By all realistic accounts, the spirit of Falun Dafa should have been stamped out ten years ago below the boots of the powerful security machine that is the Communist Party of atheist China.
But both sides will be celebrating this year. On one side there will be handshake photo-ops and champagne toasts to 60 years of Communist rule; on the other, the quiet meditation of a resilient group that for a decade has become one of the biggest international symbols of challenge to that Party’s rules.
Other countries heard about Falun Dafa – a cultivation practice that combines movement and meditation – only when 10,000 of its followers peacefully meditated around a government compound in Beijing on 25th April 1999, to protest state-run media reports that labelled the group an “evil cult”.
Hundreds of followers were then detained, and when the government learned that some in their own ranks were part of Falun Dafa, they immediately saw the group as a political threat. On 22nd July the Ministry of Civil Affairs deemed the group’s institute an unlawful organisation. State press then issued an ‘Analysis of Falun Gong Leader’s Malicious Fallacies’, which accused Li Hongzhi of trying to seize power and make Falun Dafa the ruling ideology.
Subsequent to the official ban, state-sponsored brutality and terror became the norm for anyone who answered “yes” to the question “Are you a member of Falun Dafa?” Undercover police in plainclothes patrol Beijing during Chinese New Year, waiting for a member to roll out a banner calling for the group’s legitimacy.
Over 3,000 followers have died while in police custody. Thousands have been forced into mental hospitals and prisons. Over 100,000 were reported to have been shipped to labour camps without trials. Dozens of foreigners who have held protests, mostly in Tianamen Square, have been deported.
The thug tactics follow practitioners everywhere – even to Buenos Aires. In December 2005, Chinese assailants beat Argentine Falun Dafa followers in the middle of Congress Square. Police at the scene were ordered not to intervene. The followers had filed a lawsuit against a visiting Chinese diplomat for crimes against humanity the previous day.
If the Chinese government anticipated a calm decrease in numbers by physical intimidation, then it could not have been too pleased with the actual results over the past decade. Numbers have multiplied and the group has received international attention, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles by Ian Johnson published in the Wall Street Journal back in 2000. Now Falun Dafa is practised by over 100 million people in 80 countries, including Argentina.
A Better You?
Natalia Rodriguez, who lives in San Telmo, has been doing Falun Gong exercises for five years. “While doing the exercises I feel a warm current readjusting my body,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of relaxation and a calm and expanded mind.
“It has helped me put my feet on the ground, be more clear, honest and open-minded and set aside all prejudices and unfair feelings towards myself and others.”
Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice. Followers of it strive to better harmonise themselves with three guiding principles of the universe: Truthfulness, Benevolence and Forbearance, which improves their xinxing, or character. The practice portion, called Falun Gong, involves five sets of movements and meditation, and is coupled with music for a soothing effect.
One by one, masters of the practice quietly passed down their knowledge through generations, until 1992, when Li Hongzhi, who is called Master and considered founder, held a public session in the city of Changchun, in north-eastern Jilin province. He toured the country, giving lectures and holding sessions. When followers began reporting less stress and health improvements, the group’s number soared into the millions within China.
Part of the Chinese government’s claim against Li Hongzhi is that he tricks people into giving him money through false promises of enlightenment. In fact, Mr Li’s literature can be read or downloaded off the official website, falundafa.org. Followers in Buenos Aires say they join classes for free.
“There is no charge for classes,” says Martin Czertok, who has practised in Buenos Aires for six years. “It’s a non-profit exercise, exempt from business or commercial purposes. The choice to follow simply requires dedication – nothing more.”
Mr Czertok says that Falun Dafa helps him find rhyme and reason in a complicated, often incomprehensible world. “Although my life seems the same in terms of daily life, I have a new found sense of humanity.”
A Different World
The Communist Party has been able to quickly quash most civil unrest over the past few years by reminding everyone of the breakneck economic growth and expanding middle class. By providing the world with goods, China has raised itself to important positions, like its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Its voice is now impossible to ignore.
It was therefore easy to overlook human rights violations, since the focus was on growth at all costs.
But the global recession is changing the tone. Unemployment is on the rise throughout China. The immediate future is not looking so bright. Party leaders may not find it so easy to persuade the people to believe that Communism can elevate their lives.
Perhaps those leaders could use some high-level cultivation to deal with all that stress.
For more information on Falun Dafa in Argentina, email [email protected]