Ambassador defends crackdown

Denver Post, November 15, 1999
By Jeff Bradley

Nov. 15 - With a dozen members of the Falun Gong movement quietly protesting outside, the Chinese ambassador to the United States on Sunday called the movement "a malicious cult" that was organized like a mafia and had to be stopped. Defending Beijing's ban on the movement, Li Zhaoxing said in an interview: "In America, you don't like cults. You don't like anything like the Littleton Trenchcoat Mafia. Neither do the Chinese government and people. Falun Gong is nothing but an outrageous cult, a malicious cult." He accused the movement's founder, former grain clerk Li Hongzhi who now lives in New York, of changing his birthday so he could claim to be the reincarnation of the Buddha. And he disputed the movement's claim of 100 million members, saying the actual number is more like 2 million. Falun Gong, which roughly translated means "Cultivating the Law Wheel," is a self-cultivation system founded in 1992. Using five slow-motion exercises similar to traditional Chinese Taiji Quan and borrowing concepts from Buddhism and Taoism, members say they seek truth, compassion and forbearance.

The Chinese Communist government, fearful of the power of any mass movement, outlawed the "evil cult" on Oct. 30 and subsequently arrested 111 of its members when they gathered at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Li Zhaoxing explained the movement's appeal this way: "Maybe some people have become mercenary-minded and want to find something to support them spiritually, and maybe they're not too well-educated so they're easily deceived. It's like a mafia, a secret organization, but they use modern technology to make connections, including the Internet." He accused Li Hongzhi of "economic crimes," including tax evasion. "If he were in China now, he would be the richest person," Li said.

The ambassador also alleged that Li Hongzhi instructs his followers not to seek medical treatment. As a result, 1,400 seriously ill people have died and others have committed suicide or gone crazy. "If you follow him, you cannot take medicine. So some blind followers died because of refusing to go to the hospital to see a doctor," the envoy said.

Outside the Denver Performing Arts Complex, Falun Gong member Jian Tang, a software engineer from Highlands Ranch, denied Li's allegations. "It's absolutely not true," she said, adding that she would see a doctor if seriously ill. "But I don't need to, I'm in such good health."

Li and his wife Qin Xiaomei were at the performing arts complex to attend a "From China with Love" opera recital by four leading Chinese singers and young Opera Colorado artists.

Ambassador Li, making his fourth visit to Denver, felt so strongly about Falun Gong, he raised the subject himself at a cocktail reception with the Asian Chamber of Commerce in the Executive Tower Inn. Speaking of Li Hongzhi, he told the group: "This man is very deceptive and very good at cheating."

On this weekend's difficult Sino-U.S. negotiations in Beijing over Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization, Li suggested that Washington is pressing too hard on the opening of China's telecommunications and banking sectors. "China deserves to join, but China can only join as a developing country. The price should not be too high."

He dismissed rumors that Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji was in political trouble because of failed economic policies and had submitted his resignation. "That's absolutely mistaken, a fabrication." Li, who concludes his visit this morning by having brunch with 50 business executives, said: "China is still the most profitable place to invest in Asia" and will continue to open up to foreign companies.

The ambassador's visit was organized by Opera Colorado board member Dennis Law and co-hosted by the University of Denver's Center for China-United States Cooperation. On Sunday, Li symbolically painted the eyes on the lion before a colorful Lion Dance ceremony welcoming him to the Auditorium Theatre, athletically performed by a local Shaolin kung fu group. He then joined a nearly full house for the recital of operatic arias, ensembles and popular songs.

The young Chinese singers were tenor Duo Ji Ci Ren and soprano Zhang Lihui, who are already studying at the Opera Colorado Artist Center, and emerging Shanghai stars Liao Changyong, baritone, and Zhu Quiling, mezzo-soprano. It was Liao who drew the loudest "bravos!" with his virile yet lyrical voice. They were joined by four American singers, including warm-voiced soprano Lisa Walecki, baritone Douglas Jabara, bass-baritone Samuel Sommers and tenor Jason Baldwin, who performed a duet in Chinese with Zhang Lihui. Korean soprano Sang Yun Kwen also sang.

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