Chinese religious sect, influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, which claims 100 million members worldwide, including 80 million in China. Its followers seek spiritual enlightenment and follow a regime of exercises. The sect has been banned by the Chinese communist government since July 1999, when its key leaders were arrested.
In his book, Zhuan Falun/Revolving the Wheel of Law (banned in China in 1996), Li presented himself, alongside Buddha and Jesus, as a being from a higher level who had come to help humankind from the destruction threatened by rampant evil. Falun Gong stresses the importance of cultivating one's ‘Inner Nature’ by upholding the three principles of ‘Truth, Benevolence, and Forbearance’ and combining this with practice of gentle exercises related to the ancient Chinese art of Qi Gong, a kind of breathing meditation.
Although Falun Gong lacks a political agenda, the Chinese government became concerned at its rapid growth. It claimed that it spread fallacies – for instance, that true devotees were immune from illness – advocated superstition, and threatened social stability.
Li taught the practice of Falun Gong in China before moving to live in the USA in 1997. Despite lacking an organized structure, the religion spread rapidly in China by word of mouth and public practice of its popular stress-reducing, yoga-like exercises in squares and parks. It has appealed particularly to the middle-aged, but also attracted intellectuals and followers within the armed forces and Communist Party. Its international spread has been assisted by availability of free instruction materials on the Internet.
The Chinese government's crackdown came after a silent protest against official harassment held outside the communist party headquarters in Beijing in April 1999 by 10,000 adherents demanding official recognition. Further peaceful protests and arrests of Falun Gong practitioners followed in 2000 and 2001. Tens of thousands have been detained, with many forced from their jobs and sent to labour camps without trial. More than 30 followers are confirmed to have died while in police custody, and in June 2001 the group alleged that 15 of its supporters had been tortured to death in a prison camp. The sect remains legal in Hong Kong.
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