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http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/stories/s1358518.htm

 

Sunday at 6pm, repeated Monday at 9pm
and Friday at 4am

Presented by Rachael Kohn



What''s Wrong With Falun Gong?
Sunday 8 May  2005 

Summary
Followers of Falun Gong have been imprisoned, tortured and re-educated by the Chinese government.

Program Transcript
Rachael Kohn: You might have seen them at train stations, handing out copies of The Epoch Times. They’re members of Falun Gong and they’re one of the most recent religious groups on the Australian scene.

Hello, I’m Rachael Kohn. Welcome to The Spirit of Things on ABC Radio National.

Falun Gong, which means Law Wheel Cultivation is also known as Falun Dafa, the Great Law of the Wheel. It was begun in China by Li Hongzhi, a little over a decade ago, but the Chinese government considered it a threat. 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners amassed peacefully in Tiananmen Square on April 25th, 1999, but that prompted a crackdown which began a campaign of suppression in which thousands were arrested.

SOUND OF CHAOS

Rachael Kohn: Today we’ll hear from one devotee, who was arrested, imprisoned and tortured and lived to write a book about her ordeal, called Witnessing History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom. Jennifer Zeng, who now lives in Australia, will join me in a moment.

But first we’ll hear from Maria Hsia Chang, a political scientist and China specialist who’s just written a book on Falun Gong. I asked Professor Chang to give me some idea of the size of the movement and its astonishing success in such a short time. She’s speaking to me from Reno, in Nevada.

Maria Hsia Chang: Let me just emphasise to start with, that nobody really knows just how many followers Falun Gong had or has today, for the simple reason that it’s really not an organised religion, or institutionalised.

I mean one does not, say, register with anyone that one is a follower, so it’s really on a very voluntary, casual basis. But regardless, the numbers of follower of Falun Gong at least at the time when the massive protest on April 25th 1999 in the heart of Beijing occurred, at the time the Chinese government said that Falun Gong followers numbered anywhere from 2-million to 30-million.

Falun Gong’s international headquarters in New York claimed a worldwide membership or following of 100-million, but the vast majority had estimated 80-million at the time, to be within China. Now as to why a group like this could have had such rapid growth in success, since it was really founded only in 1992, I think the reasons for the success would include, to begin with, that Falun Gung started as a chi gong group and chi gong can be translated into English as ‘energy cultivation’, and chi gong really has roots going back to pre-historical times in China.

And so there is the traditional appeal of chi gong and of course Falun Gong is a sort of special version of chi gong, with some religious beliefs added to that, and of course Falun Gong’s main promise would be that of health, that if one practices the five sets of exercises, that would give the practitioner great health and possibly even prolong your life, and the promise of health by Falun Gong was articulated at a time when the Chinese people were under great stress from just rapid modernisation.

Rachael Kohn: Yes, Maria, you even note in your book on Falun Gong that the government was at first quite enthusiastic about this, they thought they could save themselves quite a bit of money in health services.

Maria Hsia Chang: Yes, even the leader of China at the time reportedly himself had been an adherent of one of these other chi gong groups, and reportedly government officials, party officials, and especially family members, some of them were following Falun Gong, for precisely that health reason.

Rachael Kohn: And yet as you say, its teachings are quite eclectic. They draw on Taoist, Buddhist and even beliefs in UFOs, so it would have been rather counter to the communist view that this is superstition, and must be avoided by the atheistic communist regime.

Maria Hsia Chang: Definitely, for the authorities in China I mean even to this day, lip service is still being paid to the supposed official ideology of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong thought, and now it’s Den Xiaoping theory.

But of course the government is avowedly atheistic, so the revival of Buddhism of Taoism and chi gong groups with these religious elements added to that, of course would be anathema to the authorities and in the case of Falun Gong, in addition to these traditional new Buddhist and new Taoist beliefs, which have buried their old roots in China, the founder and leader, Li Hongzhi, had added this kind of veneer of seeming modernity to it by referring to science and the cosmos, and what matters really fundamentally reduced to, and as well as references to UFOs, so it definitely is very eclectic, very odd mix of belief elements.

Rachael Kohn: Professor Maria Hsia Chang is the author of Falun Gong: The End of Days, and that sub-title refers to the apocalyptic beliefs of the founder, Li Hongzhi.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners, became an all-out ban of the movement in July 2000. But before that, in May, Jennifer Zeng, a member of the Communist party since she was in primary school, was sentenced to a re-education camp because of her involvement in Falun Gong.

She emigrated to Sydney in 2001 and joins me now.

Jennifer Zeng, welcome to The Spirit of Things.

Jennifer Zeng: Thank you.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer, how did you first become acquainted with Falun Gong?

Jennifer Zeng: In 1997 my sister actually, she started practising one month before me, and then she posted a set of books to me and after reading these books twice, I decided to practice Falun Gong at once.

Rachael Kohn: What attracted you to Falun Gong?

Jennifer Zeng: It answered all my questions that I was seeking before I encounted it for all these years, mainly about the real meaning of human life and whether there is an utmost truth in the universe, or my place in the world.

Rachael Kohn: So your sister was a member of Falun Gong. Was she doing the exercises that Falun Gong is famous for?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes. Actually every Falun Gong practitioners work on exercises because it’s part of their practice.

Rachael Kohn: What do they involve? Does it look like Tai Chi? I think many people in the West know Tai Chi.

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, quite similar, very gentle, very smooth, and it also includes two sets of meditation, one in sitting meditation, and one we call a stand stance. You stand still and meditate.

Rachael Kohn: Did you see people doing the exercises publicly in Beijing?

Jennifer Zeng: Before the crackdown, yes, everywhere. I wrote about it in my book when I took the early travel to my work. You can say every, maybe 100 metres away there were people doing Falun Gong exercises in the morning.

Rachael Kohn: So it was everywhere to be seen?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, almost.

Rachael Kohn: It must have been quite intriguing for someone who wasn’t involved.

Jennifer Zeng: I think Chinese people accept that during that period of time, people were doing all sorts of different exercises including Tai Chi, and some doing disco dance just to take some practice in the morning.

Rachael Kohn: Well you write in your memoir that you became very ill, and that Falun Gong helped you. Tell me, what happened to you?

Jennifer Zeng: Actually when I gave birth to my daughter five years before I practiced Falun Gong, I lost a lot of blood and twice my life was in danger, and then through a blood transfusion I caught Hepatitis-C, and after that I actually lay in the hospital for four years without being able to work or look after my daughter.

But after I practiced Falun Gong, this was in one month, my illness was found to have gone. It’s just like a miracle working on me, and I recovered my health and I could feel the energy inside me was very, very different before, and I felt better, even than my university days.

Rachael Kohn: What do you think actually happened? Does Falun Gong explain what happened to you?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, it explained very well about why people have sickness, and on what level it works on your body, and why it can purify your body and cure illnesses. It explained very well for me.

Rachael Kohn: In the West, people know a little bit about Falun Gong, and one of the things that they know most about is the Wheel of Law, that is the Wheel that is in your abdomen, and which the leader of Falun Gong has to implant in you. When did that happen to you?

Jennifer Zeng: Sometimes some sensitive person may feel it when it has happened to you. But some people may not feel it physically because it is not something in this dimension where we can feel with our physical or flesh eyes, it is something that exists in another dimension. You may feel it or you may not feel it, but it exists, and it works, and that’s why so many people got cured of their very fatal illnesses.

Rachael Kohn: But it’s something that the leader himself is responsible for implanting in you, a person can’t do it himself, as far as I understand.

Jennifer Zeng: No, you understand right.

Rachael Kohn: Well how did he know to implant the Wheel of Law in you? Did he know you? Have you ever met him?

Jennifer Zeng: No, you don’t have to be – maybe this is something very profound. It is, if you want really to know all the mechanism behind all this, maybe you need to read the original book of Mr Li Hongzhi himself. He explained that although he cannot do it with his flesh or physical body in this dimension, but as an achieved or enlightened being, or achieved practitioner himself, he’s got law bodies in other dimensions, and his law bodies can take care of practitioners.

Rachael Kohn: You’re saying law bodies; these are entities?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

Rachael Kohn: They’re kind of divine entities?

Jennifer Zeng: Sort of. We call it gong, or energy, or you can understand it as your wisdom, that manifests in other dimensions.

Rachael Kohn: Was your husband involved in this as well?

Jennifer Zeng: No, he wasn’t.

Rachael Kohn: So he didn’t have the Wheel of Law in him?

Jennifer Zeng: No, only those who genuinely want to practice Falun Gong will be given one.

Rachael Kohn: Right. Well you and your husband were a part of the new class of Chinese of privatised economy; you both had very good jobs and you were looking forward to a life together with your own home, I think you were building a home, and of course you had your daughter as well. How did you see Falun Gong fitting into your family life?

Jennifer Zeng: It certainly improved our family life, because first it improved my health tremendously.

Before that, I was sick all the time and the family was really exhausted about my long years of illness, my whole family had to look after me, and because of my illness I was also in a very bad mood. I was very easy to get worked up, and my husband must be very careful what to say and what not to say because I was so easy to be upset by anything he said, because I was (in) such despair about my life. I was so young and so successful before, I could have practiced, but suddenly I felt my life ended there.

People usually liken women with flowers, and I felt I hadn’t even had the chance to bloom before I withered. But after I practiced Falun Gong, my health improved a lot, and I was in much, much better mood, and because I had a new understanding of many things, and because I practiced compassion, and forbearance, my relationship with my husband changed and improved a lot, and my husband actually he realised this very, very soon after I practiced Falun Gong.

Rachael Kohn: Well he certainly had to practice a lot of compassion as well, because you wanted to go out to the practice sites where Falun Gong practitioners do their exercises, and this was becoming increasingly problematic. The police were concerned about your going out and you were arrested a few times.

Jennifer Zeng: Actually before the crackdown, this wasn’t a problem at all. I practiced other forms of chi gong exercises for my health anyway, so my husband used to go with me to the park in an effort to help me to improve my health. So that’s not a problem with him, and especially after he saw the great effect Falun Gong was playing upon me.

Of course after the crackdown, it became a disaster to the whole family. I was arrested repeatedly, because of doing this.

Rachael Kohn: Well in fact I think you lived with your parents-in-law who were obviously very worried about the effect of your detention on the family, and also probably the effect on your husband. Now once when you were arrested, a police officer told you ‘Go home, practice at home, just don’t go to the practice site, or to Tiananmen Square’ I think. Why didn’t you choose that option?

Jennifer Zeng: Actually this is a very difficult or profound question to answer. You know, to choose to practice Falun Gong is not a simple thing for me, because it’s a new way of living. You practice truthfulness, compassion and forbearance in your daily life, and you have a new understanding of the meaning of your life, what you are going to do with the life of yours. So for me, it’s a new dimension, and a it’s a new way of living, and a new understanding of everything.

Rachael Kohn: Why isn’t doing that privately enough?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, I will explain this. After two years of practice at that time, I knew what Falun Gong tells us is the truth of the universe, and it was for us to uphold the principles. And I understand very well, even though the police told you, ‘You can go home and practice’, actually you can’t. Because in Chinese there is the idiom saying ''when two truths meet, the most courageous one wins''.

So if under something that is wrong, it’s a threat actually, and it’s a compromise, and you step back a step, and they step back further more, and you step backwards one step again, and then in the end you find you have no place at all to be a Falun Gong practitioner itself, because to be a Falun Gong practitioner, the first principle to follow is truth. You must be truthful, and doing it secretly, and underground, it’s not truthful enough, and you may at any time, when you’re walking on the street, you may (be) stopped by police and be asked whether you are a Falun Gong practitioner or not.

I actually met a lot of other Falun Gong practitioners who did choose just to practice at home, and there was even one who wasn’t a Falun Gong practitioner at all, only because she had a book of Falun Gong in her home, she was also arrested.

Rachael Kohn: Well when you say two truths, you are referring to the other truth as the Communist truth, the State. You have said several times and many Falun Gong practitioners proclaimed that Falun Gong is not political, but I guess if Falun Gong practitioners want to raise their banner in Tiananmen Square, then it’s a contradiction, isn’t it? Then of course Falun Gong is political.

Jennifer Zeng: It depends how you understand political, or how you define political. As far as I can see, all the banners were held in Tiananmen Square is something like ‘Falun Gong is Good’, ‘Stop the Killing’, so if that is understood as political, I’ve nothing to say, but surely enough we don’t have any political agenda, we don’t have a political purpose, and we don’t want the political power, we just want our basic human right to practice our beliefs.

Rachael Kohn: A lot of people have pointed out that the leader of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, encouraged his followers to defy the authorities in China while he lived in splendid freedom in America. How did you feel about that?

Jennifer Zeng: I think where he lives is a choice of his, and actually has nothing to do with me, just like when I was in the labour camp, the authorities and the police in the labour camp said a lot of bad things about Mr Li Hongzhi to encourage me to give up the practice, and I told him very clearly from my experience of practicing Falun Gong I believe truthfulness, compassion and forbearance are the principles of the universe, no matter what others do, including Li Hongzhi. It is my own choice to be truthful, compassionate and forbearant myself, I don’t look at any others.

So I think you must be responsible to yourself and it’s no point in looking at how others are living, that’s his problem, not mine.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer Zeng is the author of Witness to History and she’s a follower of this man, Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong.

Li Hongzhi: [translator] The Chinese government has always believed that I have been behind all this. Actually I want to explain once again, actually I have not been involved in any of these activities.

Reporter: They seem to be afraid of you, personally. They think you are a big threat to China, a dangerous person.

Li Hongzhi: Actually it should not happen to this experience. Maybe they have seen me as a threat. This is because they do not understand me well enough.

Rachael Kohn: You’re listening to What’s Wrong with Falun Gong on The Spirit of Things, here on ABC Radio National. It’s a new religious movement that’s been virtually wiped out in Communist China, according to political scientist, Maria Hsia Chang. We’ll hear from her later in the program.

If you’re new to The Spirit of Things, or would just like to have regular updates of what’s coming up each week on the program, you can sign on to our newsletter, which will appear in your email in-tray. Just go to our website.

And now back to my guest, Jennifer Zeng. She now lives in Australia with her daughter, but in China as a practitioner of the outlawed sect, Falun Gong, she was imprisoned in a labour camp and underwent what’s euphemistically called re-education.

Jennifer Zeng, when were you finally put into the labour re-education camp? What year was that?

Jennifer Zeng: It’s 2000.

Rachael Kohn: And you were there for about 18 months?

Jennifer Zeng: One year.

Rachael Kohn: You describe in your memoir, Witness to History, the sufferings of many of the people around you. What were the kind of punishments that you endured?

Jennifer Zeng: Too many. For example, sleep deprivation, and physical torture, electric shocks, and dragging around the floor, squatting under the sun for endless hours, and standing with your head looking at your feet, and reciting camp regulations for 16 hours per day, and no shower, no change, or no washing of clothes for more than one month, and hard labour, endlessly.

Every day work from 5.30 till 1 or 2 next morning, or sometimes no sleep at all. Most difficult thing is that the police told us the only purpose for us to be sent to a labour camp is to get us reformed, that is to change our thoughts.

You know, people’s thoughts cannot just simply be changed by police or by jail. In order to achieve this, we were put to such tremendous psychological pressure, endlessly, and there were many, many moments I felt I was going to be totally collapsed mentally, and go mad perhaps.

Rachael Kohn: Did you think that there were ways of getting out of this? I mean simply signing a guarantee, for example, that was always an option for you to sign a guarantee that you would not continue with Falun Gong and save your life?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, but this option means I just betray my consciousness. And I must, just like sell my soul to the demons, because just signing a statement is not good enough in terms of reform. They would then ask you to write long essays to criticise your own beliefs and to philander your most precious beliefs, and then you must read out your essays in front of all the people in the labour camp, and be filmed, be recorded, and then you must help the police to torture your fellow practitioners. If you can choose to do these crimes, yes, that’s your option. If you don’t want to be an evil person, you just cannot.

Rachael Kohn: Tell us, how did you finally manage to exit the labour camp?

Jennifer Zeng: Actually it was the mainly painful, and most disgraced part of my memory of the labour camp. After I spent half of my sentence in the labour camp, because I experienced too much evil that I think the modern civilisation just cannot allow to exist, I decided I want to write a book to expose all these evils to the outside world.

Rachael Kohn: Is that what kept you determined to stay there, so that you could gather evidence to write the book?

Jennifer Zeng: No, no, before I had a thought of writing a book, I never actually think about I will ever sign a statement and try to get out, but because I want to write this book, and I can find no way to get out at that time, and I struggled with myself many times before I finally decided I will sign a statement. And after that, I spent another six months to struggle between not wanting to tell lies and not being able to tell the truth. Nobody can imagine how cruel a journey I have gone through to get out.

Rachael Kohn: So you did actually have to pretend that you were a critic of the Falun Gong.

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, you can understand like that, because I don’t want to do this, so I tried very hard you can say, to play with the words, and to try to play mind games with the police, and it was very, very difficult, and there were many times that I cannot make peace with my own consciousness, and there were many times I wanted to turn around all my decisions, and to struggle.

Rachael Kohn: Well you were eventually released, was that in 2001?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

Rachael Kohn: When you were released, did you have an idea that you would leave the country?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes. As soon as I actually made a decision about writing a book, I made a decision about escaping the country to Westward, to seek asylum at the same time, because I know in China my book would never get published.

Rachael Kohn: And you of course claimed refugee status in Australia, and arrived – did you arrive with your daughter?

Jennifer Zeng: No, I arrived on my own because I wasn’t sure whether I can actually get through Customs.

Rachael Kohn: When did your daughter come?

Jennifer Zeng: Last year, so after more than three years of separation.

Rachael Kohn: And do you think your husband will also come?

Jennifer Zeng: I hope so.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer, in your memoir, you quote some of the teachings of Li Hongzhi, such as the lunyu, on page 162 of your book. Would you read it?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

The Buddha Fa is most profound; among all the theories in the world, it is the most intricate and extraordinary science. In order to explore this domain humankind must fundamentally change its conventional thinking, otherwise the truth of the universe will forever remain a mystery to humankind, and everyday people will forever crawl within the boundaries set by their own ignorance.

That’s the first paragraph of the lunyu.

Rachael Kohn: Is that a central text, a very important text in Falun Gong?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer, what does it mean in the lunyu when it says humankind must fundamentally change its conventional thinkin. Is that me too, everyone?

Jennifer Zeng: Actually it’s very hard to explain, and I’d rather not explain the inner meaning of the books of Mr Li Hongzhi.

Rachael Kohn: How do you understand it?

Jennifer Zeng: I understand it as everyone of us maybe has already an understanding of the world, but that may not be necessarily the correct understanding, and to become a practitioner of Falun Gong it’s something new, and if you understand things from a human angle, it may not be necessarily correct.

For example, in everyday life, sometimes we think to seeking fame, to struggle with others, to competing with others, is true, is something we should do. We should try very hard to gain something, but in Falun Gong we have a different understanding. We understand that every person’s fate or destiny was actually decided even before you were born, and if something is yours, it is yours. If something is not yours, you cannot gain it, no matter how hard your struggle for it.

So if you have this understanding with you, you don’t feel so tired, also unfair about being for example, in your workplace, someone was promoted and you were not, and you think you are more capable than him, but as a practitioner of Falun Gong, you may think otherwise, you may say, Oh maybe, that’s his fate.

Rachael Kohn: In the West, other religious traditions also teach forbearance, one might say, and compassion, and their own truth. How does Falun Gong compare in relation to those traditions?

Jennifer Zeng: I think actually maybe basic things of the different religions are the same, just as you said, different religions also promote kindness, tolerance, compassion, but in China, you can say the dominating ideology is the Communist ideology. That’s a philosophy of class struggle, of using violence, using class struggle to suppress your enemy. So in that kind of party culture, Falun Gong stands out to be very different.

Rachael Kohn: Do you think Falun Gong speaks more directly to the situation in China?

Jennifer Zeng: Not really. I think Falun Gong now is practiced over more than 60 countries, and a lot of Western people also choose to practice Falun Gong. I think the present situation is quite universal.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer, in the postscript to your memoir, you write ‘There are going to be fundamental changes in all aspects of society from the scientific, to the cultural, from ideologies to the way we live, and I believe it will be Falun Dafa that brings these changes about.’ How are you and your believers going to bring that about?

Jennifer Zeng: Maybe it’s too early to say these words at the moment. Actually some friends suggest me to delete this part, but I left this in because I think my book, it’s called Witness to History, so I think maybe for future people will understand this.

But right now I think actually Falun Gong has brought and is bringing fundamental changes in China at the moment. After the crackdown on Falun Gong, it is the first time under the Communist party’s regime that it cannot suppress something at will, just like 10 years ago when the Tiananmen massacre happened, me and a lot of people went to the streets to protest, but as long as the tanks went, and the machine gun fired, that movement and did within one day.

Rachael Kohn: So does Falun Gong have a mission to change the world?

Jennifer Zeng: It’s too profound. Maybe we can say everything happened in this world was arranged, or every people, every big movement, has some kind of mission. And of course Falun Gong also has its own mission, and I think it’s already changed China, and at the moment there is a very, we can say, large-scale movement happening every day in China today, that is the resigning from the Communist party.

Up to today, nearly 1-million people have declared publicly their willingness of resigning from the party and its related organisations, such as the youth leagues.

Rachael Kohn: Well no wonder the Communist party is concerned about Falun Gong if there’s a connection there.

Jennifer Zeng: Not before. This movement just happened very recently from last December, so just within four months 1-million people would resign. I think it’s not because of Falun Gong, its because of the Communist party has done too much evil and it’s gone corrupt totally, and that’s why Chinese people are choosing, and they are actually encouraged by Falun Gong practitioners’ courage to stand up and to say No to the brutal crackdown.

Rachael Kohn: Well you, along with seven others, are standing up to the former President Jiang Zemin and have filed a lawsuit against him. Isn’t that a dangerous thing to do? Is that endangering your family back home in China, your husband, for example?

Jennifer Zeng: Yes, my husband was arrested actually just four days after the news was announced. But I think as someone who saw such a brutal persecution and more than 1,600 people were tortured to death during this persecution, and millions of people were affected and hundreds of thousands are still in jail today, such a large scale of human rights disaster has got to be stopped some way. And everybody has a family. If I’m only concerned about my own family, how about other people’s families? So I think by everybody doing something, one little thing one day, every day, things will change.

Rachael Kohn: What are your chances of success in this lawsuit, what do you think could happen?

Jennifer Zeng: Actually I am not very concerned about the result. Maybe this is something, again with the fundamental change of thinking, of humankind, will Falun Gong practice not doing since, we’ll not pursue the result, we just do it because we think it’s right to do, and we want to show about the persecution to the world.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer, what if the result is worse? It almost killed you; it could kill your husband; what if the result of your actions create havoc?

Jennifer Zeng: My husband was released one month after, because I choose not to be silent about his arrest. I received a lot of interviews, and I decided to write to every President of the world, and in the end they decided to release him. I believe because we are acting according to the way of the principles of the universe, in the end it will be very, very good. But in the process, we may see some challenges and make some choices.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer Zeng, I wish you well. Thank you so much for being on The Spirit of Things.

Jennifer Zeng: Thank you.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer Zeng, who’s certainly shown a lot of forbearance. She’s the author of Witness to History: One Woman’s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong.

One of the people fascinated by this movement is Maria Hsia Chang, who teaches political science at the University of Nevada and has recently written a book on Falun Gong. One of the principal accusations by the Chinese government of the movement is that it’s a stalking horse for Western-style democracy. I asked Maria about that.

Maria, I didn’t get any sense from the descriptions in your book that Falun Gong was particularly enamoured of democracy, that is, it doesn’t seem to organise itself on democratic principles. Is that correct?

Maria Hsia Chang: Yes. In the first place Li Hongzhi’s teachings and beliefs really did not address political matters, or what is the ideal form of government, so that is not even a concern of them.

Now in the second place, being a type of movement, similar in both beliefs and form to these movements in China’s past, discussion is not democratic in any sense of the word. I mean Li Hongzhi is not only the founder, not only the leader, not only the master, but he is a self-styled (there’s no other word for it) unity, God.

I mean he doesn’t come right out and say that I am God, but all the things that he – how he describes himself and the kind of powers that he has, powers of exorcism, powers of making somebody healthy, that only he can turn on this invisible wheel inside a follower’s stomach, when then as the wheel turns counter-clockwise, will then impart health to a practitioner, and in his speeches and writings, and I quoted him, Falun Gong explicitly said that he actually is superior and better than Buddha or Jesus. And that following him, if one follows him, you will be saved. So how else can one understand his self-conception, other than the fact that he thinks he’s God?

Rachael Kohn: He can also implant the wheel going the other way to torture and make life terrible for a critic of Falun Gong for example.

Maria Hsia Chang: Yes, and I found that rather odd, in that one of the three chief virtues of Falun Gong’s belief system would be that of benevolence, so this kind of vengefulness now is counter to his own professed beliefs. Now not only we have found one reference to that, but that doesn’t sound benevolent, nor particularly tolerant. Tolerance or maybe a better translation of the third virtue is forbearance, that doesn’t sound very tolerant or forbearing, so I hope that he said that in maybe a moment of rashness and anger.

Rachael Kohn: Jennifer Zeng, who’s written about her life as a Falun Gong practitioner, and her survival of torture in prison, was not willing to comment to me on the life of her spiritual leader, saying that his life was his concern, not hers. Do you find Falun Gong practitioners generally excuse him while they willingly suffer for the cause?

Maria Hsia Chang: I found both in terms of some individuals whom I have some personal contact with, and then also in terms of what I can follow in the press, that your characterisation I think on the whole is true.

I have not come across credible, let me put it, credible accounts of former Falun Gong followers who now denounce him. Now the Chinese official press such as the People’s Daily, and China Daily, had referred to some former followers who then turned on Li Hongzhi, denounced him and accused him of committing certain crimes, such as misuse of funds and monies collected by Falun Gong when the group was still active in China and in the news that as one of the accusations against Li Hongzhi. But I don’t give those official accounts much credibility, for the simple matter that there’s really no genuine freedom of the press in China today, and so sadly, even if these official accounts were true, one has to be sceptical of that for the very reason there really is no freedom of the press.

Now as for an individual such as Miss Zeng whom you refer to, I don’t find that particularly surprising or unusual. I think that’s fairly typical behaviour of followers of religious groups, especially very new ones that sometimes are called cults, so that’s really not unusual.

Rachael Kohn: What’s the presence of Falun Gong in America? We certainly see a lot of people here handing out The Epoch Times which is the newspaper; where are they seen in America?

Maria Hsia Chang: From the report that I followed, I would say that Falun Gong’s activities right now seem to be centred in New York. The Epoch Times are distributed there, and demonstrations have been organised by Falun Gong’s international headquarters now in New York, and New York newspaper reporters, I would say four or five of them have contacted me and asked me to comment on that because they have seen these demonstrations in front of the UN, and at different other places.

And one interesting development of Falun Gong in the United States, centred in New York, is that it appears that Falun Gong in the United States is now making real efforts to normalise itself. By normalisation what I mean is that Falun Gong is sponsoring, not explicitly Falun Gong or even religious kinds of activities, such as this past Chinese New Year in New York, Falun Gong had put together this massive entertainment in the Madison Square Gardens involving thousands of people that they invited and I mean the activities were not really Falun Gong activities, but I perceived all these efforts as a systematic way of Falun Gong creating a new image of itself in the United States, which is that we are not a cult, and no, we are rational, normal people and much like, for example, what the Unification church, otherwise called Moonies, had done in the United States.

Rachael Kohn: The changing image of Falun Gong, a new variation of chi gong, banned in China, and now found in quite a few countries around the world. Maria Hsia Chang is the author of Falun Gong: the End of Days, and she was speaking to me from Reno, Nevada.

Falun Gong, also known as Falan Dafa, is an exercise regime which aims to cure various ills. For Andrew, an alcoholic and drug addict, it’s set him on the path of detoxification.

Andrew: Yes, I used to see exercises years ago in the park with the Asians there you know, doing these slow-moving things and I used to walk past, laughing, and thinking, ‘You blokes are on drugs, you’re worse than me, you know, how could that help you?’ But no, these exercises just took me to places that I never thought possible.

The exercises give you that added strength. I’ll say again, that it all comes from you, it has to come from you, but these exercises open up these energy channels in the body that I never knew existed. But when you do them, you can really feel these things happening to your body, and very quickly too, you know, I mean everyone’s different on these things, and these points get stressed so we don’t have people coming in and having the exercise and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s not like him, give up’.

I pretty much felt this straight away, you know, I felt my body being purified, if you like. This is not just the physical here either, this is like the mental, it’s like someone stuck a vacuum cleaner in my ear and sucked everything bad out. It was really like that, you know, all the bad thoughts about greed, about lust, about hurting people and I just couldn’t believe how this was possible.

Even that itself was a real inspiration for me to keep on going with things, because you could really feel changes, not only in the physical body, but also your mental state, which is the real killer, you know. The people that are going through these, have been dependent on a drug, this is a killer, the mental thing, you know.

Most of them are pretty fit and healthy out there, you know, I’ve mixed with the best of them, drinking the hardest grog, and shooting up the hardest drugs, you know, and they’re pretty hard men and pretty tough girls. So the physical body is not the problem, it’s the mental problem, the mental state. So when I found Falun Dafa, I said, Well that’s it for me and drugs, I’ve found what I’m looking for, and pretty much straight away that week I stopped taking methadone.

Rachael Kohn: This week’s program was produced by me and Geoff Wood, with technical production by Michelle Goldsworthy.

Well maybe Falun Gong is just part of the contemporary move to incorporate health and empowerment in the art of living spiritually.

Next week it’s one of the giants of the New Age: Caroline Myss.

Caroline Myss: The book took me by surprise, it didn’t start out to be a book, it started what I thought there is back to the New Age, back to all of the thousands of readings that I’ve done on people’s medical energies, many of which took me into noticing that when people have a dip in their life force, when they either have near death experiences, or when they are about to undergo the experience of a serious illness. I can tell in a reading, Rachael, when someone is about to engage a relationship with an illness that can take them down, there is a energetic profile. I can see it.

I think the trend in the New Age, I don’t like the word ‘trend’, but let’s just say the direction, is that the culture, our contemporary spiritual culture, has got to mature. It has to move out of its passion for narcissism, and the New Age is nothing but a self-serving spiritual platform, cleverly disguised as spirituality, it is the study of spirituality, but make no mistake, it is not the practice of it, because it’s narcissism.

Rachael Kohn: Caroline Myss, next week on The Spirit of Things, with me, Rachael Kohn.

Guests on this program:

Maria Hsia Chang
is Professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada in the USA. She was born in Hong Kong of refugee parents from China and received her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.
Jennifer Zeng
was born in China and graduated with a Masters of Science in Geochemistry from Peking (now Beijing) University. She now lives in Sydney, Australia where she has recently been joined by her husband and daughter.

Publications:
Falun Gong: The End of Days
Author: Maria Hsia Chang
Publisher: Scribe, 2004
Witnessing History: One Woman''s Fight for Freedom and Falun Gong
Author: Jennifer Zeng
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2005

Further information:
Falun Dafa International Homepage
Falun Dafa is another name for Falun Gong.
http://www.falundafa.org/
Falun Gong: Cult or Culture?
Transcript from Radio National''s ''Background Briefing'', Sunday 22 April 2001, produced by Chris Bullock.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s283930.htm
Falun Gong - an acdemic overview
An objective, academic assessment of Falun Gong from Barend J. ter Haar who lectures in Chinese history at Leiden University, Netherlands.
http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/bth/falun.htm
Musical Items:
Pu-Du and Ji-Shi (Music often played at gatherings of Falun Gong practitioners. Provided by Falundafa.org)

CD Title: Esoteric Red
Artist: Tao
Composer: Masayuki Ishikawa
Label/CD No: Language/Crammed Discs Word D5
Ghostland
CD Title: Relax: Sublime Music for Reading and Lounging
Artist: Blue
Composer: Adams, Dale & Reynolds
Label/CD No: Incantation Records IRCD 1008

Presenter:

Rachael Kohn


Producer:

Geoff Wood and Rachael Kohn



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