The Guardian August 25, 1999


FALUN GONG, CULTS, AND THE SWASTIKA

None of the major news reports on the Chinese Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) 
cult mention the swastika on the cult's home web page 
(http://www.falundafa.com/). This omission is all the more curious since 
the group has had no lack of press coverage since the Chinese Government 
cracked down on the cult on July 22 and offered a $10,000 reward for the 
arrest of its New York-based leader.

China's Napoleonic/Continental legal code gives authorities wide discretion 
for investigative detention. But nobody charges that Falun Gong members 
have been raped or murdered, nor have their businesses been destroyed; such 
crimes are reserved for the Roma and other minority victims of the KLA in 
"Albanian Kosovo".

But when the Western press virtually ignores the Roma, we are justified in 
concluding that Falun Gong made the news not so much because of any 
injustice waged against them but more out of a desire to attack the Chinese 
Government.

Just what is Falun Gong?

It has been portrayed as a religion whose rights were violated, even as a 
traditional Chinese physical exercise, and a philosophy. It claims one 
hundred million members.

"There is no political agenda", the group wrote in a press release. "Falun 
Dafa is not a `cult' or a `religious sect' as the Chinese authorities 
claim. There is no formal structure or organisation."

This statement is highly problematic, for if there is no formal structure 
or organisation, who put out the group's press release?

The statement also seems to contradict the status of prime-leader Li 
Hongzhi.

Li has predicted that the world will explode unless he is recognised as the 
saviour of the planet and forbids his followers to believe in other 
theories. His claim to almost deified authority is worth quoting at length:

"You must not preach the Law in the form of large-scale lectures as I have 
adopted. You are unable to preach the Law.

"What I speak about is of a very profound significance, because there are 
things belonging to the high dimensions in my lectures. Now you cultivate 
at different levels of attainment.

"When you have improved yourselves in the future, and you go back and 
listen to the recording of my lectures, you will improve yourselves 
continuously. If you listen to them constantly, you will always have a new 
understanding and gain.

"You can achieve a much better result by reading this book. I am giving 
lectures which contain things very high and profound. So you are unable to 
preach the Law.

"You are not allowed to take my original words as your own. If you do, you 
are a Law robber.

"You can only say my original words and tell the listener that they are 
said by the teacher or are written in the book. You can only talk this way. 
Why? Because such talking will carry the power of the Great Law.

"You must not spread what you know as Falun Dafa. Otherwise, what you 
spread is not Falun Dafa. You are equally disrupting our Falun Dafa.

"If you talk according to your ideas or your thoughts, what you say is not 
the Law. It is unable to save or have any effect on others. Therefore, 
nobody else is able to preach this Law.

"To spread the cultivation system, you can play the recording or play the 
video tapes in the place of practising the Gong or in the place of teaching 
the Gong. Then let the instructor teach them how to practise the exercise.

"You can adopt the form of a forum where you can learn from each other 
through discussions and interpretations and by exchanging experiences and 
views. You are required to spread Falun Dafa in this way.

"Besides, you must not address the student (disciple) who spreads Falun 
Dafa as teacher or master. There is only one master of the Great Law" (Li 
Hongzhi, Zhuan Falun: On Buddha Law Lecture 3).

The Far Eastern Economic Review (August 5,1999) reports coverage on 
China's television of practitioners who died because they refused 
medication or went on murder sprees or committed suicide to reach nirvana.

"Viewers have seen graphic pictures of one practitioner, retiree Ma 
Jianmin, who died after cutting open his abdomen with a pair of scissors to 
look for a `wheel of law'  an orb of energy that followers believe Li 
implants in them."

The group came under attack when it mobilised some 10,000 supporters 
outside the homes of the Chinese leadership. Recently, however, cult-leader 
Li has distanced himself from this action.

The cult's press spokesman Erping Zhang also maintained that "There is no 
chain of command with Mr Li at the top".

Claims do not stand up

This is the type of cynicism about the truth that often marks cults. The 
group can tell the press that Li plays no such role, ignoring the fact that 
we can read Li's claims to the contrary on the group's web page.

It mobilises 10,000 people for protests yet denies it is political and 
claims to have no structure.

Its claim to represent "traditional values" is not one likely to be 
accepted as apolitical, especially from those familiar with the ultra-
politicised Christian Fundamentalists in the US who espouse a similar 
traditionalism.

Chinese news reports say that the group has "39 provincial-level `general 
guidance stations' and 1,900 lower-level `guidance stations' spread all 
over China".

This then returns us to the issue of the swastika and the claims that the 
group is not political.

Some sympathisers of politicised Asian-based religions maintain that the 
swastika "is just an Indian good luck symbol".

But the leader of Falun Gong resides in the United States. The cult has a 
widely-diffused presence on US college campuses, as documented by the links 
on its web page.

No; Falun Gong knows full well about Hitler and the crimes against humanity 
committed under the sign of the swastika.

Knowing this, they made a decision to put it on their home page. Such was 
their right; just as it is the right of others to judge them for it.

The cult claims to reflect the "will of the people", perhaps the ultimate 
political statement and one consistent with a group competing for state 
power for itself.

Members of the dissident China Democracy Party like Xie Wanjun think the 
group is political enough to try to form a "pro-democracy" alliance with 
it.

Religion-As-Politics; Politics-As-Religion

Asia has a tradition of the politicised-religion or of political groups 
presenting their organising in the guise of religion.

Certain Western-oriented Hindu groups counselled people to both "avoid 
politics" and "attack Communism", arguing that the latter action was not 
political but a defence of religious rights.

When religious leaders bid for state power, terms like "Communism" become 
exceedingly flexible, bordering on the McCarthyite slanders of years past.

We remember the end of the New Left in the US as newly invented Hindus and 
Buddhists attacked civil rights and anti-war activists for being political 
instead of spiritual; the spirituality consisted of little more than 
attacking those seeking a better society. 

Opposition to their frequent disruptions of meetings became, in their 
rhetoric, an attack on their religious freedoms and, in turn, served to 
justify their disruptions against anti-religious "communists".

More recently, we saw the avowedly-apolitical Aum cult in Japan develop 
anti-Semitic theories in a land effectively without Jews while attacking 
thousands of Tokyo subway riders with poison gas.

Nor must we forget the otherwise "apolitical" clerical fascism rooted in 
certain Roman Catholic traditions that would place the Church as an 
ostensibly neutral spiritual body standing above the temporal state and 
mediating its disputes.

A religion that engages in political struggles abandons any special claim 
it has to religious freedom.

But of course the ultimate refutation of claims that Falun Gong's religious 
freedom was violated comes from the cult itself: it denies it is a 
religion.

Apolitical Cults?

We need to take an exceedingly critical attitude towards any cult that 
claims to be apolitical. For frequently such claims are made with "private 
dictionaries" where the words used may be the same ones you and I use, but 
with a special definition by the cult.

Thus one cult may stress that it is apolitical, attacking "politics" as an 
attempt to dominate society with "materialist values" while openly 
admitting it wishes to control the same society with its "spirituality".

Nor must we automatically accept a religion's claim of discrimination when 
prosecuted by state power.

We recall such claims made by the Church of Scientology, the Unification 
Church, and the Church of God when the groups were targeted for very non-
religious criminal activity.

Today's World Church of the Creator in the US claims its religious freedom 
is violated by the investigation following church-member Benjamin Smith's 
killings.

Elsewhere, religious organisers today demand prosecution of Americans 
United For the Separation of Church and State for violating their religious 
"right" to link pulpit with ballot box.

Other Christian fundamentalist sects defend their ostensible freedom to 
avoid the laws of civil society. They claim to answer to the highest law  
of God  formed in some arcane legislative assembly that only they know.

For these fundamentalists the political demand to return to "traditional 
values" forms both the core of their politic and the basis for them to 
declare themselves "apolitical".

How apolitical is Falun Gong's declaration, made on CNN, that the Chinese 
have been "brainwashed" while their cult seeks to return China to 
"traditional Chinese values"?

The image of the cult becomes more and more that of the traditional Asian-
based politicised-religion, conducting its political organising behind the 
mask of apolitical religious activity.

Others, seeing Falun Gong's decision to use the swastika as a symbol, 
maintain nothing more is needed to prove the far right-wing political 
nature of the group.

* * *
The Internet Anti-Fascist, (#312), USA

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