On this day in 1999, the popular Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong was banned in the People’s Republic of China, initiating a large-scale crackdown on the practice.
Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, literally “practice of the wheel of law,” is a spiritual discipline first introduced in 1992 by founder Li Hongzhi in China. It is a movement that combines physical exercises, such as breathing, qigong, and meditation, with spiritual beliefs influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Followers of Falun Gong believe in upholding its three main tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Ethical behaviour is also stressed in Falun Gong practice; practitioners typically don’t smoke, do drugs, gamble, drink, have premarital sex, or kill living beings.
The practice originated on 13 May 1992 when qigong master Li Hongzhi gave his first sermon on Falun Gong in Changchun, Jilin Province. At the time, the Chinese government embraced the new movement, as it promoted health, Chinese culture, and was free and accessible to all. But as the movement grew in popularity, Hongzhi’s books became bestsellers, and membership soared, the Communist Party became nervous. They viewed Falun Gong as a threat to the Communist Party.
By the mid-1990s, newspapers began writing articles critical of Falun Gong and the government began cracking down on it. Practitioners began fighting back with peaceful protests, including one in which 10,000 demonstrators gathered peacefully in Beijing, the largest protest in China since the 1989 protests of Tiananmen Square.
In response, President Jiang Zemin further suppressed Falun Gong, banning it outright on 20 July 1999 and issuing an arrest warrant for its founder. As grounds for its prohibition, the government accused Falun Gong of “spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardizing social stability.”
Since then, Falun Gong practitioners allege that the Chinese government has arrested, threatened, abused, and persecuted them. In response to the Chinese government crackdown, Falun Gong has spread globally, and is now practiced in 70 countries around the world, most visibly in Chinese communities in the United States. The fight for the right to practice Falun Gong in China continues, with supporters establishing education and advocacy campaigns, as well as media outlets, both within and without China to spread their message.
Credit: © Richard Levine / Alamy
Caption: Members of the Falun Gong protest in New York.