Chinese movement is quietly growing here

Chicago Sun-Times/May 3, 1999
By Ernest Tucker

When more than 10,000 people gathered quietly outside a Chinese government compound last month, attention focused on Li Hongzhi's Falun Gong, a movement with an estimated 100 million members worldwide--including scores in the Chicago area.

"There may be a couple of hundred here, but it's growing," said Andy Cook of Riverside.

Followers of Li went to Buckingham Fountain on Sunday to introduce themselves by showcasing their exercises, a mix of movement and meditation.

"It's easy to learn, and once you teach somebody, they're on the road," said Cook, 35, who has studied Li's teaching for three years.

Eight days ago, more than 10,000 adherents--some said to see through walls--lined up in Beijing, seeking freedom to practice their beliefs, which include concepts that can be confusing at times, even for devotees.

Despite the English translation of Falun Gong as "Buddha Law," the movement is not a strain of Buddhism. There may be some overlap, but experts link it more to ancient Chinese qigong tradition, in which physical and spiritual forces are intertwined.

"It's definitely not a religion," Cook said. "There's no formal structure. We do not pray to anybody. We do not gather in a church. No money is collected."

Mark Allee, professor of early modern Chinese history at Loyola University Chicago, said definitions vary.

"People want to pigeonhole [Buddha Law], but it may offer different benefits to different people who participate in it. For some, it may just be about health. For others, it could be spiritual," Allee said.

A Web site lists volunteers such as Cook in every state as well as worldwide and gives information about precepts taught since 1992 by Li, 47, a Chinese native reportedly living in New York. Li occasionally meets with followers but has not been seen publicly in Chicago.

Without great fanfare, his works have spread via the Internet, books and videos. Groups now meet regularly in Chinatown, Riverside, Downers Grove, Northbrook and Schaumburg, sometimes at businesses and sometimes in public buildings such as libraries.

Warren Tai, 52, a Chicago banker who took up the study several years ago, said he was attracted to the teaching "to be a good person. Right now, with all the violence, it appeals to people."

Side effects that some believe come as a result of training--the power to see through solid objects or to peer into the future--are not goals of the order, backers said.


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