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Falun Gong (法轮功)

Updated: Mar 13

Insurgency Overview

Falun Gong (法轮功)(Dharma Wheel Practice) or Falun Dafa (法轮大法)(Great Dharma Wheel Practice) is a type of Chinese new religious movement that incorporates qigong or flowing exercise movements. Falun Gong is headed by Li Hongzhi (李洪志), who is described by followers as being godlike, however, others accuse him of being autocratic. There is very little information about Hongzhi’s early life, and many conflicting accounts of it exist (1)(9).

The organization is considered a cult by the Chinese Communist Party and in 1999 the group was banned and a large crackdown was conducted against them (2)(3). 

At the height of the organization in the 90s there were estimated to be 70 million members and to this day by some estimates, there are still millions of members (16).

Hongzhi and the group hold numerous controversial opinions, such as qigong being able to cure illnesses and grant special powers, that modern technology was invented as a result of extraterrestrials manipulating human scientists, that those same extraterrestrials are going through a program of replacing human beings with clones, and that wars and conflicts are caused by extraterrestrials (4).

Besides its religious aspects, Falun Gong is also involved in news with The Epoch Times and theatre with Shen Yun. The Epoch Times has been criticized for spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 virus and Shen Yun is described by some as propaganda for Falun Gong. Epoch Times representatives deny any link to Falun Gong, but there are clear financial and organizational ties (1)(4).

History and Foundations

Falun Gong started as a private qigong group in 1989 and became public in 1992. This was towards the end of a period of intense popularity of qigong in China. Qigong is a type of exercise that incorporates flowing movement and breathing exercises; it is similar to tai chi. Between the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the 1990s, qigong and tai chi exploded in popularity throughout China, and thousands of qigong organizations were formed (6)(7).

Falun Gong initially had the support of the CCP and was formally recognized as a qigong group in the state-run China Qigong Scientific Research Society (CQRS). Falun Gong was highly regarded as a qigong society and the group was lauded in numerous magazines, with Li Hongzhi appearing on magazine covers. In 1995, Li began spreading the teachings of Falun Gong overseas (6)(8)(9).

By 1996 things began to fall apart in China for the group. Falun Gong left the CQRS and started facing media scrutiny, with some outlets denouncing it as spreading pseudoscience and superstitious beliefs. Officials in the CCP also began to view the group with suspicion (6).

In 1999 Falun Gong was banned by the CCP. The government began to shut down Falun Gong exercise sites; previously they had begun to clandestinely collect information on the group, which made subsequent arrests easier to conduct. Soon the government launched a campaign to eradicate the group. Falun Gong was declared the most serious political threat to China since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (9). Crackdowns escalated and many Falun Gong members were arrested, with reports surfacing of them being beaten in custody. On 23 January 2001, five people who were allegedly connected to Falun Gong (Falun Gong denies any connection to the individuals) self-immolated themselves in Tiananmen Square with gasoline carried in Sprite bottles. This incident caused public perception of Falun Gong to drop in China, and due to the split between Falun Gong and the CCP Falun Gong began to publicly oppose the CCP internationally (10)(11).

After the crackdowns and widespread loss of public support, most Falun Gong activities take place in the United States. The group is currently headquartered in a compound in New York state called Dragon Springs. This compound houses temples, private schools, and places for the Shen Yun dance troupe to rehearse (11)(12).

Ideology and Objectives

The ideology of Falun Gong is, on a surface level, very related to Eastern philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism. Qi (energy) cultivation plays a big part in the philosophy of Falun Gong, as it does in every qigong group. Simply put, there is a widely held belief in China and other East Asian countries that you can cultivate positive life energy through meditation, breathing exercises, and body posture exercises (6)(13).

Besides the beliefs that all qigong societies hold, Falun Gong has some controversial beliefs as well -- these beliefs are the ones that make many people label Falun Gong as a cult. As mentioned previously, Li believes that extraterrestrials interfere with human society and that they create things like war and conflict in an attempt to destroy humanity. He believes that humans are the most perfect creatures to inhabit the universe and that the extraterrestrials covet our form. Li also believes that heaven is segregated by race and that homosexuality, feminism, and pop music are evil. He claims to be able to levitate and walk through walls and says that practicing Falun Gong’s form of qigong will grant you similar supernatural powers including advanced healing powers. Some people in Falun Gong believe that Donald Trump was sent from heaven to destroy the Chinese Communist Party. However, it should be noted that there are millions of people in Falun Gong, and it is possible that many of them see it just like any other qigong society (5)(6)(11)(12).

Approach to Resistance and Capabilities

Falun Gong has yet to ever use violence against others as a form of resistance. Their approach to resisting the CCP relies entirely on propaganda and dance. The propaganda wing of Falun Gong, Epoch Media Group, consists of The Epoch Times newspaper and New Tang Dynasty television. The Epoch Times, which is given out for free in newspaper form, and New Tang Dynasty focus on decrying the Chinese Communist Party and pushing for democracy in China. They are also very intertwined with the American hard right. Both outlets have been described as ultra-conservative and have featured articles and videos on conspiracies about COVID-19, the 1969 moon landing, and 9/11. Falun Gong tries to drum up support for its cause by claiming that thousands of its practitioners have died in prison and that the CCP harvests organs from live Falun Gong prisoners, but this is debated by experts (1)(5)(12)(14).


Relations and Alliances

Falun Gong, mainly through Epoch Media Group, has ties with the American hard right. They have produced a film about Chinese tech company Huawei with Steve Bannon, who was the chairman of Breitbart News and advisor to Donald Trump. Epoch Media Group has received donations from American anti-vaccine groups, evangelical Christians, and far-right media outlets (1)(15). 


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