Falun Gong outside mainland China


Falun Gong outside mainland China

Li Hongzhi began teaching Falun Gong outside China in early 1995. His first stop was in Paris, where, upon invitation from the Chinese ambassador to France, he lectured on his teachings to the embassy staff and others.David Ownby, Falun Gong and the Future of China (2008) Oxford University Press] Between 1995 and 1999, Li held lectures in other major cities in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. Falun Gong is now practiced over 80 countries, and the teachings have been translated to over 40 languages [ [http://www.falundafa.org Falun Dafa Website] ]

Since the onset of the persecution campaign in 1999, Falun Gong practitioners around the world have conducted activities aimed at raising awareness about the human rights situation in China. These include passing out of flyers, FALUN GONG IN THE UNITED STATES: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY, Noah Porter] participating in sit-ins in front of Chinese consulates, as well as participating in parades and peaceful appeals to international authorities.

Human Rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have raised concerns over reports of torture and ill-treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China and have also urged the United Nations and international governments to intervene and bring an end to the ongoing persecution. [http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/china/ China's Campaign Against Falungong] , Human Rights Watch] [http://web.archive.org/web/20030711022606/http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/engASA170112000 The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called "heretical organizations"] . The Amnesty International]

Fieldwork with diaspora practitioners

All of the ethnographic fieldwork on Falun Gong was undertaken on overseas practitioners. "Fieldwork," David Ownby says, "allows us to go beyond Li Hongzhi's written message, beyond the representations of Falun Gong by the Chinese state, to understand how Falun Gong… is understood and lived by practitioners."David Ownby, Falun Gong and the Future of China (2008) Oxford University Press]

Chinese began emigrating during the early 1980s as part of Deng Xiaoping's "reform and opening up" policy, according to Ownby. Part of this was allowing Chinese students to study abroad, and many of them were allowed to remain in foreign countries after the events in Beijing in the summer of 1989. The hundreds of thousands of Chinese emigrating during this period "seriously altered the nature of the Chinese diaspora" in North America, Ownby writes.

These Chinese immigrants make up the bulk of Falun Gong practitioners in North America, having learned Falun Gong after emigrating to the West. Ownby says that they were in general "well-educated, highly competent, and often reasonably well-off." Ownby writes that while the make-up of practitioners inside and outside China may differ, evidence suggests that in both cases Falun Gong appealed to a broad spectrum of social groups, "including university professors and students, high party and government officials, well-educated cadres and members of the comfortable middle class, and [...] the old, the infirm, the unemployed, and the desperate."

Ownby regards the secondary, i.e. overseas community of Falun Gong practitioners as highly important. The activities of practitioners outside China to counter the persecution "caught the attention of the world's media for months on end." As the events unfolded, overseas Falun Gong efforts began to graft their "pleas for relief from suppression and torture" onto Western, Enlightenment-based human rights discourse, such as freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.

Falun Gong practice in North America is extremely decentralized, according to Ownby, with large groups in some major cities and smaller groups in others. Ownby's fieldwork mainly dealt with practitioners in Eastern Canada and Northeastern United States.

Ownby notes that one difficulty with gauging the scope of Falun Gong in North America is the lack of organisation. Local groups post their practice site times on Falun Gong websites, but do not attempt to keep up with how many practitioners there are in certain areas. Nor are there, he notes, "mid- or upper-level tiers of the organization where one might go for such information." He says that practitioners are not "members" of an "organization", and do not fill out any forms at any point. There is no registry for collecting local statistics. The only expressions of Falun Gong above the local level are on websites, which make available transcripts of Li Hongzhi's speeches, and providing information which helps local groups, or individual practitioners, to participate in anti-persecution activities. These are publicly available, but make no attempt to summarise the practitioners' activities continent-wide.

Ownby estimates that the Western to Chinese practitioners ratio in North America is about 1 to 9. Practitioners usually divide by language when studying Li Hongzhi's works or planning activities. At experience-sharing conferences, headsets are sometimes distributed, and translations (from Chinese to English and English to Chinese) are provided.

Western practitioners mostly appear to be "spiritual seekers", according to Ownby, "often closer to the 'hippie' or 'nonconformist' profile than most of the Chinese, who in general seem to be the straightest of straight arrows."

Demographics

Ownby surveyed several hundred practitioners at "experience-sharing conferences", which each region usually holds every year, in Montreal, Toronto, and Boston between 1999 and 2002. Most had begun practicing Falun Gong between 1995 and 1999 in North America. Most practitioners were relatively young, with an average age around 40. Ownby suspects that the median age would be lower, and younger practitioners "quite clearly" outnumbered older ones.

Chinese practitioners are generally well-educated and materially quite well-off, Ownby writes.

Professor Scott Lowe, Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, presented similar findings to Ownby in a June 2000 internet study of 85 Falun Gong practitioners. "There are significant numbers of well-educated Chinese intellectuals in most American, Canadian, and (to a lesser extent) European university towns," he writes. "Every survey respondent from Canada and the United States had at least one advanced degree; several had multiple Master's degrees or even two Ph.D.s."Scott Lowe, Chinese and International Contexts for the Rise of Falun Gong, Nova Religio April 2003, Vol. 6, No. 2] The make up of Chinese expatriate Falun Gong practitioners in Western countries, according to his research, "clearly represent [ed] the expatriate elite."

He says that many of these expatriate Chinese intellectuals have found a "surrogate family" and a supportive community among Falun Gong practitioners. 'Perhaps more importantly," Lowe says, "many claim to have discovered both perfect health and existential purpose through Master Li's teachings."

Significant numbers of Falun Gong practitioners are doing far better financially than the average North American, Ownby says. Many also reported being considerably poorer than Canadian and American national averages, which is to be expected for recent immigrants, many of whom are still studying. About half of the survey respondents in the three cities reported earning less, or significantly less than the national average. For example, 50% in Montreal reported an annual household income of $20,000 Canadian dollars or less, and 27% reported $10,000 or less. Most practitioners in leadership positions are among the wealthiest, and Ownby believes they bear the vast majority of the expenses in organizing Falun Gong activities, and do so voluntarily.

The majority of practitioners in North America are female, and many spokespersons among Chinese practitioners are female—despite Li Hongzhi's teachings not having any emphasis on "women's liberation" as a goal, according to Ownby. He said he observed no gender tensions during his fieldwork, since practitioners are taught to respect one another and discard attachments to sexuality.

The average Chinese practitioner in North America is "young, urban, dynamic" according to Ownby, "a successful recent immigrant largely living the American dream, at least from the material point of view." The stereotypical practitioner, Ownby says, "lives in the suburbs and drives a Ford Taurus to her job in computers or finance," while those still studying share similar orientations.

Individual cultivation

On average, practitioners spend between 10 and 14 hours per week on their cultivation, which includes studying the Falun Gong texts and practicing the exercises. Since there is no collective ownership of buildings, Falun Dafa activities are what practitioners make of them. Many meet daily in groups of five to fifteen, in a park or public space, to do the Falun Gong exercises. These are held at various times during the week. Early morning exercises are favored by elderly practitioners, according to Ownby.

Apart from the exercises there are "Fa study" meetings held weekly, usually in the evening. Ownby says these "often involve large amounts of group reading of Li Hongzhi's text, although there is no set format, and practices may vary from place to place or may have changed over time." While practitioners enjoy being with one another, Ownby says, scripture reading is valued more than forging a meaningful community, "which would be yet another form of attachment to be discarded on the way to enlightenment."

Craig Burgdoff, Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy of Capital University, details his experiences with Falun Gong practice in Ohio and presented his findings in a Nova Religio symposium on Falun Gong. He attempts to explore the relationship between Li's teachings and how they are carried out in the real world by practitioners. "In my positive experience of Falun Gong," he writes, "I have found practitioners to be engaged seriously in a highly disciplined spiritual and ethical practice."Craig Burgdoff, "How Falun Gong Practice Undermines Li Hongzhi's Totalistic Rhetoric," Nova Religio, Apr 2003, Vol. 6, No. 2: 332–347]

Practitioners have little if any contact with Li except for his writings and very few and brief public appearances. Falun Gong has at best a virtual central organization, comprised of independent cell-like local groups, Burgdoff argues. He says there is no hierarchy in place to enforce orthodoxy and "little or no emphasis upon dogmatic discipline." There is no "official" membership, and practitioners are free to participate as much or as little as they like without censure. "There is no attempt to isolate practitioners from society, and no manipulation of sexuality or finances other than emphasizing the need for strict moral behavior."

Burgdoff expresses his concern that Falun Gong not be wrongly understood as "primarily an ideological belief structure used by Li to manipulate practitioners." In contrast, he writes, Falun Gong "places emphasis upon orthopraxy over orthodoxy." At the foundation of the practice, he says, is an understanding of "karma" being a physical substance that can only be removed from an individual by the disciplined practice of that individual. "While Li guides and assists the practitioner, spiritual and ethical progress depends upon individual practice."

Individual practice includes performing the five Falun Gong exercises, which, as Burgdoff says, were "easy to learn" according to Falun Gong literature. He notes that Falun Gong literature precluded mention of the pain experienced by new practitioners in performing the exercises, which "require maintaining specific positions motionlessly for several minutes at a time."

Burgdoff notes in particular that "the standing and sitting meditations in particular demand a great deal of physical endurance," and says that the pain he experienced in performing the second exercise was too great for him to make it past three minutes.

Burgdoff agrees that while the exercises are an important part of Falun Gong, the most important aspect of cultivation practice is the moral development of xinxing and getting rid of personal attachments. He quotes Li Hongzhi saying: "You must cultivate your inner self and not pursue things externally."

Cultivation is "self-cultivation," Burgdoff says, "and as such must be tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of each person." He cites Li's writing, for example: "If you want to be a practitioner, it all depends upon cultivating your heart and on you, yourself being enlightened because there are no role models." Burgdoff says he wishes to stress in his analysis that Falun Gong cultivation is a "disciplined spiritual practice that requires practitioners to respond to the particular challenges of their life experiences."

When enquiring about specific examples of the primary ethical challenges practitioners face, Burgdoff says, "the responses were consistently mundane examples such as arguing with a spouse, overcoming shyness, possessiveness, pride, etc. Indeed, Falun Gong's Buddhist lineage may be most obvious in this emphasis upon eliminating worldly desires and personal attachments." Burgdoff says that "While Li situates extinguishing individual desires and attachments within a grand cosmological contest with ultimate implications, practitioners seem to be more focused upon overcoming their perceived personal attachments and ethical shortfalls."

The format of group study is loosely structured, Burgdoff says, but generally each participant reads a paragraph from the text and then the next participant reads a paragraph and so on. "Occasionally a participant, usually a newer practitioner, will ask a question or seek clarification, and a short informal discussion will follow. However, these group sessions are primarily dedicated to reading Li's words aloud."

He identifies the emphasis of group study being on being "comfortable and conversant" with Li's texts rather than upon comprehension. "New practitioners are usually told not to worry if they do not understand everything at first. It is considered normal that understanding will increase with successive readings."

As other fieldwork indicates, practitioners believe that anything Li has written is important, though Zhuan Falun, according to Burgdoff's experience with Columbus University practitioners, contains the complete and essential teachings of Falun Gong, and is "certainly considered a sacred and revelatory text."

Burgdoff says that Li nor receives no direct financial support from practitioners, and says that all activities organised by Falun Gong are provided by volunteers and are free of charge. Practitioners indirectly finance Falun Gong, he says, in that all activities and events are organized and financed at the local level by individual self-nominated practitioners.

This informal support is voluntary, and Burgdoff says "I have never heard anyone suggest or request that another practitioner contribute to group expenses." Practitioners often give, at their own expense, Falun Gong books and materials to anyone who is interested in learning about Falun Gong. A small profit on each book, cassette, video, CD, etc., generates significant income for Falun Gong's Universe Publishing Company, according to Burgdoff, and consequently practitioners do indirectly fund profits which "presumably find their way to author and founder Li Hongzhi."

The loose organizational structure of Falun Gong also means that there are no membership lists, Burgdoff says. There are no initiation rituals, and newcomers are simply taught the exercises and invited to participate in events as they occur. Increased or decreased participation does not seem to affect one's status in the group, according to Burgdoff. While membership lists are not maintained, email addresses and lists are usually exchanged and this is the preferred method of communication and organization.

Burgdoff says "I am continually amazed at the ability of this loosely-organized voluntary group to circulate information quickly. Local organizers keep me and other interested participants supplied with local, national and international Falun Gong information through email lists."

Information from the national and international level is disseminated through local organizers who in turn forward it to local practitioners. The organizational structure is both web-based and web-like; Burgdoff opines that this structure efficiently distributes information but it is ineffective at maintaining hierarchical control over group members.

When he first began participating in Falun Gong activities, Burgdoff says, "I was astounded and bemused by the fantastic multidimensional cosmology, the esoteric and mystical teachings and Li's extraordinary claims of supernatural abilities." He says he found hard to understand how it was that Chinese graduate students, all of whom were pursuing advanced degrees in science and technology, were by far the most active and dedicated practitioners. "In formal interviews and informal conversations no practitioners were willing to admit to contradictions between their scientific or technical training and Li's claims."

"In fact, Burgdoff says, "I have never heard any practitioner openly express doubts or entertain questions about Li's claim of extraordinary abilities such as clairvoyance, levitation, and seeing through a celestial third eye. Rather, Li cautions practitioners to avoid 'clinging to the attachment of pursuit' of supernatural capabilities." Consequently, he says, practitioners rarely mention and never claim such abilities. "At the local level, Li's supernatural abilities and fantastic claims, such as 260 million-year-old human footprints and a two billion-year-old nuclear reactor in Africa, seem to be of little theological importance." He says that Falun Gong practice "does not require unquestioning acceptance of all of the Master's teachings."

Even more importantly, according to Burgdoff, is that there is "no overt emphasis on dogmatically enforcing orthodoxy." Falun Gong practitioners, he says, "like most people who participate in a religious tradition, freely pick and choose from the official teachings according to their individual inclinations."

Burgdoff says his ambivalence about Li's "controlling rhetoric" is tempered by the observation that for most practitioners Falun Gong is fundamentally about individual ethical development. In many religious traditions there is tension between local and/or individual practice and the rhetorical assertions of institutional orthodoxy by the organizational elite, and this is "particularly relevant to the case of Falun Gong because of its loose, quasi-virtual organizational structure."

The local, individual practice of Falun Gong emphasizes personal morality, according to Burgdoff. At the same time, however, personal morality is constructed and understood as assimilating the essential characteristic of the universe. He provides an explanation from Li: "The most fundamental characteristic of this universe, Zhen-Shan-Ren, is the highest manifestation of the Buddha Fa." According to Falun Gong, a person or practitioner is good or bad solely according to the extent to which he or she is able to embody the principles of zhen (truthfulness), shan (benevolence), ren (forbearance), Burgdoff says.

Public activities

In addition to group exercise and Fa study, practitioners also engage in "Hongfa" activities, meaning "making known the way." This may be translated as "proselytizing," but Ownby says practitioners believe that people are either "predestined" (you yuanfen) to be saved or not, and thus do not attempt to "convert" people. Since practicing the exercises in public is also one form of "Hongfa", Ownby says this demonstrates that there is no firm distinction between cultivation and publicization.

"Hongfa" activities include handing out flyers in the subway or at the mall, leaving Falun Gong literature in stores, libraries, laundries etc., and participating in activities such as marches, parades, and celebrations of Chinese culture. Some dedicated followers also travel internationally to present Falun Dafa's case at world forums, such as UNESCO in Paris, the United Nations in New York, and the World Court at The Hague, and Group of Eight meetings, among others.

Despite these activities, individual time spent in meditation and reading "Zhuan Falun", according to Ownby, is seen as more important. Respondents to Ownby's surveys reported spending around half of the time they set aside to Falun Dafa on individual cultivation. Ownby says this confirms what Li Hongzhi and practitioners say, that "the goal of cultivation is individual enlightenment; everything else is secondary and instrumental."

Surveys reveal that close to 30% of practitioners were attracted to Falun Dafa for its "intellectual content", 27% for "spiritual enlightenment", 20% for "health benefits", 15% the exercises, 7% for Li Hongzhi himself, and 2% for the community. The "intellectual content", according to Ownby, refers to the value of Falun Dafa doctrine in describing the "functioning of the moral and physical universe; the two are linked." He notes however that practitioners disputed the legitimacy of identifying "points of attraction" to Falun Dafa, since properly cultivated it is a "comprehensive, holistic, unifying experience which defies my simplistic listing."

Scott Lowe's survey found that Falun Gong's spiritual teachings and promise of good health were the most common reasons for people to have taken up the practice. 22 respondents gave "Master Li's philosophy and his answers to life's most difficult questions" as their primary attraction to the practice, while another twenty were attracted for health benefits. Nine were drawn by the moral principles, twelve by the books, ten by the exercises, and small numbers of others by a variety of other facets.

The practitioners were asked if their attraction to and focus on Falun Gong practice had changed over time. Ten claimed that they had no change, since they started Falun Gong with the intention of gaining enlightenment, which is the goal of practice. Others, over time, put less emphasis on the health improvements they experienced, which they later saw "as a relatively trivial result of cultivation." Twenty-six respondents said they felt a newfound sense of moral certitude and spiritual growth, while ten "discovered a firm determination to carry their cultivation through to the end goal of enlightenment or consummation, no matter what obstacles might appear in their path."

Others apparently realised that other forms of qigong were "shallow, exoteric, and superficial," while they came to believe that Falun Gong is the "most complete, efficacious, and comprehensive system of spiritual cultivation on the planet."

Role of the internet

Mark Bell and Taylor Boas, writing for a Falun Gong symposium in Nova Religio, argue that practitioners' use of the Internet is "essential to understanding the movement as a whole." Mark R. Bell and Taylor C. Boas, "Falun Gong and the Internet: Evangelism, Community, and Struggle for Survival", Nova Religio, FINISH REF] Anthropologist Noah Porter also regards the Internet as a vital component of Falun Gong community. Practitioners have used the Internet in three main areas: delivering Li Hongzhi's teachings, forging and maintaining community, and raising awareness of the persecution.

Bell and Boas believe there is a widespread perception around the world that the Internet has been central to Falun Gong's growth: "A look around the Internet reveals that Falun Gong has established a significant online presence. Discussions of Falun Gong are commonplace on China-themed chat rooms and bulletin boards. Email news lists deliver daily updates to interested subscribers around the world. Falun Gong's shortwave radio station, launched in the summer of 2000, also broadcasts on the Internet in streaming audio."

Bell and Boas also say they are wary of overstating the case, since much of the claimed efficacy in Falun Gong's use of the Internet is "overstated" or "anecdotal." Scott Lowe's research also points out that, at least before the persecution, the Internet was not a significant factor in attracting potential practitioners.

Lowe, as with Bell and Boas, says that media accounts may give the Internet too much credit for Falun Gong's rise. Lowe says that while Falun Gong practitioners have set up "impressive websites," he wonders how the hundreds of thousands of impoverished Chinese who took up the practice could be pictured "surfing the net on their laptops looking for spiritual fulfilment."

Lowe says that very few of the computer-literate, well-educated respondents to his survey viewed the Internet as a significant force in attracting them to the practice, and several specifically stated that they were initially "baffled and put off" by the content of the Falun Gong websites they encountered.

The New York Times' Craig Smith wrote that around the year 2000, practitioners outside China began to make more sophisticated use of the Internet in publicising Falun Gong beliefs and resisting the persecution. "Web sites with "falun dafa" or "falun gong" in the Internet addresses now carry photographs of middle-class Westerners performing the movement's exercises instead of the spinning swastikas and portrait of Mr. Li that they carried earlier this year," he writes. The apparent attempt of overseas practitioners was to present a public face of "a middle-class spiritual movement and human rights cause," rather than, he says, "a mystical movement from China."

Apart from this, however, Lowe believes practitioners have made "skillful" use of the Internet, and Bell and Boas also give examples of this "extensive" Internet-mediated organization.

Practitioners maintain hundreds of websites around the world. Most contain content in both Chinese and English, while others include German, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and dozens of other languages. Together, Bell and Boas write, Falun Gong websites offer a number of different features: online teachings of Master Li, news of crackdowns in China, warnings of police movements, announcements of gatherings around the world, experience sharing (practitioners' testimonials), and statements to counter the propaganda spread by the Chinese Communist Party.

Practitioners also post lists of regular practice times and places around the world: "It is easy to find a local contact almost everywhere in the world, from Ireland to Israel," Bell and Boas write, "and some sites list instructors who will travel to teach interested groups where there is no established Falun Gong community."

They also note that in June 2000, Li designated one of Falun Gong's websites, minghui.org, an "official" site, apparently giving it "tremendous authority among practitioners." The English language version of minghui.org is clearwisdom.net.

While Bell and Boas do not regard Falun Gong as a "virtual community," they state that the internet has been a effective medium in creating more opportunities for face-to-face group meetings.

The Internet has also proven useful as a medium for "experience sharing," where practitioners discuss the benefits they have obtained from the practice and the struggles they have overcome in pursuing it. "Aside from the distribution of "jingwen" [new writings by Li Hongzhi] , experience sharing is the most important of Falun Gong's religious activities facilitated by the Internet," Bell and Boas say. "Indeed, Li himself has endorsed the Internet as a vehicle for experience sharing — in October 2000, he posted a positive comment in response to an experience sharing piece that had been published online."

The Internet also serves to bridge the experiences of overseas and mainland Chinese practitioners, according to Bell and Boas. "After reading of the trials and tribulations of those inside China, overseas practitioners often claim to be inspired by their courage, and take lessons from their cultivation experiences."

At the same time, those inside China are gratified by external support, such as commendations given by elected officials and resolutions passed by the US Congress. They also take encouragement from events like World Falun Dafa Day, which was celebrated in numerous cities around the world. "The Internet is the main vehicle for the distribution of this type of news, and it would be difficult for members to stay so informed without websites and email lists."

This sharing of experiences and other information by practitioners around the world has contributed to a global sense of community and solidarity within Falun Gong, and Bell and Boas regard it as one of the central ties that binds practitioners together.

Resisting the persecution

Protests

After the persecution in 1999, practitioners began holding frequent protests, rallies, and appeals outside mainland China.

Falun Gong supporters in Vancouver, Canada continue to stage the world's longest, continuous protest against the persecution. It which runs twenty-four hours a day, at the entrance to the PRC Consulate on Granville Street. [O'Connor, N. (August 05, 2004) [http://www.vancourier.com/issues04/052204/news/052204nn2.html "Falun Gong going for Guinness record"] . "Vancouver Courier.com", retrieved June 18 2006] In June 2006, it was announced by the mayor of Vancouver that the protest signs and structures must be taken down, as they violate a by-law against building permanent structures on public property. [Howell, Mike (June 07, 2006) [http://www.vancourier.com/issues06/062106/news/062106nn8.html "Time to get tough on Falun Gong, says mayor"] . "Vancouver Courier.com", retrieved June 18 2006] When the city sought a court injunction, the protesters refused to comply and accused Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan of being "manipulated by the strings of China". [Kwong, Matthew (August 17, 2006) [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060817.BCGONG17/TPStory/TPNational/?page=rss&id=GAM.20060817.BCGONG17 "Falun Gong protesters oppose injunction"] . "globeandmail.com", retrieved August 20 2006] [Howell, Mike (June 21, 2006) [http://www.vancourier.com/issues06/064106/news/064106nn3.html "Falun protesters refuse to answer mayor's gong"] . "Vancouver Courier.com", retrieved June 24 2006]

On April 20, 2006, during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States, Wenyi Wang obtained a valid journalist pass that gave her access to the ceremony. During Hu's speech she unfurled a banner and shouted against the persecution for over two minutes.cite news|accessdate=2006-05-20|url=http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/04/21/hu.heckler/index.html|title=Protester charged with Harassing Chinese leader|publisher=CNN] Hundreds of protesters also held banners against the persecution outside the White House gates.

Again in April 21, 2006 Hu was also followed by hundreds of protesters during his Yale University visit. Around 2,400 signatures from Yale faculty and students condemning organ-harvesting were collected by the Yale Falun Gong club and delivered to university officials.Fact|date=February 2007

Parades

Falun Gong parades usually incorporate traditional-style Chinese dances, costumes, song, exercise demonstrations, drumming, floats, and banners. Practitioners refer to this as "bringing people the beauty of Dafa". [cite web | title = Canada: Bring Falun Dafa's Beauty to People | publisher = Falun Dafa Clearwisdom.net | url = http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2004/7/30/50823.html | date = 2004-07-30 | accessdate = 2006-09-21] Another form is a "march", where participants often hold signs and banners, devoting different sections of the parade to different aspects of the persecution. There is usually a section involving participants wearing only white (symbolizing mourning) and holding photos of killed practitioners. Floats carrying darker themes are included, with enactments of torture and organ-harvesting.

Practitioners have won awards worldwide for participating in holiday and festival parades using the "beauty" theme. [cite web | title = Minghui Web Search: key words - parade, award; search dates - 10/28/2000-11/28/2006 | publisher = Falun Dafa Clearwisdom.net | url = http://www.clearwisdom.net/appx/eng/search.aspx | accessdate = 2006-11-28] Participant numbers range from a few dozen to over ten thousand. [cite web | title = Taiwan: Fifteen Thousand March to Condemn the CCP for Harvesting Organs from Living Practitioners | publisher = Falun Dafa Clearwisdom.net | url = http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/articles/2006/4/27/72520.html | date = 2006-04-27 | accessdate = 2006-09-21] had fifteen thousand participants according to Falun Gong figures.

Falun Gong websites report that the "extraordinary contribution made by Master Li Hongzhi and Falun Dafa to people's mental and physical health" has led to numerous awards and recognition outside mainland China. [http://www.clearwisdom.net/emh/special_column/recognition.html Governmental Awards and Recognition of Falun Dafa from China and the World]

Engagement with internet and media

Falun Gong produces an extensive range of alternative media content, according to Yuezhi Zhao, Associate Professor of Communications at Simon Fraser University. While books and audiovisual tapes were the main carriers of the Falun Gong message during the early years inside China, the Internet has been instrumental to its more prominent emergence as a transnational global community, she says. "This association between Falun Gong and the Internet is indeed 'a marriage made in the web heaven.'"Yuezhi Zhao, "Falun Gong, Identity, and the Struggle over Meaning Inside and Outside China", in Contesting Media Power, 2004]

Zhao says that Falun Gong has a "massive and extremely sophisticated" presence on the web. Hundreds of websites maintained by practitioners throughout the world and in multiple languages promulgate a wide range of content. This include the online teachings of Li Hongzhi, testimonies of Falun Gong's benefits and the personal experience of practitioners, news of persecution in China, refutations of propaganda from China's state media, and online forums and announcements of activities.

Falun Gong's ability to develop such a "sophisticated virtual communication presence," she says, is explained in part by the fact that most overseas practitioners are Chinese students and scholars. These people, Zhao writes, "have both easy access to the Internet and the requisite cultural capital and technical capabilities. If one logs on to the global multilingual network — www.falundafa.org — one ends up at many university addresses."

In Canada, Simon Fraser University, University of Toronto, and Concordia University serve as the network's Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal nodes, respectively.

Falun Gong's interconnected network consists of several major websites and publicity outfits with specialized functions; www.falundafa.org serves as the point of entry and introduces the practice worldwide. Li Hongzhi's books and audiovisual publications, which, Zhao says, "were banned, shredded, and burned in the millions in China after July 1999," can be freely downloaded.

The New York–based Falun Dafa Information Center (www.faluninfo.net), established in 1999, is the equivalent of an "official press office." It hosts a sophisticated multilingual network of public relations and Web design experts serving as spokespersons. The Center provides news releases; feeds a weekly English-language newsletter to governments, news media, and other interested parties; and publishes the journal Compassion.

Zhao says the Chinese-language www.minghui.org, or Minghui Net, and its English equivalent, www.clearwisdom.org, are at the core of Falun Gong's multimedia production and distribution.

Minghui Net acts as the official voice of Falun Gong, Zhao says, "issuing calls and instructions on carrying out the 'truth clarification' campaign.'" Among Falun Gong's other major websites, the multilingual Zhengjian Net (www.zhengjian.org in Chinese or www.pureinsight.org in English) is a "highbrow" site, Zhao says, catering to members with higher education levels and carrying articles ranging from archaeology to new findings in biomedicine and astronomy. Noah Porter and David Ownby question the scientific veracity of some of the articles appearing on these sites.

Porter says Pure Insight features articles written by practitioners which "attempt to integrate a wide range of scientific knowledge and religious beliefs within the framework of Li Hongzhi's teachings." He says it attempts to addresses many of the apparent discrepancies between the teachings of Falun Gong and current scientific thought, such as criticisms of Darwinian evolution. It also gives examples of how, in the opinion of practitioners, various prophecies and scientific findings support Falun Dafa teachings.

This extensive network of websites not only serves powerful communication, organization, and community-building functions, according to Zhao, but also acts as the depository of, and the resource for, other forms of media production and dissemination by practitioners.

These include World Falun Dafa Radio, a short-wave radio launched in July 2001 that reaches central and northern China, and a video production outfit established by practitioners, Fangguangming TV (FGMTV). "Both produce a wide range of news, features, music, and other types of programming and have their own websites."

Relying on Falun Gong's global practitioner base as regional producers and local "stringers," these operations have expanded their production capacities enormously in the past few years, according to Zhao.

FMGTV, she gives as an example, webcasts a daily news program that shares a name with CCTV's most authoritative prime-time newscast, "Joint News Broadcast" (Xinwen lianbo) and features stories related to Falun Gong activities worldwide.

FGMTV's most influential production is the video "Self-Immolation or Deception?", successfully broadcast in a Changchun hacking incident. The video was first posted on the Minghui Net in March 2001 and distributed widely on cassettes; it has been one of the most accessed pieces on the Falun Gong networks.

Zhao says practitioner have also circulated videos on selected current-affairs topics, critiquing Chinese foreign policy, or, for example, Jiang Zemin's "undisclosed bilateral agreements" with Russia for territorial concessions.

Practitioners have also published various newspapers in an effort to carry their "truth clarification" campaign to the general public in a more accessible form, Zhao says. In Canada, the first Chinese-language Falun Gong tabloid was published in Montreal in October 1999. "Practitioners in Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver quickly followed suit, she says, putting out local papers in Chinese, English, and French. These papers are either print versions of webzines on the Minghui Net or irregular newsprint versions of various Falun Gong fliers and brochures. The bulk of their content is downloaded from various Falun Gong websites."

A US Congressional report says that several US media outlets are "affiliated" with Falun Gong: The Epoch Times, New Tang Dynasty Television, Sound of Hope. [http://www.usembassy.it/pdf/other/RL33437.pdf Lum, Thomas CRS Report page CRS-8 list of Falun Gong affiliated media in US.] The Epoch Times is freely distributed in metropolitan areas in the US, Canada, and Australia. The newspaper is openly opposing the Chinese Communist Party, [E.g. [http://www2.epochtimes.com/gb/1/8/20/n121084.htm Epoch Times - Being patriotic means being against the Chinese Communist Party] (in Chinese)] and carries regular features calling for Chinese to renounce their membership in the Party or affiliated organizations. [ [http://www.epochtimes.com/gb/5/5/13/n919977.htm Epoch Times - Now offering certificates for quitting the Communist Party] (in Chinese)]

Lawsuits

Interference and harassment

Falun Gong practitioners allege that they are frequently suppressed by the Chinese diplomatic service overseas. They claim that Chinese embassies and consulates are explicitly or, through unidentified individuals or organizations, implicitly, organising disruptions to protests. They further attribute criminal acts, such as beatings, break-ins to homes, and theft of property, to explicit or implicit involvement of the Chinese diplomatic service.

Furthermore, in cases where Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested by local authorities, excluded from local community or public events, subjected to action by local law enforcement agencies, forced to resign from their jobs, or received frequent phone harassment, they have often claimed that the local government authorities, community groups or workplaces are acting under coercion or pressure from the Chinese diplomatic service.

The following sections detail instances of such claims, including sources where these claims were reported.

Diplomatic pressure

The former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa declared on June 14, 2001 that Falun Gong was "undoubtedly an evil cult", [Nelson Lee, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=&art_id=12041&sid=&con_type=1&d_str=20010712&sear_year=2001 It's official: Tung's word is SAR policy] , The Standard, July 12, 2001] and vowed to increase surveillance. This caused significant controversy both in Hong Kong and internationally. John Gittings of The Guardian described it as a "balancing act," like those performed by provincial administrations on the mainland when they want to keep the central government happy. [ [http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,,526703,00.html Hong Kong keeps open mind on Falun Gong] , The Guardian, July 24, 2001] A Wall Street Journal writeup considered Tung's pronouncement a politically motivated and inaccurate depiction of Falun Gong. "There can be no mistake, Mr. Tung is considering an anti-cult law at the behest of Beijing. He has been under pressure since the lead-up to the Chinese legislature's March session to get tough with Falun Gong." The editorial also said that the move would damage Hong Kong's key role as an entity distinct of mainland China, harm its economy, erode religious freedom, and concluded that "Falun Gong members should be left to practice their religion in peace." [Asian Wall Street Journal: Editorial, "Hong Kong Considers Banning A Religion", May 23, 2001]

The United States Department of State report on human rights in 2001 noted that three Hong Kong newspapers refused to accept advertisements for Falun Gong. [Vanessa Gould, Nelson Lee & Bryan Lee, [http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?pp_cat=&art_id=10130&sid=&con_type=1&d_str=20010228&sear_year=2001 SAR defends rights record] , The Standard, February 28, 2001]

Hong Kong is less tolerant of the possibility of disruption by practitioners from outside Hong Kong, some of whom have been denied entry into the territory. More than 100 Taiwanese practitioners attending a series of protests were reportedly denied entry into Hong Kong by the immigration department, in the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the handover on July 1, 2007. Among them, lawyer Teresa Chu, who was repatriated hours after her arrival. [ [http://www.cesnur.org/2007/falun_01.htm Top Falun Gong member barred from Hong Kong] , AFP, June 25, 2007]

Violence

In December 2005, Chinese official Luo Gan visited Argentina. Luo is claimed by Falun Gong groups to be the head of the "610 Office" (which, in Falun Gong's allegations, has been characterised as "a Gestapo-like secret organization charged with persecuting and 'eradicating' Falun Gong." [ [http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/2791.html A Strange Chinese Export] ] ). During his visit, Falun Gong practitioners were beaten by a group of about 40 unidentified Chinese men. According to Friends of Falun Gong, "One of the Chinese thugs ran up to a practitioner who was giving an interview explaining why they were protesting and kicked her in the neck right in front of the TV camera." [ [http://www.fofg.org/news/news_story.php?doc_id=1220] ]

The director of Amnesty International in Argentina, Pablo Marsal, said on 16 December 2005 that "Amnesty International has always supported Falun Dafa", that the group has been assaulted several times in Argentina, that Falun Gong is a peaceful practice, and that it is unacceptable that "the officials of another country are violating our Argentine sovereignty in our country [...] apparently, the persecution has begun to extend to [...] Argentina, a country which is proud to defend human rights." [http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/2791.html]

In June 2004, Australian Falun Gong practitioner David Liang was injured in a drive-by shooting while in South Africa. The purpose of his visit was to protest outside South Africa-China Binational Commission (BNC) meetings and to launch a lawsuit against key players in the persecution while they were in the country. Practitioners allege that the drive-by shooting was an assassination attempt. Chinese Embassy officials deny this. [ [http://www.cesnur.org/2004/falun_002.htm SAPA: Falun Gong dissident shot in Joburg] ] According to Falun Gong spokesperson, Sue Zhang, "Johannesburg police have characterized this incident as attempted murder" and that it has been ruled out as random. [ [http://www.burnabynow.com/issues04/082204/news/082204nn2.html Bunaby Now: Group wants help] ]

Exclusion

In 2005, Chinatown leaders in Sydney banned Falun Gong practitioners from participating in a Chinese New Year parade. Upon being pressed by the media, Committee Chairman King Fong claimed that he feared that allowing practitioners to participate in the parade would "prompt a backlash from Beijing," and that he did not want to damage the committee's relationship with China. A Falun Gong spokesperson disclaimed any political motive on Falun Gong's part, and reiterated that the ban was directly related to the Chinese Communist Party's influence. [ [http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/131447/1/.html Channel News Asia - Falungong row overshadows Australia's Chinese new year preparations] ]

In 2005, the Ottawa Chinese Senior Association removed one of its members, Huang Daiming, from the association because she practiced Falun Gong. In January, 2006, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ruled that the Association had discriminated against her. The tribunal found that the Association discriminated against Huang and exposed her to contempt and ostracisation in the community, and that this amounted to an affront to her dignity. It ordered compensation and, inter alia, that eligible Falun Gong practitioners be allowed enrollment as members of the Association. [http://www.ohrc.on.ca/english/news/e_pr_falun-gong.shtml]

In December 2005, practitioners in Montreal took a local Chinese newspaper "Les Presses Chinoises" to court for alleged defamation. The case was dismissed, and the judge described Falun Gong as a "controversial movement, which does not accept criticism." [http://www.math.mcgill.ca/triples/infocult/jugementFalungong122005.doc]

Leon Wang, a Falun Gong practitioner in Ottawa, claims to have been beaten inside the Chinese embassy while he was there attending a New Year "open house night". He says that he was taken to a room and beaten upon being caught taking pictures of an anti-Falun Gong exhibit and recognized as a Falun Gong practitioner. [http://www.hri.ca/tribune/viewArticle.asp?ID=2651] [http://www.wwrn.org/article.php?idd=8888&sec=25&con=5]

Chinatown leaders in several cities in California, especially San Francisco, banned practitioners from the 2006 Chinese New Year parade on the grounds that the group's claimed political agenda was incompatible with the spirit of the celebrations. [ [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5200494 NPR: Falun Gong Banned from Calif. New Year's Parades] ]

In 2007, San Diego practitioners sued the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce for barring them from the Chinese New Year parade, claiming pressure by the Chinese Communist Party. The Chamber of Commerce stated that Falun Gong violated the parade's ban on political activity, and the case was dismissed. [http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/state/20070214-1113-ca-falungong-parade.html]

In 2002 the mayor of Santee, California, told the "Washington Times" of a letter he received from the Chinese consul general in Los Angeles expressing "our hope that your city, by taking your citizens' interest into consideration, will earnestly consider the request from the Chinese side that no recognition and support in any form should be given to the Falun Gong cult organization." [Michael Miner, [http://www.chicagoreader.com/hottype/2005/051014_2.html Down With the Chinese Tyrants!] Hot Type, Chicago Reader, week of October 14, 2005]

References


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