Number of Falun Gong practitioners in China in 1999: at least 70 million

These numbers are based upon Chinese government statistics openly acknowledged prior to the July 1999 persecution. They are derived from a survey conducted by the Chinese government in the latter part of 1998. Other sources picked up the numbers that were widely circulated at the time (see news excerpts below). 

After July 1999, however, the Chinese Communist regime began officially naming a much lower number - 1 or 2 million - in an apparent attempt to downplay the Falun Gong’s presence in Chinese society.

4/27/99, The New York Times
In Beijing: A Roar of Silent Protestors, by Seth Faison
“...the Government’s estimate of 70 million adherents represents a large group in a nation of 1.2 billion”

4/27/99, The New York Times
Notoriety Now for Movement's Leader, by Joseph Kahn
“Despite that elusiveness, or maybe because of it, Mr. Li has become a guru of a movement that even by Chinese Government estimates has more members that the Communist Party. Beijing puts the tally of his followers at 70 million. Practitioners say they do not dispute those numbers, but they say they have no way of knowing for sure, in part because they have no central membership lists.”

4/26/99, The Associated Press
Growing group poses a dilemma for China, by Renee Schoof
“But with more members than the Communist Party - at least 70 million, according to the State Sports Administration - Falun is also a formidable social network...”