China: Lost Souls Join Falun Gong

The Associated Press, November 4, 1999
By John Leicester

BEIJING (AP) - Acknowledging a spiritual vacuum amid China's stunning economic growth, the government's top religious official said Thursday that the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement attracted people lost in the unsettling changes.

While the government claims most people were drawn to Falun Gong's slow-motion meditation exercises as a way to keep fit, Ye Xiaowen said it also attracted people unable to cope with rapid social changes brought about by economic reforms.

"There are people who haven't adapted to this fast developing society, who feel unbalanced, spiritually empty," Ye told foreign and Chinese journalists. "So some cults like Falun Gong have emerged to attract them."

It was an unusual concession coming from a representative of the communist government. The Communist Party has long claimed to be building a spiritually inspired as well as materially prosperous China. But Ye's remarks underscored how rattled Chinese leaders have been by Falun Gong.

Despite the nearly 3 1/2-month ban, forced campaigns to get believers to recant and the arrest of dozens, if not hundreds, of principal members, Falun Gong followers have shown a resilience and a flair for secretive organization. Thousands have come to Beijing in recent weeks, staging quiet acts of civil disobedience almost daily for the past 11 days in Tiananmen Square.

Shortly after Ye's defense of the government crackdown to reporters inside the Great Hall of the People, police on the nearby square took away two women in their twenties who sat shoeless and cross-legged performing slow-motion Falun Gong meditation exercises, a witness said.

Two foreign women were yelled at, then put in a police car and driven away by officers after one of the women took a photo of the protesters being detained, the witness said.

Ye and a Cabinet spokesman refused to say how many Falun Gong members in Beijing for the protest campaign have been rounded up.

Falun Gong combines more traditional meditation exercises with Buddhism, Taoism and the often unorthodox ideas of its founder, ex-government clerk Li Hongzhi. Li, who now lives in New York, claims to have built a worldwide following of 100 million, most of them in China.

Using video clips of Li's teachings, Ye tried to prove the government's claim that he is a cult leader who tricked his believers, leading 1,400 of them to their deaths by advising them to eschew medicine.

"In China, I am the only person who is taking people to higher levels," Li said in one clip. In another, he said he had been reincarnated countless times. "I am the oldest in the universe. I produced my own parents," he said, according to the subtitled footage.

Ye indicated that the government acted too slowly against what he called "a cult organization that has seriously endangered society."

"If there are any lessons to learn on the part of the government, we should have outlawed it earlier," he said. He expressed confidence that the eradication campaign will crush the group.

While repeating government claims that most Falun Gong practitioners have recanted, he vowed that those who continue to resist will be punished.

"A few people are still trying to safeguard the Falun Gong and are willing to sacrifice for the founder," Ye said. "It shows how heretical Falun Gong is and it also shows Falun Gong is at its final stage, and the next step will be its disappearance.

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