China Warns Exercise Group

The Associated Press/June 14, 1999
By John Liecester

BEIJING (AP) - China's government has stepped up pressure on a popular exercise and meditation group, warning members that they are banned from holding large gatherings that could upset social stability.

The warning demonstrated the suspicion with which Communist Party leaders have viewed the Falun Gong group since thousands of its members surrounded the leadership's compound in Beijing in a silent protest April 25.

In the government's eyes, the protest - the largest in Beijing in a decade - transformed the obscure school of yoga-like exercises into a potential threat to communist rule.

After the protest, President Jiang Zemin formed a high-level task force to monitor the group, and government operatives started taking names and infiltrating its operations.

The government delivered its warning to Falun Gong representatives at a recent meeting, according to an account released Monday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

A government spokesman criticized Falun Gong for spreading rumors that those who belonged to both Falun Gong and the Communist Party could be expelled from the ruling party, Xinhua said.

Although ``healthy exercise and fitness activities'' have never been banned by the government, ``no type of exercise should obstruct public order,'' Xinhua quoted the spokesman as saying. Xinhua did not identify the spokesman by name.

The Falun Gong, or Wheel of Law, blends slow-motion martial arts exercises with ideas borrowed from Buddhism and Taoism. It has gained popularity in the seven years since it was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, an ex-soldier who has since left China for the United States. The Chinese government estimates its devotees at 10 million to 70 million.

After a state-run magazine published an article warning Chinese youths to avoid Falun Gong, followers thought their practice was under threat. They converged on Beijing in April to demand legal protection.

Since the demonstration, some devotees have been ordered to write self-criticisms and study Communist Party-approved ideological materials, according to Falun Gong's Internet site. Practitioners in the military have been threatened with dismissal, the sect said.


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