Falun Gongs Struggle For Religious Tolerance Cultural Studies Essay

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In an effort to remember the spirits lost, but to also celebrate the spirits graced by the destructive earthquake in China, members of Falun Gong organized a parade in China Town on May 25th, 2008. However, supporters of the Chinese government unleashed their long standing loath of Falun Gong by hurling water bottles and pieces of pastry, as well as insults, at the marchers. As tensions boiled over, scuffles arose randomly, and like grenades in a field these fights left people badly injured (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). In Falun Gong's two decades since formation, its adherents have faced speculation, submission, and even torture; however, this group managed to gain support throughout its fight for recognition.

Tensions grew throughout the nineties when the number of Falun Gong practitioners exceeded the number of people in the Communist Party (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). After years of dispute, a pivotal point in this organization's history occurred on April 25th, 1999. Over ten thousand Falun Gong members lead a peaceful demonstration near Zhongnanhai; the Communist party's leadership compound in Beijing, "to complain about repots in the state-run media that the group said were defamatory" (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). After realizing the extensive size and organization this group attained, the Chinese government outlawed its practices and Falun Gong has remained a toxic topic ever since. To avoid future enrollment in this "cult", schools order that children sign pledges that they oppose the group and attend "education entertainment" (Zhao 218).

While too distracted by superficial statements and assumptions, protestors against Falun Gong fail to understand the group's moral insights and ethical codes. Followers are instructed to maintain a righteous mind, for all evil things will be suppressed. To achieve such a state of consciousness is achieved, a righteous mind must resists prevailing pursuits of wealth, power, scientific rationality and modernization (Hongzhi 38). Qigong, a Chinese art of breathing exercises that incorporates meditation, aids in attaining personal xinxing, or mind nature, by balancing the mind with the spirits. In this practice, one must allow their Qi, or internal energy, to be altered into cultivation energy by the spiritual elements.

We do not use intention here. I have been telling everyone not to use intention and to give up attachments. Do not pursue any intention. In the third eye set where the two palms carry Qi to penetrate the two cosmic extremes, all that is needed is one quick thought. Do not think about anything else. (Honhzhi 156)

Aside from achieving salvation and harmonization, members scrupulously obey the morals unique to Falun Gong in order protect themselves from omnipresent demons by utilizing supernatural powers. Li Hongzhi, the founder and master, warns of these evil spirits, but also reassures his followers in saying that strong cultivation energy protects them from such detriments. He does not wish to instill fear in his followers, for he quotes "any fear is itself a barrier that prevents you from reaching consummation" (Smith) Those who become infected with demonic spirits become ill and undergo suffering; however, the preyed upon do not seek medical treatment, for Falun Gong practices spiritual healing. Members criticize the values of modern science and medicine, claiming that doctors cannot see al dimensions of an illness. Only selected members who effectively channel the qi are able to perform such a task; however, other members who effectively channel the qi are granted with the power of cosmic language, levitation, clairvoyance, hypnotism, telekinesis, along with other supernatural qualities (Buckley, Moyhinan).

The Falun is a law wheel that spins inside you, and it continually transforms, absorbs, and converts energy to the Gong, or cultivation energy. This Falun is a golden yellow, a color that does not exist in the human dimension, and it is marked with a swastika: the symbol of good fortune. Such a sight can only be witnessed by those who possess the "third eye". THIRD EYE. Once a member has directed his or her vital energy, achieved mind nature, and committed him or herself to truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance, the master Li Hongzhi will install the Falun into the follower's abdomen, where the wheel will absorb the universe's energy. This Falun is a spinning mini replica of the universe that only he can place inside his constituents. Within the first year of the Falun installation, the affiliate may experience abdominal pain; however, Hongzhi writes such pain is a normal process since "it is an initial stage caused by the rotation of the Falun. You may not have this symptom in the future" (Hongzhi 153).

The founder and figure head of the Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, began attracting followers through his vivid speeches and demonstrations in 1992 (Frequently Asked Questions; Zhao 210). Very little has been reported on his child hood and the origins of his spirituality. Moreover, it is known that he was a store clerk who obtained only a high school diploma. He, however, claims that a superior power sent him to Earth to fight off the evils of science and aliens. During his appearances throughout China, he would tune in the crowed by professing "humankind is degenerating and demons are everywhere" (Hongzhi 66)

After the violent eruptions that occurred in China, Mr. Li fled for New York City to preserve his leadership and to spread his teachings to the west. He continues to communicate with his followers in China exclusively through the Minghui Net (Zhao 218). New York Times Journalist Craig Smith claims "he lives off the profits of his instructional tapes and books"; however, master Hongzhi and his followers dispute this statement in arguing that donations are not accepted in their organization. Whatever the case, it is agreed upon that Li Hongzhi lives a reclusive life in New York City, where he continues to issue new teachings and implant Falons.

Falun Gong combines unique spiritual elements found in the Tao School and the Buddha School, and therefore categorizes itself as a new religious movement. This organization steamed from Falun Xiulian Dafa; one of the Buddha School's special qigong techniques. Methods retained from their parent religion, Buddhism, include "shan", which refers to benevolence, and the idea of qigong, or controlled breathing exercises incorporated with meditation. Falun Gong practitioners, however, incorporate supernatural elements that other qigong movements do not patronize. In addition, members focus on nonmaterial, or universal energy, where as other qigong organizations focus on isolated, or material energy (Frequently Asked Questions). Just as the Tao School, Falun Gong glorifies "zhen" (truthfulness); however, Falun Gong shuns the idea of Bigu: the Taoist belief of extreme fasting for the divine (Hongzhi 42).

Supporters of this unique religion struggle with evil beings that are trying to redeem the universe; thus their universal goal is to reach the stage of the "Fa refining practitioner" in order to destroy demonic spirits. This achievement requires regimented mediation along with sufficient qi to gong energy transformations. Once one has reached the "Fa refining practitioner", he or she will be able to complete continual practice all day even though he or she may not practice all the time (Hongzhi 147). Furthermore, one's Falun will now convert qi to gong energy without stopping. As mentioned earlier, gong energy produces a righteous mind, and a righteous mind wards off evil spirits. Li Hongzhi detailed this cycle in his book, China Falun Gong:

Since the Falun ceaselessly rotates itself after it is formed, it exists in the form of an intelligent being, regularly and continuously collecting energy at the lower abdomen area of the cultivator. Falun automatically absorbs energy form the universe via rotation. Just because it rotates nonstop, it reaches the goal of the "Fa refining the practitioner", which refers to the fact the Falun cultivates even though people do not practice all the time. (Hongzhi 37)

The dissemination of the Hongzhi's teachings soon became global with the help of organized local groups and the internet. The "disciplined and quiasi-Leninist organizational structure of local groups linked through cadres of leaders in contacts with their counterparts at different levels of the network" allowed for then fluent spread of Falun Gong (Zhao 213). This form of communication was used by Chinese rebels and the Chinese Communist party during its revolution in the 1920's and 30's (Zhao 213). The internet served as another form of communication. In fact, the internet was an ideal choice for many of these local groups because of its efficiency, ease, and low cost. Members could not only use the internet for email but also to blog or view Falon Gong's official website. By 1996, the organization reported nearly four million followers (Zhao 214).

There were more Falun Gong believers than Party Members; there were more Falun Gong members inside the state's military, security, educational, and media establishments; and Falun Gong operated with an organizational structure that was incredibly effective in its ability to penetrate the Chinese society. (Zhao 215)

In that same year, the Chinese government was held responsible for numerous reportings of slanderous content regarding Falun Gong that eventually circulated throughout the world. Then, on April 25th, 1999, over ten thousand Falun Gong members lead a peaceful demonstration near the city of Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party's leadership compound (Ansfield, Jacobs A4; Zhao 212). After this protest, the government began treating the group as a threat to the national security.

Falun Gong's expanding numbers warranted suspicion from the Chinese government, and on July 24th, 1999 the Press and Publications Administration issued an internal circular banning the further publication and circulation of Falun Gong Material (Ansfield, Jacobs A4). Moreover, the government banned, blocked, and hacked into Falon Gong's website. Jiang Yu from the foreign ministry said "the Falun Gong cult violates human right by controlling people's minds" (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). By this, Yu is referring to Li Hongzhi's charisma and his ability to instill emotion, particularly fear and revitalization, in the crowd.

After such claims of corruption and infamy, worshipers of Falun Gong formulated three goals in regard to their media attention: to sustain the global media spotlight on the Chinese government's prosecution, to gain access to media outlets while blocking negative connotations, and to produce and distribute its own alternative media (Zhao 219). First, members attempted to acquire a regular programming slot in on television; however, the majority of the television programs the members sought found this advertisement too controversial. Secondly, Falun Gong began cracking down on various news papers and magazine sources who displayed "biased attitudes" toward the ongoing dispute between members and the government. Specifically, practitioners targeted Les Presse Chinoises in Montreal and Sing Tao Daily and The China Press in New York for their unfavorable material (Ansfield, Jacobs A4). The outcome of these court hearings left some members disappointed; most thought that just a slap on the wrist was not a fair punishment, but they felt satisfied by the hearing's media attention. And lastly, the organization advertized itself through many vents of the media including but not limited to radio stations, television, newspapers, magazines, books, tapes, and most importantly the internet. As opposed to radio stations and television commercials, online journals and news reports transmit global coverage.

Established in 1999, The Falon Dafa is a New York based information center led by Li Hongzhi that is the equivalent of a press office. It hosts a multilicultural and multilingual network of public relations and web design serving as Falun Gong's spokesperson (Zhao 216). This management not only oversees the movement from its headquarters, but it also provides news releases and newsletters to the public, and it established the journal Compassion. Members could now feel more secure knowing a large corporation looks out for the group's overall well being.

The Chinese government began exercising violence as means to suppress the Falun Gong. Any citizen caught with Falun Gong material was immediately imprisoned. Only a handful of prison mates received a trial, while the remaining prisoners were simply handcuffed and placed in labor camps. According to a CNN correspondent, "Bu Dongwei, 41, a longtime adherent who spent three years in a labor camp, was forced to share a room with about 30 other people. Most of the thieves and drug addicts were encouraged to abuse the Falun Gong detainees" (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). In 2002, as many as eight thousand members have been detained according to experts in human right, and at least one hundred have died in police custody (Galli, Lu 129). Most are said to be tortured to death, but the Chinese government have labeled their deaths as mass suicides or natural causes. In the case of Mrs. Zhao, one news reporter confirmed her affiliation with Falon Gong and concluded that she indeed committed suicide, while another news reporter claimed that she had marks all over her body and she had been tortured (Smith).

In response to the reported mutilation and brutality regarding fellow adherents of Falon Gong, members began reacting violently and proactively. A great number of followers began exercising in from of news organizations and harassing individual editors and reporters. Their displays caught the attention of worldwide journalists, but they soon lost their spark after months of day to day media coverage on the topic. To keep the stories alive, Falun Gong members organized news conferences both inside and outside of China, and they staged demonstrations at the international level. After creating various news headlines, members began hacking not only into China's cable television networks but also into Sinosat State Satellite by late September of 2002 (Falun Gong: A Brief but Turbulent History). Other "discursive strategies include truth claim, personal testimonies, gain[ing] legitimacy from established authorities, mak[ing] use of highly selective and historical analogies, not foreground[ing] [their] leader, and tak[ing] an activist approach" (Zhao 211).

Ironically, one of the most tightly controlled media systems has bred one of the most powerful communication networks. The surge of violence has caused global pressure on the Chinese government to legitimize Falon Gong and to stop the persecution; a procedure that may take decades. Jerome Cohen, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert in Chinese Law stated that "the excess and the savagery have really lowered the quality of the government and harms is reputation abroad" In addition he concludes that "They're paying a high price for the cruelty to these people" (Buckley, Moyhinan).

As Dr. Bret Fulton said, "this organization was capable of grabbing the hearts and minds and loyalty of millions" (Zhao 221). This group possesses the extraordinary qualities of perseverance, devotion, and spirituality. Due the governments insure hold of its country, it