Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
China battles against religion
Falun Gong followers practise breathing exercises and meditation
By Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little
The mass arrests in China of members of the Falun Gong sect follow several weeks of investigation by the Chinese authorities.
The Falun Gong sect - which seemingly came out of nowhere to mobilise tens of thousands in peaceful protest - is the Communist government's nightmare realised.
Its rapid rise in seven years seriously challenges the Marxist doctrine that religion is the opiate of the masses and will die out as human progress is made.
Party members in its ranks
Instead, while the movement's claim of 100 million members looks optimistic, it appears to have numbers to rival membership of the Communist party and has been attracting party officials into its ranks.
China has long had a policy of banning religious groups it deems superstitious and permits only a handful of established religions, answerable to the state.
Its policy of suppression has provoked frequent protest from human rights groups.
It has also driven groups underground, where they have multiplied and become more radical.
Filling the spiritual void
Buddhist and Christian sects and folk religions are flourishing across China in a religious revival scholars attribute to a spiritual vacuum left in the wake of Maoism.
Last month the Communist Party launched a campaign to stamp out so-called superstition and promote Marxist materialism among its members.
In the former Soviet Union, Communism failed to stamp out religion, which now thrives where Communism has faded.
China, it seems, remains committed to the ideological battle, many would say against the odds.