China cult promises healing, blasts "immorality"

Reuters/April 25, 1999
By Matt Pottinger

BEIJING - The mystic cult whose members staged Beijing's largest protest in a decade on Sunday promises to cure sickness and reverse a tide of evil sweeping mankind to the brink of catastrophe.

It is one of numerous cults and folk religions, which along with more traditional beliefs such as Christianity are filling a spiritual void in Chinese society as it abandons socialism.

"Your diseases will be eliminated directly by me," Li Hongzhi, 47, wrote in one of his five books, regarded by devotees as sacred texts.

Some followers believe the end of the world is near.

Li's Fa Lun Gong cult claims membership of more than 100 million and sees human corruption in everything from homosexuality to rock and roll and drug addiction.

His teachings hark back to ancient Chinese civilization before the advent of modern science, medicine and technology. He claims power of healing from the Chinese martial art form of "qigong" whose practitioners tap into an "inner energy."

The Fa Lun Gong -- or "Buddhist Law" cult -- is rooted in the notion of karma, which holds that people's good and bad deeds determine their fate in the next life.

Society is in such steep decline that humans are actually being reincarnated as demons, many disguised as monks, according to Li, who lives in Houston, Texas, devotees said.

"Especially in Taiwan, many famous monks or lay Buddhists are actually demons," he wrote.

Other qigong masters in China were "possessed with foxes or yellow weasels, and some with snakes."

Although the Fa Lun Gong is venomously anti-science, members use the Internet to propagate Li's teachings.

It appears to be tapping into deep public resentment, and fear of the unknown, as China undergoes wrenching social change and upheaval in its march to capitalism.

Hou Huilan, a 55-year-old factory worker at Sunday's demonstration, said Li's teachings had taught her lessons in family values and civic virtues.

"It's helped me to be a good wife and mother and citizen," she said.

"This is helping our families, our health and our society. It conforms with 'spiritual civilisation'," she said, referring to an official Communist slogan calling for a more moral and orderly society.

"Our health has been excellent. We've saved the country a fortune in medical costs," she said.

In particular, Li teaches that the morals of young people are being attacked by a consumer society.

"Death's head, the devil and even images of faeces are sold as toys," he wrote.

A researcher of cults at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said Fa Lun Gong had accumulated tens of millions of dollars by selling Li's books and his picture, meditation cushions and video cassettes of his preachings.

"They believe they become supermen after becoming disciples of Li Hongzhi," he said.

"Superman does not have to see the doctor. Only ordinary people need to go to see doctors," said the researcher, who asked not to be identified.

"The authorities are paying attention to Fa Lun Gong."

In January, President Jiang Zemin declared war on cults and called for stability in rural areas.


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