Why is China so afraid of Folun Gong?
December 28, 2006 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Why is China so afraid of Folun Gong?

This has always perplexed me. From my albeit limited knoweldge of Folun Gong, they seem about as violent as an oak tree. In fact, try as I might, I simply cannot find it in me to be intimidated by them.

I did a lttle resarch, and here is a brief summary of my findings:

Nonviolent - CHECK
Practices goofy excercises - CHECK
Weird alien stories - CHECK
Government bans religion, followers must relocate to HK - CHECK
Hevily infuened by buddhism- CHECK
Leader appears not to be a megalomaniac - CHECK

If these guys lived in the US, we'd just write them off as harmless wierdos. But for whatever stange reason, China feels it nececsary to wipe out Folun Gong as swiftly as possible. What are they so worried about? They must see Folun Gong as some sort of long-term threat to their society.

My question - could Folun Gong concievable upset the Chinese economy, miltary, or cuture? Is this even something that Folun Gong is interested in doing?
posted by Afroblanco to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a link to the "People's Online Daily" (Insert Internet Censorship joke here) that claims that,

"the Research Society of Falun Dafa had not been registered according to law and had been engaged in illegal activities, advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardizing social stability."

I know that doesn't tell you the real underlying reason for banning them, but it's a start.
posted by jourman2 at 8:42 AM on December 28, 2006

IIRC, they emerged more or less out of nowhere from the government's perspective a little less than ten years ago. Their "coming out" was a huge public demonstration of breathing exercises in some prominent public area.

So the Chinese government-- being dictators, and all-- flipped out. They don't welcome any non-governmental group that draws people's allegiaces. Maybe if they had it to do all over again, they'd take a calmer approach. (Or maybe not). But I think it was the sudden burst on the public scene that led to the initial wave of repression.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:47 AM on December 28, 2006

I don't know, but this is an archive of the official chinese government's anti-falun gong website.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:50 AM on December 28, 2006

This wikipedia article seems to be heavy on the Falun Gong-as-threat angle.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:55 AM on December 28, 2006

The Chinese government considers any group that teaches anything other than absolute, unquestioning loyalty to the Communist Party to be a threat to their monopoly on power. The Communist Party has said that religious belief and party membership are incompatible. They are similarly brutal towards people who openly practice other religions. Much of China's religious activity is practiced underground, although since 1977, the government has allowed the official registration of some religious groups that promise not to challenge the absolute authority of the state. See the 1978 Constitution for details.

The Falun Gong, however, frequently imbue their activities with political overtones. For example, they have often criticized the official press and have protested against government officials. Since they were officially banned in 1999, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have protested and rallied against the government, and at least four of them set themselves on fire in protest at Tiananmen Square in 2001. Right or wrong, such protests are illegal in China.

The Falun Gong clashes with the government are particularly well known because they have a better PR strategy in the western world than other persecuted groups (I'm not saying that their suffering isn't real, merely that other groups have been less able to publicize their suffering). Falun Gong practitioners in the U.S. and other western countries have also been vocal in their protests of other governments' relations with China and have influenced foreign perception of the Chinese government. These activities have made Falun Gong a target of the Chinese government.

Although the Chinese government has reached agreement with certain churches to allow worship in China, those agreements are contingent upon churches remaining apolitical and recognizing the Communist Party as the supreme authority in the nation. Some churches have acquiesced, but others still worship secretly. The official Catholic Church in China, for example, has disavowed the Pope because they recognize no authority higher than that of the Communist Party. Catholics loyal to the Vatican must worship in secret. Christian churches of the Hmong minority and other ethnic minorities have been persecuted for advocating greater political rights for their ethnic groups.

Basically, any group, religious or otherwise, that challenges the Communist Party will face severe repercussions from the government. The Falun Gong is one famous target, in part because they are more widespread and daring in their protest than other groups and in part because they are very good at publicizing their suffering. But their situation in China is by no means unique.
posted by decathecting at 9:06 AM on December 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

(this comment was supposed to appear right after the OP)

And if China doesn't fear that Folun Gong could successfully upset the economy, milirary, or culture, why are they even borthering them?

Why wrere the Followers of Folun Gong were forced to relocate? Segregation? For their own safety or safety of other? Because "Hong Cong will tolerate freaks like you!"
Forcible relocation of people always throws up a red flag in my mind. There have been many of there long marches in history.

Could this have something to do with the media? Is China just wanting to "send a message" to all Unauthorized Spritual Groups in China?

I also wouldn't doubt a scenario where ambitious Chinese politicians seeking office would exaggerate the "threat" of Folun Gong, so that he/se may portray themselves as a "law and order war president who will keep the nation together during a time of trouble." (but now my Pynchonian Paranoia Promt is starting to beep, informing me that a tinfoil hat is being tossed in my direction)
posted by Afroblanco at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2006

As noted above, the CCP is very jealous of its power. Many of the higher government officials live in a walled compound called Zhongnanhai, not far from the Forbidden City. I believe the Falun Gong precipitated the worst of the repression by showing up unannounced, and in force, outside that compound one morning in April 1999 to protest. the CCP were not amused at having a bunch of contrarians suddenly appearing at their doorstep, and reacted strongly.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2006

In answer to your later questions:

There are probably some in the Chinese government who fear that Falun Gong practitioners could seriously upset the stability of the people's loyalty to the government, which they fear would upset the economy, military, etc. There are likely others who are making an example of Falun Gong to show other potential dissidents that even the slightest hint of disloyalty will not be tolerated. The Chinese government is not a single mind; it's a group of people working together to maintain power, and their motivations are varied.

The relocation of Falun Gong practitioners is almost certainly a tool for upsetting their ability to organize, as well as a deterrent to potential new members. It's not a safety issue, it's an issue of maintaining order.

The media in China are nearly all state-run, and the Falun Gong have protested bias in their political coverage. The Chinese government certainly uses the media as a tool to send messages to potential dissidents, and it may be doing so in this case. Portrayal of the group in Chinese media is overwhelmingly negative, and Falun Gong members have specifically criticized the media in ways that few other domestic groups have dared. But in many cases, government anti-Falun Gong activity is simply not covered at all in the media.

Of course, hyping the threat that dissident religious groups like Falun Gong pose could help to cement the power of the government by making people fear change. But I think that the Chinese Communist Party is more motivated by a desire to convince the public that no credible threats to national unity exist than by a desire to portray threats to national unity as powerful forces needing to be dealt with. The evidence for this is in the lack of official media coverage of government anti-Falun Gong activity. If the government wanted to use Falun Gong as evidence of the need for more "law and order," they would exaggerate the threat the group poses rather than attempting to minimize their perceived importance.
posted by decathecting at 9:42 AM on December 28, 2006

I've heard from various people, but never personally confirmed, that the FBI keeps close tabs on any organization that has a sizable membership and a hierarchical leadership structure.

An example of a particular group I've heard the FBI monitors would be the Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA). They have gatherings and members all over the country, a feudal monarchy, a standing army, and proficiency with multiple types of weapons.

If the country ever fell into anarchy or open rebellion, people would start banding together for mutual protection and assistance. For most people their group would come from a family, church, neighborhood, or maybe coworkers. Falun Gong as I understand is a religion with an established hierarchy that could serve as a replacement or supplement to government leadership.
posted by tkolstee at 9:54 AM on December 28, 2006

For balance, by the way, I should note that many people (including many westerners who do not advocate that the group be banned) do believe it's a cult that exerts a potentially dangerous degree of control over its members. The leader is very charismatic and claims to have the ability to see the future, cure disease, and grant eternal youth to his followers. Some practitioners who stood up to violence by Chinese police have said that they did so because the leader promised them that their practice of Falun Gong would create an impenetrable shield around their bodies that would protect them from any injury. Their introductory text claims that David Copperfield's magic comes from supernatural abilities he has cultivated through practicing Falun Gong.

The Chinese government often treats Falun Gong practitioners with psychiatric drugs claiming that the group induces psychosis in its members. Independent physicians have said that while the members they examined were psychologically healthy, the group's teachings have cult-like characteristics. This is not to say that the Chinese government is justified in banning or persecuting them, but merely to point out that there may be unhealthy aspects of the group's practice.
posted by decathecting at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Communism relies heavily on being the dominant beleif system of the citizenry; alternate belief systems (including religion) are therefore generally banned or restricted; this is justified by rationalizing that religion is unnecessary when the state is providing all that you need.

YAY! My poli sci degree DID SOMETHING!
posted by Kololo at 10:16 AM on December 28, 2006

The government seems to find some use for them.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 10:27 AM on December 28, 2006

We'd write them off as weirdoes because we have a society that can more or less govern itself.

In a society where literacy is lower, social institutions are weaker, and governance has always been by a minority's exercise of force, there won't be any of that "writing them off stuff" and much more of that "follow them fanatically" stuff.
posted by ewkpates at 12:23 PM on December 28, 2006

I think there is a lot less ideology involved in this issue then people are letting on in their explanations. What I have been led to believe regarding this issue is that the crackdown was largely a result of the government being caught unawares as this cult just burst onto the scene. Essentially from the governments point of view one day they do not exist, the next they have several thousand people meditating in unison on Tien An Min Square, which is a huge huge No No. In the 90's especially they were really uneasy about groups that can mobilize like that, and anyone that does it without the governments permission, is considered subversive.
Also I would imagine that had this group gone through government channels to essentially get permission to do their thing then none of this would have happened, but essentially the spooked the government, got cracked down on, then in retaliation hacked the CCTV network broadcast satellite for several days and broadcast videos of people meditating. They also continue in agitating against the PRC, which is not helping their case.

Basically there is nothing about their ideology that caused their treatment, they just made a series of unwise decisions in relation to dealing with the government.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:15 PM on December 28, 2006

I doubt the Chinese Government is very happy about the way Falun Gong campaigns against them overseas. I can't count the number of times I've seen Falun Gong protests in the main parts of Canberra, usually with signs saying things like "Falun Gong prisoners' organs sold for transplants". When a Chinese delegation was visiting a few months ago, Falun Gong people would line up along the roads leading to Parliament House and do little plays of cops beating shackled prisoners, people covered in blood etc. Of course, this began after the initial crackdown.

(not that I think China cares very much what Australia thinks of it, but if the same thing goes on in national capitals all over the world it might start to get annoying.)

Also, from what I've read about them, which could admittedly have been propaganda written by the PRC Government, they sound like an even wackier and more psychotic Chinese version of Scientology.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:29 PM on December 28, 2006

I've seen very, very similar protests involving prisoners and torture in Washington DC, A Thousand Baited Hooks, and seen attention-getting protests in Chicago at the Chinese consulate.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2006

What I've heard broadly supports BobbyDigital's explanation.
Anecdotally, another factor that's been mentioned is that the group managed to garner quite a following amongst senior retired Party cadres who felt left behind by the CPC's transformation into a deracinated managerial elite and still hankered after some kind of total ideology. When this came to light during investigations after the Zhongnanhai incident it added to the panic at the top and thus contributed to the over-reaction.
posted by Abiezer at 5:54 PM on December 28, 2006

To understand the Chinese government's concerns about Falun Gong, it helps to look at the situation in historical perspective. The two major Chinese rebellions of the nineteenth century, the Taiping Rebellion and the Boxer Rebellion, both sprang out of unorthodox religious movements. The Taiping Rebellion was led by Hong Xiuquan, a Chinese convert to Christianity who developed his own, very peculiar version of Christian theology (with himself as the new Messiah), while the Boxer Rebellion was led by the members of the Righteous Harmony Society, who believed they had supernatural powers. The Chinese government is very conscious of these historical precedents, and is not going to make the mistake of assuming that religious or quasi-religious movements like Falun Gong are too eccentric to pose any serious threat. (It's only complacent Western liberals who assume that irrational beliefs will eventually die away harmlessly.)

I have relatives who work for a Christian medical charity in China. From what they tell me, the government's attitude to Christianity fluctuates quite a lot: there will be periods of chilly hostility, when they have their passports confiscated or have to report regularly to the police station, followed by periods of thaw, when they are invited to official functions and awarded medals for international co-operation. On the whole, however, the regime is fairly tolerant of Christianity, which it regards as an essentially foreign ideology and, as such, no threat to domestic stability. It is fearful of Falun Gong because it regards this, unlike Christianity, as a Chinese ideology, rooted in Chinese culture and potentially capable of attracting mass support. (Again, very different from the West: we are preoccupied with the threat from outside, from the alien invader; they are preoccupied with the threat from inside, from within their own society.)

(Note: I regard myself as a reasonably well-informed observer, but I have no first-hand knowledge of Chinese society, and would welcome corrections or clarifications from people whose knowledge of China is greater than my own.)
posted by verstegan at 3:43 AM on December 29, 2006 [1 favorite]

Very interesting. It seems that the US and China have very different histories with regard to new religious movements.

Although I still think that the Chinese government has acted reprehensibly towards the Falun Gong practitioners, this does put the situation into perspective.

Thanks all for your answers.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2006

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