China's Press Says Rally by Sect Was "Completely Wrong"

New York Times/April 29, 1999
By Seth Faison

SHANGHAI -- The official Chinese press broke its silence Wednesday on the recent demonstration in Beijing by more than 10,000 followers of a spiritual movement, calling the gathering "completely wrong."

A report by the New China News Agency, carried in several newspapers and broadcast on state television and radio, acknowledged that the protest by members of the Buddhist Law group had occurred and seemed to warn other potential protesters not to try anything.

"This kind of gathering affected the Communist Party's Central Committee and State Council as well as the life of the masses, and was completely wrong," the report said. "Actions endangering social stability under the pretext of practicing qigong must be punished according to law."

Qigong is a broad category of traditional Chinese teaching that says that human energy can be channeled to improve physical and mental health, to heal illness and, when mastered, to achieve supernatural powers. Buddhist Law is a particular school of qigong, led by Li Hongzhi, a qigong master whose following became so large that he left China two years ago under pressure from the authorities and now lives in New York.

Wednesday's relatively mild statement reflected the ambiguous and wary position of China's government toward qigong followers, who represent a potential, though amorphous, threat to Communist Party control, and who are generally peaceful and orderly except when suppressed.

"Government officials have never banned people from practicing in various kinds of qigong," the report said. "People are allowed to voice different voices and opinions, but they should express their views and opinions through normal channels rather than gathering around Zhongnanhai."

Zhongnanhai is a compound in central Beijing where China's leaders live and work. Followers of Buddhist Law surprised the authorities by surrounding the compound on Sunday.

Wednesday's report said that the gathering had been prompted by "rumors," without specifying what they were.

It also said that government officials, on orders from senior leaders, "listened earnestly" to complaints by the demonstrators. The report did not confirm or deny that Prime Minster Zhu Rongji had personally met with representatives of the group, as many followers had claimed.

Above all, the report's intent appeared to be to urge calm and deter future protests.

"Maintaining social stability and unity conforms with the fundamental interests of broad masses of people," the report concluded. "People should treasure the positive situation and conscientiously safeguard social stability."


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