Falun Gong is only banned in China

Ten Years of Persecution of Falun Gong

DW-WORLD.DE: What is Falun Gong?

There are two main elements in Falun Gong: One is Qigong, a type of breathing therapy that is used for healing purposes in China. The second is the teaching of their chief Li Hongzhi. This doctrine is based on a number of claims that result in a quasi-religious worldview. They say that people have turned away from the gods and the gods from people - mainly due to modern science and technology. The doctrine also says that because of this mankind has already perished eighty-one times and that extraterrestrials have come to earth to take the place of humans. Ultimately, only those who practiced Falun Gong - those who were already at a certain stage of meditation development - would survive. It says so in Li Hongzhi's books. In addition, as a charismatic master who is in constant contact with the gods, he promises people from a certain level freedom from aging, from illness and ultimately immortality.

Why is Falun Gong so successful in China?

Falun Gong includes a form of qigong that is relatively easy to learn and at the same time promises health. And in China, where health insurance is unaffordable for many people, many people are looking for alternative medicine that is free and still promises them health. In addition, the persecution has made Falun Gong more widely known, especially abroad. Li Hongzhi is based in America and has enormous resources at his disposal - how can I not say. He runs newspapers that are distributed free of charge, he has his own television channels - an enormous propaganda machine.

What Makes Falun Gong Attractive Abroad?

Falun Gong is attractive abroad because it offers an easy-to-learn form of qigong here, but also something that fascinates people. If I promise someone that they will not get sick anymore and possibly not age as quickly, then that is attractive. One simply expects alternative ways of preventive health care from it.

Is there a typical member profile?

In China, it is above all those who feel disadvantaged by rapid social change: the group that does not receive adequate medical care, that is unemployed, or whose income has lagged behind that of the new middle class. But I also know a lot of people who practice Falun Gong in the form of Qigong, but don't even know the whole quasi-religious background.

Why does the Chinese government fear the Falun Gong movement?

China is an authoritarian state and in authoritarian states there is a fear of all organizations that develop independently of the party state. This is the first point. There is also a historical component: all Chinese peasant revolutions were led by charismatic qigong leaders. Qigong was not only a kind of health training, but also a kind of networking for political purposes. And so Chinese rulers - not only the communist leadership but also former emperors - were very suspicious of such movements and have banned them.

What do we know about the persecution of Falun Gong?

It is undisputed that there is persecution. I can also imagine mistreatment and torture. The Chinese central government requires local governments to ensure social stability. The central government has, so to speak, shifted all of its responsibility to the lower level. When Falun Gong practitioners from a certain county come to Beijing to demonstrate, it means for the central government that the local government is not in control of the situation. This may then be discontinued. That is why the local governments are very keen to put these people out of action in the first place so that they don't get into problems themselves. And that's why the lower levels are so tough. Massive persecution occurs wherever Falun Gong practitioners are active.

How credible are Falun Gong's allegations against the Chinese government?

There is no question that Falun Gong is being persecuted, but I think the movement has harmed itself by generating reports that were simply false. For example, last year I saw a picture that allegedly had the organs of Falun Gong practitioners dissected. In the picture, however, only doctors could be seen handling corpses. I couldn't see that they were Falun Gong practitioners or anyone else. But it was clearly assigned. Because of this, I feel stronger that Falun Gong is also doing propaganda that is simply wrong. I do not consider the Falun Gong propaganda machine to be credible.

How did the Chinese government justify the ban on Falun Gong?

The Chinese government has accused Falun Gong of organizing activities against the state. The main justification for the ban was that people were harmed by Falun Gong. People would no longer see a doctor or take medication under the influence of Falun Gong. There are also suicides because practitioners have misconceptions about the 'meditation level' they are at. And a final reproach is that people practically dropped out of society. That they no longer went to work, would no longer take care of their family, but only about themselves.

How do you rate the allegations?

I believe that a lot of followers really believe that they shouldn't be taking medication. I also know of cases from my circle of friends in China in which this was the case. A friend of mine practiced Falun Gong and refused to take any medication. She believed that this would interfere with the qi, the energy, in her. And then she died too. So there are these cases. As for the suicides, I can neither verify nor falsify that. There are very few independent sources.

Correspondents in China have described the Falun Gong movement as being very intolerant of critics. Have you had similar experiences?

In my opinion, movements of this kind always turn into politically intolerant movements at some point. Li Hongzhi also speaks out against certain social groups that he considers deviant, such as homosexuals. He is also against science and technology - so there is an attitude that is hostile to modernization. I myself have been persecuted and threatened for years because Falun Gong followers disagreed with my scientific analysis of the Falun Gong movement. In my experience, Falun Gong followers do not seek discussion, but are simply intolerant of their arguments.

How big is the influence of Falun Gong in China today?

That varies from region to region, but in some regions Falun Gong still exists. However, I think that the movement has been shattered in its large structures. It exists rather selectively. But it can come back to life in another form at any time. When we have a crisis in China, I am sure that movements similar to Falun Gong will emerge again - led by other charismatic masters, with similar goals, in completely different places. When people no longer have support in their old structures, then they seek support in religious communities. I can also imagine that the consequences of the global economic crisis will reinforce such a trend.

Bastian Hausch conducted the interview