The Rise of Falun Gong
Having survived the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) with significant trauma, the Chinese people were finding ways to reconnect with their ancient spiritual traditions without risking being denounced as backward or counter-revolutionary. Try as the Chinese Communist Party did to obliterate ancient Chinese spiritual practices in order to establish class struggle and atheism as the new Chinese culture, the Party could not remove traditional spiritual beliefs from people’s hearts.
Falun Gong’s Humble Beginnings
It was the turn of the decade, early 1990s, and the qigong craze was red-hot in China. While many qigong teachers vied for followers, one came on the scene that caused all of China to take notice.
Born in the northeastern town of Changchun, Mr. Li Hongzhi had studied under Buddhist and Daoist masters in his youth. In 1992, after two years of working with a small group of students, trying and observing the suitability of Falun Gong to be disseminated among the public, Mr. Li introduced the ancient, traditional cultivation method, called Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, to the general public.
His talks were unlike those of other qigong teachers because of his unwavering focus on moral standards and self-improvement.
On May 13, 1992, Mr. Li Hongzhi gave his first lecture on Falun Gong to about 180 listeners in a humble schoolhouse in Changchun, city in northeastern China.
In five months, Falun Gong is recognized by the state-run Qigong Science Research Association of China as its official branch. Mr. Li is formally declared a “Master of Qigong”, and receives permit to teach Falun Gong nationwide.
“Falun Gong is Miraculous!“
December 1992 • Mr. Li together with several of his students participated in the 1992 Asian Health Expo, held in Beijing. After using their qigong treatment to cure many people’s diseases, the news “Falun Gong is miraculous” echoed throughout the attending crowds.
Mr. Li has received the most awards of any master at the event, announcing Falun Gong as a presence on the qigong scene. The interest in Falun Gong immediately skyrocketed.
1992-1994 • Responding to the popular demand during these years Mr. Li travels all across China almost without stopping. With just a several days of travel between each, Mr. Li gave 54 lecture series on Falun Gong within the period of two years. The seminars, often arranged by local state-run qigong organizations, typically last 8-10 days.
Mr. Li charged only small entrance fees to cover the costs of traveling and venue rentals. Though he never advertised his lectures, the health benefits of the practice were spreading fast by word of mouth, and eventually attracted thousands of attendees at a time.
Falun Gong’s Teachings are Different from Other Qigong Schools.
Falun Gong teaches the principles of truthfulness, compassion and forbearance. It emphasizes character-building and virtue—rather than supernormal powers—as the true path to health and spiritual elevation.
Many people were initially drawn to Falun Gong because of its healing effects. However, a significant reason for Falun Gong’s popular appeal was also due to its simple and straightforward requirements for practitioners: Live your life according to truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance, let go of negative attachments, and be responsible to yourself and others. Mr. Li discouraged the fanaticism that practitioners of other qigong schools so often dedicated to their masters, and instead encouraged Falun Gong practitioners to focus on what matters—becoming a better person.
The Chinese people recognized in Falun Gong’s teachings the core tenets shared by Buddhism and Daoism. But unlike these religions, there were no ordinances, onerous lifestyle restrictions, or the requirement to relinquish the secular world. Falun Gong spelled out the essence of cultivation and avoided the esoteric language of ancient scripture.
“The True Ancient, Good Things Have Come Back!”
The Chinese public quickly recognized Falun Gong as a truly useful set of principles for living a meaningful life. This attracted people from all backgrounds and strata of society, including barely literate farmers, university professors, homemakers, and communist cadres.
The common sentiment among Chinese people upon encountering Falun Gong, whether they chose to practice it or not, was that the true heritage of China had been revived. As retired Chinese official Mr. Hao Ye tells it, “People really took it to heart. In Falun Gong, we believe the true ancient, good things have come back!”
Mounting Praise by Chinese Ministry of Public Security
August 30, 1993 • The Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Ministry of Public Security hosted a National Conference of Recognizing Heroes in Justice and Courage.
The organizers invited Mr. Li Hongzhi to provide Qigong treatment to the conference attendees, to alleviate their pains. Among the hundred attendees many were injured and disabled when fighting crime, still suffering various symptoms, even after regular medical treatments. Many suffered long-term health complications caused by stab wounds, gunshot and other injuries. After receiving treatments symptoms including pain, headaches, tiredness, and dizziness disappeared.
“Some witnessed their tumors disappearing after receiving treatments; some had gallstones expelled within 24 hours after the treatment; some who had stomach diseases, heart diseases, or joint diseases, felt their symptoms being removed on site right after treatments. Among these nearly 100 patients, except for one who had a minor disease and didn’t feel obvious effect, all others felt dramatic treatment effects in various degrees. The powerful effect of such treatment sessions was highly praised,” the organizers stated in their letter of appreciation.
Asian Health Expo: Mr. Li is titled the Most Acclaimed Qigong Master, Falun Gong receives the Highest Qigong Awards
December 1993 • Only a year and half after Falun Gong was introduced to the public, Mr. Li already received special invitation to attend the 1993 Asian Health Expo as one of the Organizing Committee members.
Although Mr. Li explained in his teachings that Falun Gong’s purpose is not to heal illnesses, and that he attended the Expo with his students to support a state sponsored Qigong event, in reality the ’93 Expo became a grand occasion for Falun Gong. Few people were attending other qigong booths, while Falun Gong’s booth was crowded, with long lines of people waiting for healing treatments and autographs.
The powerful healing effect of Falun Gong at this point was undeniable and the Expo committee and the Qigong specialists’ committee agreed that the the highest award of the expo – “Award for Advancing Frontier Sciences.” — should go to Mr. Li Hongzhi. He also received the “Special Gold Prize” and the title of the “Most Acclaimed Qigong Master.” Falun Gong’s profile have grown significantly.
Falun Gong, like a gleaming star, outshined the other Qigong schools from then on.
Rapid, Free-of-charge Spreading of the Practice Among Public
While morning group qigong exercise is a common sight in China’s public squares, the sheer volume of attendees at Falun Gong practice sites was unusual.
Volunteers provided the exercise instruction free of charge to anyone who wanted to learn. When one exercise site became too large, practitioners would volunteer to start new ones at other locations.
State-run Media: Amazing Healing Effects. Good Samaritans and Heroes.
The practice increasingly finds itself in the news, primarily on grounds of its health benefits and the good citizenship it fosters. Reports about heroic and virtuous deeds, improved morals, and selfless acts of help to their local communities started to appear ever more often. Mr. Li and Falun Gong were recognized by the Ministry of Public Security in its publications for enhancing social stability and was even awarded with a Certificate of Honor.
[We commend Mr. Li for his contributions] in promoting the traditional crime-fighting virtues of the Chinese people, in safeguarding social order and security, and in promoting rectitude in society.
Falun Gong taught that only with elevation of thought and behavior could true and lasting health follow. And so it was.
A 1998 survey of 6,000 practitioners in Dalian City showed a near-complete recovery rate among those with diseases. So did similar studies in other Chinese cities and in Russia. Even chronic and terminal patients—such as those with cancer, immunological diseases, and neurological problems—showed marked or complete recovery by practicing Falun Gong, and without the help of medical intervention.
In 1993, the Magazine China Today published an article about Falun Gong and its founder, Mr. Li Hongzhi, titled The Amazing Healing Effect of Falun Gong. According to the article “Master Li has taught Falun Gong in several cities including Beijing. Participants came from the central government, as well as people from all walks of life. There were military personnel, professors, students, and physicians. People of all ages, from teens to elderly folks, came to learn the practice. Many saw their mind and health improve after practicing.”
In 1997 the newspaper Medicine and Health ran article titled Falun Gong: Top Choice for Healing and Fitness. A reporter from the paper visited a Falun Gong practice site in Shenyang City on November 8, 1998 and collected dozens of stories of practitioners whose health improved significantly.
It is obvious that Falun Gong is effective in improving health. Many patients benefit from it. Most people who practice Falun Gong have been through a process from not believing to believing. In the beginning, some patients just wanted to try it out to see if it works. Seeing how long-term illness miraculously disappeared, they are convinced that Falun Gong effectively improves health.
In 1998 the China Economic Times published an article “I can stand now!” The article covered a story of 53 years old Xie Xiufen from the countryside of Handan, Hebei Province. She became paralyzed in 1979 due to spinal injury. Having 4 children, she could not take care of herself and had to rely on her mother and her husband. Many times, she thought about committing suicide. In April 1996, Xie’s sister, who and whose husband both have started practicing Falun Gong, introduced the practice to her. Three months later on July 1, 1996, she went to a Falun Gong practice in a wheelchair. Two months later, she had no pains whatsoever. A year later, Xie Xiufen can walk to the practice site. “I feel like a bird wanting to fly. People can hardly catch up with me when walking alongside me. I was a paralyzed for 16 years. It is Teacher Li Hongzhi who has changed my life. Now, I am reborn.”
In a Feb. 22, 1999, interview with U.S. News & World Report, an official from China’s State Sports Commission praised the practice for reducing the state’s medical costs: “Falun Gong and other types of qigong can save each person 1,000 yuan in annual medical fees. If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion yuan saved per year in medical fees.” The official said that then-Premier Zhu Rongji was very happy about this.
1 in Every 13 People Practices Falun Gong
By 1999, according to China’s official estimates, 70 million to 100 million people were studying Falun Gong, not counting the many more who had casually practiced it for a short time. This amounted to approximately 1 in every 13 people in China. In many cases, entire families across generations took up the practice after seeing the positive changes it engendered among their friends and relatives. Virtually everyone knew someone who practiced Falun Gong.
Falun Gong Teachings Go Global
After giving his last lecture in China, in the city of Dalian in December 31, 1994, with some 6,600 persons in attendance, Mr. Li begins teaching Falun Gong abroad. First talk was given in Paris at the Chinese embassy, initiated at the invitation of China’s ambassador to France. A full seven-day class begins that evening in Paris, followed by a second series in May in Sweden cities of Gothenburg, Stockholm, and Uddevalla.
Peak of Falun Gong’s Popularity Meets Early Signs of State Oppression
As Falun Gong becomes more and more popular in China and around the world, early signs of state oppression appear.
Shortly after Zhuan Falun is listed in January, March, and April as a bestseller by Beijing Youth Daily, Falun Gong books are banned from publication by order from the China News Publishing Bureau, an entity under the Ministry of Propaganda. The document accuses Falun Gong of “spreading superstition.” The same year, Mr. Li moves to the United States.
Investigations • In 1996 Falun Gong withdraws from the Qigong Science Research Association of China to keep the practice free of political influence. Soon after, Falun Gong is accused of being “heretical teaching”, and spreading superstitions. Chinese Ministry of Public Security responds with an investigation, which concludes, “No evidence has appeared thus far.”
The internal divisions among China’s political leadership become more obvious, as both positive reports on Falun Gong and attacks on Falun Gong are broadcasted alongside each other in state-run media.
Falun Gong numbers in China keep growing, while different government entities such as senior members of the People’s Congress and National Sports commission of China conduct more investigations into the group.
“Falun Gong has hundreds of benefits for the Chinese people and nation, and does not a bit of harm.”
On February 14, 1999, an official from China’s National Sports Commission, speaking with U.S. News & World Report, estimated that as many as 100 million may have taken up the practice. The official highlights the costs the practice is saving China’s national health care system, declaring that, “Premier Zhu Rongji is very happy about that.”
“We’re convinced the exercises and effects of Falun Gong are excellent. It has done an extraordinary amount to improve society’s stability and ethics. This should be duly affirmed.”
Global Awards & Recognitions
In the face of growing unrest in the ruling party regarding stance towards Falun Gong, and the subsequent crackdown, Falun Gong and its founder Mr. Li Hongzhi, collected thousands of awards and recogntion letters from all over the world.
Mr. Li Hongzhi is a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and was nominated by the European Parliament for the Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought. He is the recipient of Freedom House’s International Religious Freedom Award.