun Gong. I’m not convinced that China will stay that way. My feeling is that Sima Nan’s style of rhetoric will be replaced by a more tolerant rhetoric within the next decade. I’m not even convinced he feels that way himself deep down, as it’s only human to search for meaning beyond the limitations of current scientific knowledge.”
Perhaps time will indeed temper the tempers. And, Westerners would do well to see the Chinese characteristics of this conflict, in which values like face weigh so much heavier, and perhaps hold back a bit, just a bit, with our proclivity to rally behind the underdog and invest our own ideological positions into the conflicts of others. Dr. Kavan,
“My experience has changed a little since I wrote the article, as in the following years I encountered more extremists. And yet there are still many good, deeply sincere people on both sides of the conflict. In my opinion, the sooner the more strident Falun Gong members let go of their propensity towards accusation and injustice-collecting, the better, as this will unblock the impasse between the spiritual movement and the Chinese government, and bring a beneficial outcome for everyone.”
As it is, the CCP aims to “stamp out” this movement, and the movement is doing some stamping itself. Every once in a while, you’ll get some change with text on the bill that doesn’t belong; a Falun Gong stamp. The first messages were handwritten, but in an effort to increase circulation, chops were custom made to fit into the design of Renminbi notes. I’ve only seen them on ones and fives, but tens are not unheard of. Mr. Chinn,
“(FalunInfo.net doesn’t) really have any special insight into the RMB note stamps, but are aware of them. They are one of many grassroots means practitioners have been using to try to end the illegal persecution. Since 1999, they have had no official way to appeal the illegal ban and excessively harsh treatment the CCP has inflicted. If they try to appeal to government officials, they are taken to jail. If they try to go to the courts, the CCP judges simply sentence them to prison. Lawyers get fined or lose their legal license if they try to take a Falun Gong case to court…Over the past few years, we have seen that their efforts have had a positive impact, and in many areas, people do know that Falun Gong is harmless.”
They’ve been making stamps in China since before Jesus could nail two by fours together. Just about any kind of paper work, from an apartment contract to a grocery store receipt, gets chopped. But there’s no way a stamp making business on Dalu would turn these out. So where do they come from? Mr. Chinn,
“I asked my Chinese practitioner friend and he said they basically make them on their own. For the stamps, he said there are many artisans who are really skilled at stamp making…The other way is to get freshly printed, crisp bills, from the bank and then use an old-fashioned mini print press. They just send the bills through and print directly on them. He also mentioned that the during Chinese New Year, it’s the best time to distribute because of the “hong bao“… everybody likes to get fresh, new bills… so it’s all quite normal (from the bank visit for the new bills to the distribution part).”
Dr. Kavan says, “of all religious adherents, Falun Gong members are perhaps the most media savvy.” Using the currency to spread your message around seems to fit right in with that. So, to commemorate 15 years of persecution, let’s have a look at a few. Note that all one yuan bills are printed with 1999 on them, the latest edition.
To the right, in the style of the San Zi Jing (indeed, using its first two lines);
“Man at birth is fundamentally good in nature. Truth, Compassion, Forbearance are the source of life. Falun Gong has a mission, the world over, to teach people goodness. Clean the body and heart/mind for well being. Morals, held up, prolong the years of one’s life. The good and the wicked, you can distinguish.”
The arched text in the sunrays reads “Falun Dafa is good. Truthfulness. Compassion. Forbearance.” Going down the mountains is “Heaven extinguish the CCP.” The bottom next to the year says “Quit the Party, quit the Communist Youth League, quit the Young Pioneers. Save your life.”
“The CCP’s destruction is heaven’s will. Quit the evil Party and guard life. Keep firmly in mind Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance. Honest study of Falun Dafa is good. Heaven bestows great blessings under a lucky star.”
The top reads; “Falun Dafa is good. Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance are good.” The bottom says; “Quit the Party, Quit the Communist Youth League, Quit the Young Pioneers. Stay far from disaster and stay safe!”
正法-Zheng Fa- means something like “orthodox law” or “just law”, it’s also a homophone of the word for a concept in Chinese law -政法- that infuses political interests into the legal system, which is used to persecute “counter-revolutionary” actions, eg. practicing Falun Gong. It can also mean to execute, as in put to death. The column on the left reads, “Treat well the zheng fa. Happiness and longevity increase.” Hard to say for sure if there’s a dark pun intended there. The column on the right says, “Understand the truth about God for protection.” The semicircular text at the bottom reads, “Buddha’s teachings illuminate everything.”
“Remember that Falun Dafa is good. Truth, Compassion, Forbearance are good.” Next to the phone number, (which appears to be a number in the US ((by the way, for any fellow Californians, look at this picture of a FLG wall stamp in a mountain town in Shanxi. If you’re being persecuted and want to quit the CCP, call country code 001, area code 818 – the San Fernando Valley.))) it’s a little unclear but looks like 三退热线 – “3 Quits hotline.”
“X number” of “these” is a very common form of presenting thoughts in Chinese. For example Jiang Zemin’s “3 Represents“, or Mencius’ “4 Beginnings“, the “4 Olds” of the Cultural Revolution, or Mao’s struggle against the “5 Evils.”
In the bottom right corner, “<The 9 Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party> Have you seen it? ”3 Quits” to save oneself. Have you ‘declared your quit’?”
To the right, “The Tiananmen self immolation was faked. We can see through this with sober analysis. A person’s hair is the easiest to burn. Invalid burn victims don’t want to be wrapped up.” See links for why they make those points.