China calls practice an “evil cult”


To the women who displayed the meditative practice at the William Pitt Union’s lower lounge… To the women who displayed the meditative practice at the William Pitt Union’s lower lounge Thursday night, Falun Gong is a way to promote better health and a stronger moral character. But to Chinese officials it is an “evil cult,” according to a Pitt political science professor who says the ongoing debate is becoming increasingly political.

Falun Gong originated in China, where the government accepted it as another form of Chi Gong exercises – various practices, such as Tai Chi, that promote clarity of mind and physical well-being. Its founder, Li Hongzhi, was a former government official who received several awards from a committee of specialists at the Oriental Health Expo in 1993.

The Pitt workshop featured placards and magazines filled with gruesome pictures depicting alleged victims of Chinese torture. Human rights groups around the world accuse the Chinese government of persecuting Falun Gong members. But Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., denied these allegations.

“That’s not true,” Sun said. “Our government has been very patient. Our policy is persuasion and education. We’re trying very hard to educate them in the danger of practicing Falun Gong.”

Sun went on to detail some of these dangers, describing how the leader of Falun Gong is trying to bring about the “explosion of the Earth” but has delayed doing so, at least for the next 30 years, at the request of Chinese officials.

Emma Jin, a Monroeville-based software designer, Falun Gong member and co-organizer of the event at Pitt, laughed and shook her head when these accusations were related to her.

“You have to think, if the founder of Falun Gong believes this, then he is crazy,” Jin said. “But if the Chinese government believed him, then they are crazy too.”

Sun also said he was happy that “the American people are realizing more about this cult,” since Falun Gong members “are trying to damage relations between China and America.” “Falun” refers to a “wheel” of energy that can be found in the stomach, according to Sun. He said that some people have injured themselves, often fatally, by cutting open their stomachs to find this “wheel.”

Pitt political science professor Wen Fang Tang said that he has seen such reports, and that they enhance the cult-like impression of Falun Gong.

“If this is true,” Jin asked, “then why don’t we hear such reports outside of China, in any of the other countries where Falun Gong is practiced?”

Jin believes that such injuries are caused by torture. She has traveled to Geneva twice in the past four years to appeal to the United Nations annual human rights conferences.

“We are not doing this for political reasons, but for the human rights issue. We don’t do this to benefit anything or anyone in any way except to stop the persecution,” she said.

Studies conducted by eight different Chinese universities and hospitals in 1998 show evidence that the meditation and physical motions of Falun Gong not only improve physical and mental health, but might also have a healing effect on disease.

Over time, the popularity of Falun Gong has grown dramatically, and more than 100 million people in nearly 60 countries now practice it worldwide. But in 1999, the Chinese government began to crack down on Falun Gong followers after a controversial gathering at a government building.

Sun said that Falun Gong practitioners tried to hijack a government building in China. But Jin said that it was a peaceful gathering, the meaning of which was distorted by the Chinese government.

Jin said that the government harassed Falun Gong members, prior to the incident, because their numbers had exceeded the number of people registered in China’s Communist Party. The gathering was meant to appeal to Chinese officials, who never responded to a deluge of letters asking for the persecution to stop, Jin said.

“I don’t think it was political, because no matter who went there, they didn’t do anything violent,” Jin said. “You can see from pictures: they were just trying to talk to the government. They weren’t shouting or waving banners. It’s not true that they were trying to attack the government.”

Another contested issue involves an incident in which Falun Gong members took control of a Chinese cable television broadcast to show alleged acts of brutality conducted by Chinese officials. Tang said the act constituted a “deliberate attempt to interrupt a government operation.”

Jin doesn’t deny that the act seems contrary to the teachings of Falun Gong, which promote peace and forbearance. But she added that there was no other way to show people such images in a nation where the media is controlled entirely by the government.

“I know this is illegal, as it is in the U.S.,” Jin said. “But we have no other way to show our voice. We didn’t hurt anyone; it’s the only way we know to show people (in China) the truth.”

Tang believes that the popularity of Falun Gong grew so rapidly because of an “ideological vacuum” in Chinese communism that arose from twenty years of reforms after the Maoist regime fell. He said market reforms gradually increased economic gaps and “created a whole spectrum of people who felt betrayed.”

“I see this as a deeper social and political issue than just the unpopularity of Falun Gong,” Tang said. He added that many Chinese are becoming distrustful of the practice because of a media campaign by the Chinese government.

The United States Congress has passed legislation calling for the end of persecution against Falun Gong practitioners, both in China and in the United States. Two resolutions, numbered 188 and 304, describe harassment that has occurred against Falun Gong members on U.S. soil. Congress’ annual human rights review frequently accuses China of human rights violations.

But China also issued its own document that accuses the United States of similar violations, like the lack of personal safety caused by a high crime rate and the lack of respect for national sovereignty, Tang said.

“It’s interesting to see that these things are all true,” Tang said. “It only shows that each country has its own problems.”

Rather than engage in this “shouting match,” Tang feels that the United States should help China to better deal with its problems by showing them legal alternatives, rather than just accusing their government of cracking down on those who they feel are politically subversive.

“Helping China to deal with situations like this through legal means will eventually help China develop democracy, which will benefit China and America a lot more than helping the dissidents,” Tang said.

Jin agreed that the United States should think about how to help China. But she reiterated her belief that Falun Gong practitioners are not “dissidents,” and that they don’t have a political agenda.

“What we are doing is not to request democracy,” Jin said, “but when we see something wrong, we feel, as individuals and human beings, that we should speak up, and we are using the most peaceful way we know how. If this persecution ends, people will see that, by speaking up, we can stop these crimes, and I think that’s best for everyone in the world.”