BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: Correspondent  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Correspondent Friday, 5 October, 2001, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Falun Gong: The enemy within

Click here for transcripts

The Chinese Government believes it is engaged in a fight to the end with the most serious threat to its power since the foundation of the Communist State in 1949. It is a spiritual movement based on Taoism and Buddhism called the Falun Gong. Phil Rees reports.

Suddenly, security guards in suits with earpieces closed the exit doors. The auditorium fell silent. The collective buzz of a thousand voices then rose to a crescendo. The audience, devotees of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, knew that their saviour had arrived.

I was attending a rally in Ottawa organised by Canadian followers of Falun Gong.

The founder of the movement, Li Hongzhi, was about to make an unannounced visit. It was his only public appearance in more than six months.

Known as Master Li to his followers, he wore a crisp dark suit and white shirt. He resembled more a well-fed business executive than the leader of quasi-Buddhist, spiritual movement.

Li Hongzhi
Li Hongzhi, the Chinese Government's "Enemy Number One"
The baby-faced Li, who is now turning 50, also cuts an improbable threat to the might of the Chinese State. President Jiang Zemin is said to believe that the Falun Gong movement is the most serious challenge to the Communist Party since it came to power in 1949.

Li lives in hiding in the New York area. His followers mutter that his life is at risk because the Chinese Government has ordered hit squads to track down and murder him. It is rumoured that US Government agents are assisting Li with his security.

Falun Gong - which literally means "The Power of the Law Wheel" - is derived from the ancient Chinese practice of Qi Gong. The Qi is an energy force that is said to be circulating within the body.

Li Hongzhi - a former trumpet player and government clerk, blended Qi Gong with theories drawn from Taoism and Buddhism, as well as more eccentric musings about the universe.

In the mid-1990s Li toured China, claiming supernatural powers and apparently healing the sick. Stories of his miraculous deeds swept through the country and tens of millions were attracted to the faith.

Falun Gong is banned in China

Two years ago, the government banned Falun Gong. It arrested tens of thousands of its followers. Hundreds and perhaps thousands who refused to denounce Falun Gong were tortured.


It really hurts, it's unbearable, you feel numb, but you can't shout, they put the baton in front of your mouth and say, 'If you shout, I will put it in your mouth'

Professor Kunlun
The group says that more than 200 of its practitioners have died in police custody. Observers who have studied individual cases found Falun Gong's claims to be mostly accurate.

Professor Zhang Kunlun fled China earlier this year and now lives in Canada. He is slight of frame, quiet and courteous. In his 60s, he seems an unlikely enemy of the Chinese State.

Yet the Professor says that he was repeatedly tortured by policemen using electric cattle prods. He shuddered as he spoke of the electric charge running through his body: "It really hurts, it's unbearable, you feel numb, but you can't shout, they put the baton in front of your mouth and say 'If you shout, I will put it in your mouth'. "

Professor Kunlun
Professor Kunlun, tortured for his belief in Falun Gong
What I could not understand when I heard such testimony was why? The Chinese Government is authoritarian and sometimes brutal but it is not mindless.

The audience at the meeting in Canada was overwhelmingly Chinese, mostly women in middle age. It seemed absurd that an elderly group, which practised slow motion breathing exercises, should fixate China's vast security apparatus.

The perceived threat of Falun Gong

I was soon to realise that the confrontation with Falun Gong illuminates better than any other issue the weakness of Communist Party rule.

The primary concern of the government is to contain growing public unrest - and with it social stability - in the face of a rapidly changing economic landscape. There are tens of millions of unemployed, maybe many more. The state no longer provides the socialist "Iron Rice Bowl" - health care and social security - for the needy.


All the methods employed by the evil gang of dictators in the Chinese Government are the most despicable known to history. They have reached an extreme. They've really out done themselves. Never before has a government done these terrible things

Li Hongzhi
In April 1999, Falun Gong brought 10,000 people to demonstrate in the heart of Beijing. Party leaders were stunned. Here was an organisation which could mobilise large numbers of people at short notice.

What would happen if thousands of disgruntled peasants or unemployed factory workers were to march on Beijing?

The Communist Party feels vulnerable for another reason. In the wake of cut-throat capitalist reform, the party has lost the moral and ideological leadership it could claim during former decades. Corruption and crime are growing. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

Authoritarian governments in China have always justified their monopoly of power by claiming a benevolent stewardship of society.

Now, Falun Gong offers an alternative creed that undermines the Communist Party's increasingly unconvincing claim to moral superiority.

Chinese history has periodically been ruptured by rebellions led by religiously motivated secret societies. They triggered popular uprisings whose aim was to remove corrupt officials and restore moral rectitude.

Challenging the regime

In the convention centre in Canada, Li Hongzhi was keen to find a place for today's Communist rulers in terms of China's turbulent past.

"All the methods employed by the evil gang of dictators in the Chinese Government are the most despicable known to history", he said.

"They have reached an extreme. They've really outdone themselves. Never before has a government done these terrible things."

I found Li Hongzhi's tone uninspiring. He is no Billy Graham. His message is often convoluted. But he has found, almost by accident, a place in the destiny of his nation. He is challenging the regime at a moment in China's history when the country seems to be evolving beyond the grip of its central government.

The enemy within: Sunday 30th September at 1845 (BST) on BBC Two.

Reporter: Phil Rees
Producer: Stuart Tanner
Deputy Editor: Farah Durrani
Editor: Fiona Murch

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Phil Rees
The remarkable story of a hidden struggle for the minds of millions in China
Li Hongzhi
Falun Gong leader speaks unannounced at a rally in Canada
Professor Kunlun
Tortured by the authorities
Amy Lee
The re-education camps in China
See also:

22 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
01 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
14 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
31 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
17 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Correspondent stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes