China Says Falun Gong Aims To Replace Government

Reuters, July 28, 1999

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Communist Party heaped scorn on the leader of the banned Falun Gong sect Wednesday, accusing him of attempting to replace the government by portraying himself to the masses as a god.

Sect leader "Li Hongzhi deceives the people to deify himself and he deifies himself in a scheme to take the place of the government and rule the world,'' the official People's Daily newspaper said. "His motives are crystal clear,'' it said.

Analysts saw the language as another sign of stiff prison sentences to come for leaders of the group. Tuesday, the Communist Party accused Falun Gong of engaging in ''anti-government'' activities. China banned Falun Gong last week after thousands of sect members surrounded government offices in 30 Chinese cities in the wake of a crackdown on sect leaders.

The group first rang alarm bells with China's rulers when it surrounded Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound on April 25 in a bold protest against perceived persecution by official media.

Police have rounded up thousands of Falun Gong members -- mostly middle-aged women and laid-off workers -- a move that drew accusations of violations against freedom of assembly and religion from Western human rights activists.

U.S.-based Li, who preaches a form of meditation blended with Buddhism and Chinese mysticism, says Falun Gong is apolitical and poses no threat to China.

The People's Daily said the April demonstration in Beijing showed he had darker motives than merely leading a spiritual movement.

"Through this incident we can see very clearly that Li Hongzhi's real motives are to develop the 'Falun Gong' organization into a political power to contend with the government,'' it said.

While official estimates put Falun Gong membership at two million people domestically, the sect says it has 100 million members. The ruling Chinese Communist Party has 60 million members.

China has destroyed hundreds of thousands of books about Falun Gong in an intensive crackdown on the sect's publications, cassette tapes and video tapes, the official Xinhua news agency said in an article carried widely in domestic newspapers Wednesday.

In the industrial city of Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, public security forces confiscated and destroyed 130,000 books and 27,000 audio and video tapes on Falun Gong, Xinhua said without giving further details.

State media have brimmed for days with documentaries and commentaries discrediting the group and portraying Li as a charlatan fleecing his followers.

Government officials turned up dozens of invoices for medicine and hospital visits by the Chinese-born Li between 1982 and 1992 when he lived in the northeastern province of Jilin as part of efforts to discredit him, Xinhua said.

Li has said that medicine has little or no effect in curing diseases, and that only by practicing Falun Gong can people rid themselves of the spiritual decay at the root of all illnesses.

He preaches that science has created an immoral world on the brink of disaster and says adherents can acquire supernatural powers. Practitioners say Falun Gong's doctrine of "truth, benevolence and forbearance'' has brought order to their lives and helped them feel healthy.

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