In China, Falun Gong was anything but “controversial,” much less labeled “heretical,” prior to its persecution in 1999.
Between the years of 1992–99, it was as mainstream as the American SUV: over 70 million people took up the practice according to an April 27, 1999, New York Times report, making it the single most popular approach to health and spirit at any one time in China’s history. In most any park dozens, if not hundreds, could be seen doing the exercises of Falun Gong on any given morning; among the adherents were elite scientists, PLA officers, state officials, and scholars.
What was so attractive about Falun Gong? It was first a means to health, a means at once bodily, psychological, and moral. It exuded positivity and taught age-old virtues. It was welcoming to all, and free—making it inclusive. It was furthermore open, being practiced in public parks and with all of its teachings posted online for free download.
On such accounts, Falun Gong reaped the praise of various official bodies, including the Ministry of Public Security and National Sports Commission. Some officials envisioned it as a panacea for the aging nation’s health care woes.
When China’s communist rulership banned the practice in 1999, it faced a potential crisis of legitimacy—domestic and international—like no other given Falun Gong’s popularity and with the group not having been found at fault. Three times, in fact, had the Public Security Bureau investigated the group only to find no illegal conduct.
The Party’s solution? To demonize the group with vilification campaigns in state-run media and through elaborate PR initiatives abroad. This also served a second purpose: to deflect people’s attention away from very real and pressing social problems, not to mention official corruption, that by some estimates threaten to tear the nation asunder.
Confused by the so-oft-repeated claims by Party organs that Falun Gong is destructive, dastardly, and dangerous? Three points should be noted.
First, most all of the denigrating claims about Falun Gong were made by the Party-state only after deciding to persecute the group.
Second, independent reporters who have tried to investigate such claims have been harassed, threatened, and even arrested; when they have managed to interview sources, Party claims have proven to be false, if not outright fabrication.
Third, why have the same allegations not been made in any of the other 70-plus non-communist countries where Falun Gong is openly practiced? In Taiwan, a democracy, hundreds of thousands make Falun Gong a part of daily life, yet only praise and accolades are extended Falun Gong’s way.
The real issue, then? The draconian human rights abuses perpetrated by Chinese communist authorities against apolitical, peace-loving, lawful citizens.
Beijing authorities want you to ask who these people are, rather than what is being done to them.