Why China's Falun Gong Movement Is Important

BEIJING: Continuing suppression of members of Falong Gong, a movement whose supporters continue to “step forward” to respond to their leader’s call to “achieve consummation by facing imprisonment or death,” provides clear evidence that something new, if inexplicable, is happening in China. But there is a paradox here, for this “something new” is also something very old. It is precisely because this mass cult-turned-protest-movement has a traditional resonance that it poses such a threat to the Party establishment.

When, in April 1999, ten thousand members of the Falun Gong sect appeared mysteriously in front of Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership, to be arrested en masse, observers found it hard to explain what was going on. The overseas press corps in Beijing was used to explaining political dissidents, student protesters, disgruntled workers and disenfranchised members of the “floating population.” This mystical, crypto Buddhist/Taoist sect of middle class meditators, however, seemed to arise out of nowhere so that its origins and seriousness as a threat to China’s Party establishment were difficult to assess.

The group, it turned out, was led by an exiled patriarch, Li Hongzhi, who had conjured his cult out of traditional Chinese breathing exercises (qigong), a belief in miracle cures, nostrums about clean living, and a mish-mash of Buddhist and Taoist mysticism. As wave after wave of Falun Gong supporters arrived in Tiananmen Square to be arrested, however, what began as an aberrant event became the most widespread movement of organized protest in China since 1989.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.