July 2001

Falun Gong is a practice of exercise and meditation that has been practiced by millions of people in 40 countries around the world. Similar to yoga and Tai-chi it is designed to improve health and reduce stress. However, In July of 1999, Jiang Zemin launched a vicious campaign to eradicate this non-political practice.

All over the world, free nations have widely criticized China for this action, and have called upon the Chinese Government to cease all aggression against Falun Gong and release all the illegally imprisoned practitioners. Despite this universal show of resistance, however, China is now planning to escalate its campaign even further. How dangerous is China's Falun Gong movement to the aging President's continued hold on power?

In the West, some observers, including journalists and academics, have dismissed Falun Gong as a movement that can hardly be taken seriously. But that's not how Jiang Zemin sees it. Jiang Zemin thinks about nothing else other than maintaining his power. And what he has told us by his actions is that he believes Falun Gong to be a dangerous threat to his regime. His savage repression of Falun Gong over the last two years shows just how much he fears it. Over that period: - Over 50,000 practitioners have been arbitrarily detained. - At least 10,000 have been sent to labor camps without trial, for up to 3 years. - 150 have been sentenced to extended jail terms - some up to 18 years. - More than 600 have been illegally sent to mental hospitals, where they are given forced injections and subjected to inhumane treatment. - 202 people have died while in police custody, or as a result of police torture.

There has been some confusion about how to categorize Falun Gong, but this is easy to clarify. Falun Gong is neither a religion nor sect - it has no temples, no rituals, no clergy or priests, and no ranks. It never collects money from people, and there is no initiation or membership. Practitioners lead normal lives and participate actively in their communities. The practice is an individual choice and is centered on the improvement of one's self. As such, there's no obligations, everyone can come and go as they choose.

Why does this spiritual movement terrify China's rulers? The Chinese regime is facing a crisis of legitimacy. Its right to rule is based on communism, yet few believe in communism any longer. How, then, can the communist system and the absence of freedom now be justified?

China's rulers are trying to provide an answer that appeals above all to pragmatism: Allow us to rule because only we can provide stability and prosperity. Of course, the Chinese people know that stability and prosperity do not require repression. They see democracy and stability in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, and in the West. Indeed, with the introduction of the Internet and satellite television, more Chinese know about freedom in the world than ever before.

All this has led to the demise of communism as a belief system that offered credible answers to the population's existential questions. But since individuals need to believe in something, Jiang Zemin's great concern now is that the vast population he controls will seek answers in other systems, such as Christianity - or Falun Gong. Viewed in this light, it is no surprise that repression of religious freedom in China has become much worse in recent years.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported last year that "the government of China and the Communist Party of China discriminate, harass, incarcerate, and torture people on the basis of their religion and beliefs." The US State Department's most recent report on human rights, issued in late February 2001, said this about religion in China in the year 2000: "During the year, the Government's respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate.

The Government intensified its harsh crackdown against the Falun Gong movement and extended its actions to other exercise groups as well. Many of the bodies of those who have died have reportedly borne signs of severe beatings or torture, or were cremated before relatives could examine them. A number of Protestant house-church groups were banned. House-church groups in northeastern China reported more detentions and arrests than in recent years, and in some areas officials destroyed hundreds of unregistered houses of worship."

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is seen as a particular threat by the regime because its mixture of philosophy, meditation, and exercise has deep roots in Chinese culture and because it attracted over 70 million followers in China before the crackdown. It has been able to operate and thrive under the nose of Jiang Zemin, despite his desperate effort to crush it.

Day after day, Falun Gong followers coordinate their efforts secretly, display their commitment and great bravery by demonstrating publicly, and act with complete independence of the Communist Party and China's government. For Jiang Zemin, this is its worst nightmare come true. He said in July 1999 that he would wipe out Falun Gong within three months. Now almost two years later, he still has not succeeded.

At an early 2001 meeting of the Chinese leadership, President Zemin is reported by CNN to have said, "If we can't exterminate the xx soon, this will be seen as a major weakness of the xx Party. The authority and prestige of the party is at stake."

Falun Gong's successful use of the Internet to permit members to communicate with each other and practitioners outside China, and inform each other of forthcoming demonstrations, is another nightmare for Jiang Zemin.

Chinese officials persecute Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, Buddhists loyal to the Dalai Lama, Muslims in Xinjiang Province, and all other believers who function outside state-controlled official groups.

But Falun Gong has suffered the most in recent months. This is because the oligarchs running the show in Beijing see it as the greatest threat to their power, and in a sense they are right. It has grown faster than any other spiritual or religious group during the last few years and has spread throughout the country, even into the army and - it is said - into the party itself.

Communism has failed, and the people of China know it. The growth of religion in China, and the rapid spread of Falun Gong, is a new attempt by the Chinese people to add order to their lives, decently and in accordance with Chinese tradition.