Falun Gong: In Society
What does Falun Gong look like out in the world, then, as it is lived out? Where is it to be found, and in what forms? And has it changed much over the years or in different settings?
The first place you would have found Falun Gong in 1990s China, as with throughout much of the world still today, is decidedly the parks. By 1997 tens of millions of Chinese citizens were heading out for the parks by the break of dawn, gathering to perform Falun Gong’s exercises together in groups of varying sizes. In a typical Beijing park, for example, you might have found a small group of ten gathered by some pine trees in a circle, or some 200 in rows in an open area. Gentle music that paces the exercises could be heard wafting throughout.
Surprisingly, you wouldn’t have seen Falun Gong on billboards or advertising supplements, as the practice self-consciously eschewed conventional means of publicizing itself in favor of a more low-key, natural approach: letting word travel by mouth. Indeed, surveys have found that many if not most adherents in China took up the practice after seeing a friend or family member benefit from it and wanting to give it a try. A range of positive news reports, some detailing miraculous health benefits, served to further spark interest in the practice throughout China. (Example)
The other major showing of Falun Gong you might have encountered in China would have been a Falun Gong “experience sharing” conference. Many regions held periodic, informal gatherings of practitioners and anyone else interested as a forum to exchange ideas and experiences in the practice and encourage one another along the path.
While none of this can be seen in China today, for the first seven years of its existence Falun Gong mainly was lived out in these expressions, and quickly involving as many as 100 million persons.
Today Falun Gong is still practiced openly and without government reprisal around the world, taking place in more than 70 countries. In some places, such as Taiwan—which shares with China a certain degree of cultural heritage—hundreds of thousands have taken up Falun Gong in recent years. Indeed, many of Taiwan’s parks are a microcosm of mainland China a decade ago.
Since 1995, Falun Gong has also been practiced throughout Europe and North America as well as, in the years to follow, Australia, South America, India, Africa, and elsewhere.
While Falun Gong can often be found in the parks and similar recreational settings in these places, it is also done in community centers, on college campuses, in corporations, at health food stores, at fitness centers, in libraries, at senior centers, and of course, in people’s own backyards. You can even find it practiced in the halls of some governments.
Since 1999, when the persecution of Falun Gong first began in China, adherents and supporters of the practice have made efforts to publicly raise awareness about the injustices and suffering taking place in Falun Gong’s homeland.
In this vein, there’s a good chance you have encountered Falun Gong activists in a variety of other public settings, such as on the street corner of a typical urban center handing out informational literature, or perhaps sitting across from a consulate of the People’s Republic of China in silent, meditative protest. Many here share in a sense of calling, and give much of themselves in this regard. (See “Righteous Resistance“)
In recent years, many involved in Falun Gong have furthermore found themselves taking part in parades, cultural fairs, and various celebrations of Chinese heritage. This stems from a growing interest among the Falun Gong in recuperating and sharing with others the cultural traditions and values of classical China. (See “Cultural Renewal”)
Today, you’re just as likely to see a member of the Falun Gong dancing in a delicate “fan dance” in flowing, traditional costume as you are meditating tranquilly in some quiet corner of the park. All the same, the underlying logic of the public expressions is the same: to share the wealth — the health, beauty, and goodness that is — with others who might similarly benefit.
For these and other forms of community involvement, the Falun Gong as a group and various of its individual practitioners have received an array of citations and awards.