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TokyoFreePress in touch with local Falun Gong practitioners

Left: Li Hongzhi, founder of Falun Gong
Center: Wang Wenyi, heckler at White House ceremony
Right: Falun Gong protesters in Yokohama China Town

I have grown all the more curious about the school of people who are practicing their proprietary type of qigong called Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, since Wang Wenyi ruined Hu Jintao's great moment when the Chinese leader was in the middle of the pageantry of the welcome ceremony at the White House on April 20.

Ms. Wang, 47, is a doctor and journalist who is practicing Falun Gong in the U.S. Reports have it that she yelled at the Chinese leader and his host, "President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong," before she was escorted away by the guard. Bush was quick enough to apologize to his Chinese counterpart and order his men to consider legal action against the transgressor. In response, Wang reportedly said, "It's not a crime, but an act of civil disobedience." But she now could face six months in jail for "harassing, intimidating and threatening a foreign official."

Encouraged by Wang's "individual act of conscience", predominantly Chinese Falun Gong practitioners living in Japan look to have stepped up their protests against the persecution inflicted on their colleagues in mainland China, especially those who were imprisoned and had their organs "harvested", after or sometimes even before the execution. According to them these organs are being sold in the blackmarket at the price of 500 bucks apiece.

Since many decades ago I have known of the generic term "qigong", kikou in Japanese, which points to some esoteric thing practiced by people who believe that the human body has an "energy field" generated by respiration (qi or ki means breath in Chinese and Japanese, respectively). Some of them even theorize illnesses can be cured by the therapeutic effect that a certain state of the spirit has on the body if it's cultivated through practicing qigong. I think this idea is in part truthful as well as superstitious at the same time. For one thing, I opted to go uninsured, medical cost-wise, for various reasons when I called it a career. And ever since I have never been hospitalized despite an even increasing amount of tobacco consumption (80 pieces everyday) and many other habits widely believed to cause illnesses. So you can distance yourself from Japanese quacks who are so prone to commit fatal errors if you cultivate a certain state of mind deep inside.

Falun Gong was yet another school of qigong when it was launched in May 1992 by Li Hongzhi, born either in 1951 or 1952, who broke away from the China Qigong Research Society, government-authorized association of qigong-practicing groups. But by 1999, the Chinese authorities, especially then-leader Jiang Zemin, got caught in paranoia that Li was up to subversive activities to undermine the communist regime. Ironically, though, the fierce persecution and crackdown started by Jiang and inherited by Hu by now have made Li and his followers, including Ms. Wang, look like real heroes representing the whole anti-regime movement. Now it looks as though they are the symbol of a democratic China we may or may not see in the not-too-distant future.

But to me something does not really add up. Can we expect a mere group of qigong practitioners to bring forth a new, sound and valid set of values with which to supplant the absurd, obsolete ideology, China's version of Marxism with an added twist from "marketization"? That's why I thought about interviewing some of the street protesters hanging around in my neighborhood these days.

The first thing I learned about them was that they do not have an organization in the normal sense of the word. If they were telling me the truth, they even don't have a public relations department. I had difficulty believing a group that claims to have hundred million members worldwide is not structured like any other organization. But just the same, I had to settle for a casual sit-together at a nearby coffee shop with two middle-aged women I picked at random. At least I was glad that there wasn't a person around in charge of keeping tabs on them to prevent an unmonitored conversation with an outsider like myself.

The following excerpts from our May 6 talks over a cup of tea are what I could reconstruct from my scribbles on a "to-that-effect" basis. FGP here signifies answers by the interviewees, while TFP stands for TokyoFreePress.

TFP: What made you join?

FGP1: I came here from Taiwan some 18 years ago. But it's years before I came that I started seeking spiritual salvation. When I came across Master Li's book Zhuan Falun, which taught me we should cultivate in ourselves three important virtues, truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance, I thought that was it. That's before the persecution started.

FGP2: I came here from Beijing, also some 18 years ago, and now I am a naturalized citizen. I joined the group after the crackdown started. I thought we should fight the crackdown.

TFP: Is it true that you are not hierarchically structured like yakuza syndicates, malign cults such as Aum Supreme Truth or benign and "legitimate" cults such as Soka-Gakkai?

FGP2: That is true. We are just a group of volunteers, so to speak.

TFP: So you don't have superiors or subordinates - you are just surrounded by peers. Is that it?

FGP2: That is correct.

TFP: Then, neither do you have rules given from the top to govern your day-to-day activities, do you?

FGP2: No rules at all. Everything we do is spontaneous.

TFP: What about commandments? Aren't there any do's and don't's either?

FGP2: No nothing.

FGP1: Except, we all believe in and practice the three virtues taught by Master Li: truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance.

TFP: Frankly, I have difficulty believing that a group of hundred million people can put together their effort in one direction without an organization, hierarchy or rules.

FGP1/2: (A grin)

TFP: Now you say there's no hierarchical structure, but Master Li in 1999 told a TIME interviewer that there are a certain number of levels for practicing his school of qigong. I suspect these levels virtually serve as a hierarchy.

FGP2: Master Li must have meant what we call jigen (dimensions) in that interview. I am not sure, but once again there's no ladder at all for us to climb up or down.

TFP: In the same interview, Master Li said although many of you, including Master Li himself, are able to heal illnesses or even levitate off the ground, you never show off their psychic powers in the presence of others because these tricks all belong to the "lower levels" of qigong. In this respect I wanted to ask you this: Can you levitate, or if not yet, is that one of your goals?

FGP1/2: No, we can't. And we don't particularly want to levitate. (A broad grin).

TFP: Now let's talk about finance. I used to be the financial manager with a couple of foreign companies. Here again, I have difficulty believing what your website says about the group's finances. It says: "[Li Hongzhi] is not accorded special treatment, nor does he accept money or donations from his students." [In another interview in Sydney in 1999] Master Li said he had received twenty thousand renminbi (approximately US$ 2,470) for his book when he was still in mainland China. Since Master Li fled China (one of the interviewees interrupted me quickly, saying he didn't flee), he has received, from time to time, a few hundred or a few thousand dollars in royalty from his books. And since he prohibits his hundred million students all over the world from receiving money for teaching qigong or handing out textbooks or any other literature, your activities are financed solely with Master's royalty income, which is very hard to believe.

FGP1: You may not believe it but as we said, we have all volunteered to act as selfless apostles. So basically we are self-financed.

TFP: Including these flyers, leaflets and newspapers?

FGP2: Yes, some of our colleagues are stationed in Tokyo to work on these publications, but once again, at their own expense.

(Postscript by TFP: At the end of our meeting, they insisted to split the bill. That certainly corroborated their adherence to the rule of self-reliance.)

TFP: So you don't believe even Master Li may sometimes accept donations in aberration from his own rule?

FGP1: Never. If you read Zhuan Falun, you will know Master will never betray the Buddha's law - truthfulness.

TFP: Have you heard the words financial disclosure?

FGP1/2: No, we haven't.

TFP: We earthly people are realists. Our assumption is that even a man of highest integrity can at times have his soul hijacked by the devil. That's why laws require every organization to periodically disclose its financial statements signed by professionals called certified public accountants. So, you don't believe Master Li has to be audited by CPAs every once in a while?

FGP1/2: No.

TFP: Still I don't quite understand what exactly your group is. The western media stereotypically refer to the Falun Gong's activity as a "spiritual movement". Maybe you are comfortable with this label. But some say your faith is nothing but a salad made of Buddhism, Taoism, qigong, and many other elements even including Christianity. Do you agree to this statement?

FGP1: I am not sure, but Falun Gong is Falun Gong. You will know if you read ....

TFP: Now that the two of you have told me you are just practicing and missionizing the three fundamental virtues, which certainly make you believe Master Li has no political ambition, whatsoever, why do you think has Jiang Zemin started to bully you and Hu Jintao taken over the persecutive policy from his predecessor?

FGP1/2: The China's Communist Party doesn't like people who have different ideas.

TFP: Exactly how different are your ideas from the Communist Party's?

FGP2: I'm not sure. But we are practicing forbearance whereas communists are not.

TFP: This is my last question. What if one day Hu realizes his nation will be much better off, not only abroad but at home, if he stops bullying you harmless people? When Ms. Wang heckled him in Washington last month, I thought he couldn't afford any more sweat possibly caused by a similar attempt of harassment while the entire world is watching it on TV. I think it's fairly likely that in no time will he realize that it's the only way out of the endless humiliation to switch to an appeasement policy. Perhaps he will start his attempt to tame, or neutralize, Falun Gong before the Olympics.

FGP1: We are not that optimistic but if that happens, needless to say, we will be more than happy with the policy change.

TFP: Will the problem have all been solved then?

FGP2: Yes. All we are saying is, "Stop the persecution," - nothing more than that.

TFP: You won't care too much if the Chinese remain unentitled to choose their leaders by suffrage and hundreds of millions of them remain destitute in rural areas - is that it?

FGP1: Not really. That will still disturb our peace of mind. But we believe that over time the Chinese leaders will wake up to the truth that Master Li and Buddha have been preaching - Truthfulness, Benevolence and Forbearance.

TFP: That's about it, I guess. Thank you so much for educating me.

(Postscript by TFP)

Certainly the major drawback involved in the hastily arranged meeting was that I couldn't be sure if the arbitrarily picked interviewees represented the entire group. Also I was frustrated by their tendency to levitate to the height that I couldn't reach every time I came to the real point.

Most discouraging above all was the fact that if their statements were more or less representative of their Master's and colleagues' views, I had to conclude, albeit tentatively, that Falun Gong has no future vision which serves as an alternative set of values to the communist ideology. That should also mean I have to write off these people as a driving force for a democratic China. Worse, I got a hunch that Hu and other communist impostors will most probably withstand all anti-gegime movements in the foreseeable future. Needless to say, Taiwan and Tibet are a different story.

Even the "Destruction Artist", as I call Mikhail Gorbachev, had a clear-eyed vision for the future of the Soviet Union. Without it, he couldn't have destroyed the entire system which Ronald Reagan called an Evil Empire because it's none other than a new set of values that gives the people the real impetus to overturn the rotten regime. No matter how it looks otherwise on the surface, persecution and poverty cannot be the major driving force in the moment of truth. Show them money, these poverty-stricken people stop protesting instantly. Stop the persecution today, Master Li tells his ruminant students tomorrow to concentrate on their blind adherence to his religious salad.

Fortunately or unfortunately, though, I am under the impression that Falun Gong is not a monolith like China's hybrid system between communism and market economy, or Japan's 1955 regime. There looks to be a certain amount of diversity in the ways Li's disciples view the things. Even between my interviewees, I saw subtle differences of opinion. I hoped that someday better-educated and more perceptive practitioners might come forward before TFP to portray their group as something more than a huge aerobics class attended by superstitious and credulous students.

Until then all I can say is they really let me down by revealing Falun Gong is one of those cults which are spawned by the phobia-ridden leaders of a corrupt regime and that there's absolutely nothing for Hu Jintao to worry about in its phenomenal emergence as the champion of the next China revolution.

Immediately after the interview, I headed for a restaurant where I shared a marvelous French dinner with my friend accompanied by his live-in girlfriend who is a local journalist. Over the French cuisine I told her that I had had to interview the Falun Gong practitioners myself simply because we cannot expect the media to lift anytime soon their virtual blackout on the news about the "spiritual movement". I had suspected the Japanese media were holding back Falun Gong-related news from their readership in deference to a tacit pressure from the Chinese government. But she insisted that is not the case.

As the media people often do, she cited Article 20 of the Constitution which "guarantees freedom of religion to all" to justify the media's tendency not to touch on touchy issues. They did refrain from criticizing the Soka Gakkai's move as unconstitutional when the benign cult set up Komei-to, the current coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, as its political front. (Article 20 also stipulates that "no religious organization shall exercise any political authority"). But they do not always get around religious issues as was apparent when the government blacklisted Aum Supreme Truth as a malign group.

When cornered, the journalist resorted to yet another unconvincing story about "news value". She said: "Perhaps the time is not ripe yet. It doesn't seem to me our readers are particularly interested in knowing about Falun Gong. It's them that decide what news are report-worthy and what are not." I asked her: "How do you know your readers are not interested when they don't know what to learn from you in the first place? It's you that is held responsible to give truthful and relevant information to the readers."

Since this is a different topic than Falun Gong issues, I will perhaps cover it in separate posts. But one thing is for certain; with the media's news selection criteria established and applied so arbitrarily and opportunistically, and with their news gathering system solidly cartelized, the Japanese people have increasingly lagged behind the rest of the world and they are now helplessly out of touch with the real world. For one thing, the abduction issue must have unfolded quite differently if the media had reported 29 years ago the missing person by the name of Megumi Yokota was suspected to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents, braving all the taboo about the neighboring countries that had once fallen victim to the Japan's aggression. As TFP has always warned, the right timing is always now, and it will never come back to you once you missed it.

According to my own analysis, ignorance about Falun Gong as such doesn't really matter. But the obscurantist policy Japan's news organizations, including the "right-leaning" Sankei and Yomiuri, have applied to China is taking its toll on our nation in many ways. Actually they have already missed the right timing to tell their audience all the truth about Sino-Japanese relations. As a result Japan's overdependence on China, as well as China's dominance over our fate, now looks almost irreversible.

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