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In the years prior to the ban, Falun Gong’s main critics came from the Chinese religious community and academics whose concerns about the possible harmful effects of Falun Gong teachings were reported in the media. As early as 1995, Li’s teachings “began to come under criticism for being superstition” [1] and by 1996 the Buddhist Association and Buddhist journals were issuing in-depth critiques of Falun Gong. [2]

In order to understand this early criticism, commentators suggest we need to apply a cultural understanding of China’s history.[1] As context for stories about the Falun Gong ban, Western media have often reported China’s history of quasi-religious movements which turned into violent insurrections. [3],[4] Two often-cited examples are the bloody Taiping rebellion of 1845-1864—led by a person claiming to be the “Son of God”-- and the failed Boxer rebellion led by a secret society which announced in 1899 that “ten calamities” would soon occur, followed by salvation. [5]

Patsy Rahn (2002) describes a paradigm of conflict between Chinese sectarian groups and the rulers they often challenge. According to Rahn, the history of this paradigm goes back to the collapse of the Han dynasty: "The pattern of ruling power keeping a watchful eye on sectarian groups, at times threatened by them, at times raising campaigns against them, began as early as the second century and continued throughout the dynastic period, through the Mao era and into the present.”[1] Although Rahn does not ask us to accept non-critically the strategic choices made by the Chinese government, she does state that within this historical paradigm, the “ruthless and radical responses” made by the Chinese Communist Party against the perceived threat of the Falun Gong can be seen “as appropriate, necessary and acceptable.” According to Rahn, the CCP views the conflict with the Falun Gong as one between “the people and their enemies” for several reasons:

  • 1) the government believes Li’s teachings endanger people, mainly due to the teachings regarding medicine;
  • 2) the government believes Li’s teachings were gaining enough adherents across China and specifically within the CCP to be a potential rival ideologically;
  • 3) because Li moved to the US and has, according to the government’s view, linked up with those in the west who wish to see the fall of the CCP.[1]

In the years since the ban, Falun Gong has gotten increased critical attention from cult experts and some academics, while also garnering support from the mainstream media and civil rights groups because of it’s allegations of persecution by the Chinese Communist Party.

Differences between Falun Gong, Buddhism, Qigong and other beliefsEdit

Whether Falun Gong cultivation practice derives legitimacy from the ancient teachings of Buddhism is a matter of some controversy. Supporters say that traditional Chinese teachings called the Fa (Dharma) or “Dharma and principles” form the foundation for their Falun Dafa. In Zhuan Falun, Li states “the Falun Dafa is one of 84,000 cultivation ways in the Buddha’s School, which has never been made public during the historical period of this human civilization.” However, as reported by Benjamin Penny [6], Falun Gong’s earliest critics stated that by dramatically changing the meanings of traditional Buddhist terms, Li misrepresents the basic tenets of Buddhism and should not claim to be part of that tradition.

The teachings of Falun Dafa point out, in several places, that the terms used in the teachings don’t always carry the same meaning as the traditional ones. A lecture dated Dec 21, 1995 says

"Some students were once lay Buddhists and have a very deep impression of the terms in Buddhist scriptures. When they find that I use words identical to those in Buddhism, they think that their meanings are the same as in Buddhism. In fact, they do not denote exactly the same meanings. Some terms in the Buddhism of the Han region are Chinese vocabulary, and they are not exclusively terms from Buddhism."[7]

And a lecture on July 26, 1998 says
"Why can’t we follow the conventions of ordinary human language when we teach the Fa? As you know, the meaning of a standardized term has been predefined: “This word means precisely XYZ.” Moreover, standardized language is limited and unable to describe the immense Fa. In this enormous cosmos, humankind’s Earth isn’t even a speck of dust in a speck of dust inside yet another speck of dust. That’s how puny it is. How could it possibly hold such an immense Fa? How could the Fa of the cosmos possibly be confined by the conventions of human languages? How could It conform to the conventions of human languages? There’s absolutely no way. Our Fa merely employs human language. As to how this language is used to teach Dafa, it’s good enough as long as it allows you to understand—that’s the purpose. That’s why the language we use doesn’t conform to conventions of grammar." [8]
In an Asian Studies Review article entitled “The Falun Gong, Buddhism and ‘Buddhist qigong’”, Chinese scholar Dr. Benjamin Penny evaluates the relationship between these practices in an historical and critical context. [9] Penny reports that some of Falun Gong’s earliest criticism came from religious leaders who objected to Li’s misuse of Buddhist terms and “his misrepresentations of the basic tenets of Buddhism.”

As early as 1996, the Chinese Buddhist Association and Buddhist journals were issuing in-depth critiques of the Falun Gong. While acknowledging that the leadership of the Buddhist Association found itself in a delicate position after the ban of the 1999 ban, Penny suggests that their early criticism of the Falun Gong bears an importance that goes beyond any political considerations. Of particular significance were the writings of Chen Xingqiao—a deputy secretary of the Buddhist Association in Harbin. Having first attended one of Li’s lectures in 1994, Chen wrote an essay in 1996 which was meant to expose what he considered to be Li’s misunderstanding of Buddhist doctrine and terminology. As reported by Penny, the Buddhist Association held a seminar in January 1998 “to discuss the problem of the Falun Gong” and later in the year published in the journal Fayin a long essay of Chen’s criticizing Li Hongzhi’s “Rolling Dharmma Wheel and his Gongfu.” In the article, Chen reaches the conclusion that Falun Gong cannot be considered a form of Qigong. As summarized by Penny, Chen argues that the Qigong “has to do with the manipulation of qi with the goals of ‘calming the spirit and the heart, curing diseases and strengthening the body,” but when these activities cross over into the acquisition of higher powers, seeking enlightenment, long life, immortality or Buddhahood, they belong to religion.” [10]

Although Falun Gong is part of the Buddha School, Li states in Zhuan Falun that “it has nothing to do with the original Buddhism or Buddhism in the Dharma-ending period.” [11] Here Penny points out that Li “is drawing a distinction between fojia and fojiao—that is, between, literally, a school of the Buddha (whatever that might mean) and a religion or teaching of the Buddha.” But in Zhuan Falun Li also states that “The Dharma that Sakyamuni professed two thousand years ago was only for everyday people at a very low level; it was taught to those who had just evolved from a primitive society and still possessed very simple minds.” Thus traditional Buddhism is considered inferior to the Dafa. Li goes on to state: “Even monks in temples cannot save themselves in the Dharma-ending period, let alone offer salvation to others.” To be noted that this belief is consistent with the Buddhist concept of Dharme-ending period which according to the teachings of Buddhism is this period of time.[4]

In Falun Gong, many traditional Buddhist terms have been given new meanings. Benjamin Perry (2005) cites a few examples. (The phrases in quotes are Perry’s interpretations of their meanings.)

  • The Buddhist term falun or dharmacakra “refers to the Buddhist truth itself, set in motion…with the first lecture the Buddha gave after his enlightenment.” In Falun Gong it is a physical object, a “law wheel,” which Li implants in the abdomen of his disciples.
  • The Buddhist term fashen or dharmakaya literally means “the body of Buddhist doctrine, the real nature of Buddha.” In Falun Gong fashen are Li’s “eyes and ears, protecting practitioners from evil influences, warning them if they are deviating from the proper path.”
  • The Chinese term gong, among its other uses, “is the standard term...for the Buddhist idea of merit.” In Falun Gong, cultivators are said to develop De (virtue) through their own efforts, but need the intervention of the master in order to evolve the De into gong (cultivation energy.)
  • The Buddhist term karma or yeli means actions or deeds. In Falun Gong, karma “is an uquivocally bad thing. There is no ‘good karma’ and karma is understood to be acquired through the performance of bad actions.”

As with the terms falun and fashen, both karma and de are materialized in Falun Gong. Karma is said to be “a black substance” and de is “a white substance.”

As reported by Penny, Chen concludes that Falun Gong is neither Qigong nor Buddhism, but rather has the characteristics of a popular religion (minjian zongjiao.) But he uses a different Chinese term...waido, meaning “heresy” in this context...to describe Falun Gong in the title of the article. In the introduction to Chen’s article, the editors of Fayin describe Falun Gong as one of China’s “popular superstitions” [minjian mixin], being part of a long tradition of culturally absorbing traditions dating back to the Qin and Han periods. Penny concludes: “Although, in my analysis, Falun Gong cannot usefully be seen as a Buddhist heresy, it is my contention that in the crowded qigong world of the early 1990s it was strategically important for Falun Gong to emphasise and exploit its Buddhist affiliations for positioning in the gigong marketplace.”

Some critical Commentators in the west say that Falun Gong makes use of concepts from many different religious traditions, including Christianity [12]; [13]; some say it also "reflects elements of popular Chinese culture, such as an interest in UFOs and aliens." [13] In Falun Gong: The End of Days, Maria Chang states:

More than being a religion, an examination of Falun Gong’s beliefs and practices, as revealed in Li’s writings and lectures, indicates that it bears striking similarities to such historical Chinese sectarian religious societies as the White Lotus and the Eight Trigrams. Although Li disavows a belief in the main deity of those two societies—the Unbegotten Eternal Mother (Wusheng laomu)—his ideas are similar to theirs in the eclectic blending of Buddhism, Daosim, classical folk religion, and magic. To this amalgam are added some modern touches: just as the ideology of the Taiping rebels was modernized by a banal Christianity, the beliefs of Falun Gong are given a contemporary veneer via references to science and UFOs.[14]

Craig Smith wrote in the New York Times:

  • Mr. Li differentiated himself from other qigong masters by wrapping his regimen in a cosmology that promises salvation through the refinement of one's character until the body literally evolves into another form of matter. At that point, the saved person is capable of flying to paradise, which may exist out in the cosmos, or in another dimension.[15]

Li as a savior or supernatural entityEdit

Although practitioners claim that Falun Gong is merely a “cultivation practice,” some commentators point to Li’s divine status as proof that Falun Gong can rightly be considered a religion. (Chang, 2004).

Chang opines: “If Li Hongzhi’s disciples can become gods by engaging in falun gong, it stands to reason that the founder of this cultivation practice must himself be a deity.” Included in the idea of Li’s supernatural status is his claim of having numerous Fashen (spiritual Law bodies) which protect his practitioners from harm. These Law bodies “exercise great supernatural power." They surround practitioners at all times and know everything that is on their minds. Li Hongzhi states in the Zhuan Falun  : "If you truly follow the righteous way in cultivation practice, nobody will dare to do something to you at will. Besides, you have the protection of my fashen, and you will not be in any danger." [16]


According to Chang, the existence of Li’s law bodies combined with his claim to be without karma amount to an admission of his divine nature: “Li also maintained that human beings do not have law bodies and that only he – as well as buddhas, daos and gods – have law bodies. Falun Gong practitioners must wait until they have completed their cultivation, and attained buddhahood, to have such bodies.”

Fa-rectification: Li’s version of the apocalypse?Edit

Whether Li’s teaching that his Dafa (great law) is judging all sentient beings amounts to an apocalyptic prediction is a matter of some debate. Practitioners strongly reject the apocalyptic label, while commentators generally come to an opposite conclusion. Maria Chang writes:

Just as human civilizations had been destroyed in the past because of immorality, like the followers of the White Lotus and the Eight Trigrams in Chinese history, Li is convinced that the moral decadence of our times is leading to another apocalypse. His writings and speeches are replete with references to the “Dharma-ending period” of “the apocalypse,” the “Great Havoc,” and the “end times” (mojie)….With the end days approaching, Li has set about disseminating Falun Dafa so as “to provide salvation to mankind….in this final period of the Last Havoc.” [17]
In Li Hongzhi's earlier teachings the focus was on an individual practitioner reaching consummation (enlightenment). But more recently, Li has emphasized the role practitioners must play in saving sentient beings while his Dafa judges all mankind. In “Further Comments on Superstitions,” Li Hongzhi warned about the consequences of wrong thinking during this judgment process:
Mankind! Awaken! The vows of Gods in history are being fulfilled. The Dafa is judging all beings. What path a person takes in life is his own choosing. One thought a person has might determine his future. [18]
Underlying this prediction is the teaching that the entire cosmos is undergoing a process called “Fa-rectification” – a kind of renewal of the cosmos into the most original, purest state of being. "The purpose of my doing this is Fa-rectification. All of the cosmos’ beings have strayed from the Fa, so they have to be rectified with Fa", stated Li in Switzerland (1998). This process is said to affect all sentient beings (as well as matter) in the universe: they are being repositioned according to their moral goodness or xinxing. Those who have taken the side of the Chinese Communist Party in persecuting the Buddha Law are said to perish by the natural force of this process "when the Fa rectifies the human world", meaning, when this process breaks through from the microcosm, while all others will be provided benevolent resolutions.

In 2001 Li Hongzhi made clear that this Fa-rectification would target people based on their moral qualities:

Moreover, when an Enlightened Being descends to the world, it is usually at a time when people’s morals are declining day by day, when people’s sins and karma are enormous, or when people’s morality is degenerate. Once the saved ones have attained the Fa and left, the dregs of humanity and the degenerate world that are left behind will be weeded out. [19]
There is controversy over what Li means by the "dregs of humanity and the degenerate world". But it is clear that Li demands that his followers work to save ordinary people as a condition for their own salvation at this time:
If you only care about your own salvation, will that do? How could that be called being a “Dafa disciple”? What is a “Fa-Rectification Period Dafa disciple”? Have you validated the Fa?....Why are Dafa disciples clarifying the truth and saving beings? Because that is Dafa disciples’s duty. That is the kind of being that I, Li Hongzhi, want, and a Dafa disciple is that kind of cultivator.” [20]
In Li’s earlier teachings, it was clear that the “dregs of humanity and the degenerate world” who would be eliminated by a cataclysmic event included homosexuals and others who “have done many bad things.” Speaking in San Francisco in 1997, Li explained that humankind has been wiped out many times from catastrophes when "morality was extremely degenerate." He went on to attribute the disappearance of ancient Greek culture to homosexuality and other behavior he considers degenerate. [21] In other lectures, Li seems to suggest that the “dregs of humanity and the degenerate world” can still be saved, as long as they do not interfere with the Fa-rectification process:
In the Fa-rectification, Master is actually saving all beings, not just the good ones; evil ones are of course included as well. I have often said that during the Fa-rectification I don't hold the past faults of any sentient being against him, and that I look only at a sentient being's attitude toward Dafa during the Fa-rectification. In other words, no matter which beings they are or how huge the mistakes and sins they committed in history, as long as they do not play a negative role with regard to the Fa-rectification, I can give them benevolent solutions and eliminate their sins and karma.
In 2003, Li spoke about the SARS epidemic as “the first round of cleansing,” and predicted that his Fa-rectification would eventually “target the whole world”:
You must have seen the epidemic that’s come along in China now, right? Hasn’t a huge epidemic arrived? To put it in human terms, it’s Heaven punishing people. What it’s targeting, we Dafa disciples know full well: it’s targeting those who don’t deserve to be saved, who are impossible to save while Dafa disciples clarify the truth, and who aren’t useful to the evil rotten spirits. This is the first round of cleansing. Heaven is punishing the evil, yet China is still lying to cover up the number of deaths, and I’ll tell you, it’s huge, and it hasn’t peaked yet. People find it scary, but in fact, the truly horrible thing hasn’t begun yet. This isn’t the real, big cleansing when the Fa starts to rectify the human world. It’ll be even more horrifying when that big cleansing arrives, and it’ll target the entire world. When the vicious people go crazy they don’t fear anything, but, when the calamity really descends on them they’ll be stunned. Wait and see, this is going to be an eventful year. A lot is going to happen. [22]

Allegations of exclusivity and intolerance in Falun Gong ethicsEdit

Critics of Falun Gong say that Li’s system of morality can be considered problematic due to what they regard as a severely negative view of "ordinary people"; his intolerance of critics; his teachings on race and his claimed exclusivity. (Rahn, 2000[23]; Singer,2003[24]; Adams, Adams & Galati, 2000 [25])

In discussing principles of moral conduct, Li often criticizes the state of modern society’s supposed moral degeneration. He states in Zhuan Falun that “The universe’s nature, to be True, Good, and Endure, isn’t something ordinary people can sense, and that’s because ordinary people are all on this one level’s plane. When you go beyond the level of ordinary people then you can experience this nature.”

Critics who find problems in Falun Gong’s system of ethics point to what they see as Li’s “negation of ordinary people” and a strong “us-versus-them” ethos in the teachings. According to Rahn (2000), “Li says all non-practitioners are ‘ordinary people’. These ordinary people are degenerate, likely to be bad, likely to disturb you and likely to contaminate you.” In Zhuan Falun, Li clearly distinguishes between the ethical capacity of ordinary people and practitioners:

As a practitioner you cannot act according to the ordinary people’s standards. It is not all right if you do something because an ordinary person says it is right to do so. What an ordinary person says is good may not be necessarily be good. What an ordinary person says is bad may also not be necessarily bad. [26]

In Cults in Our Midst: the Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, psychologist Margaret Singer (2003) refers to the boundaries that cults typically create to confine their followers, stating “they tend to view the outside world with increasing hostility and distrust.” Later in the book Singer writes: “Li promises that his disciples will also achieve a state of grace, but he has contempt and indifference for the ‘ordinary’ person, saying ‘no matter how he does damage to his body, we do not care.’” [24] Li points out in Zhuan Falun why he "doesn't care" about 'ordinary people':

Because you want to practice cultivation, we can open for you the most convenient door, and these things can therefore be done for you. Yet they are only done for true practitioners. Of course, some people do not want to practice cultivation and to this moment do not understand it. Accordingly, we cannot take care of them, either. We only take care of true practitioners.[27]

Patsy Rahn (2000) states that Falun Gong’s strong us-versus-them division creates a potential problem because it can isolate “practitioners from family and friends as well as non-practitioners in general. It can also help create a feedback loop system where practitioners only relate to other practitioners, thereby mutually reinforcing belief in the teachings, identification with the group, and eradication of any conflicting or alternative views.”[23]

However, there is no evidence that this behavior is common amongst Falun Gong practitioners. Moreover, Li emphasizes in his lectures the importance of maintaining normal relationships in society. In Zhuan Falun Li states:

The majority of people in our school will practice cultivation in ordinary human society, so you should not distance yourself from ordinary human society and you must practice cultivation with a clear mind. The relationships among one another should remain normal. [28]

Li’s teachings on the importance of racial purity have provoked considerable controversy. Critics opine that Li is intolerant of racial differences, and he teaches that mixed race people are "incomplete", even apparently invoking unsourced "modern science" to bolster his pronouncements. In one of his lectures, Li states that the mixing of races is a chaotic phenomenon that has manifest only in the “Dharma Ending Period” and that different races bear the image of the gods that created them; that each race of people on earth have their own cosmic paradises but people of mixed race lose this connection. In 1996, he said that “Mixed races have lost their roots, as if nobody in the paradise will take care of them. They belong to nowhere, and no places would accept them.” [29] In 1997 Li Hongzhi further explained, "People of the yellow race have people of the yellow race up there, and people of the white race have people of the white race up there. He’s lost this thread.” [21]

Speaking in Sydney in 1996 [30], Li Hongzhi said:

If you are an interracial child, it is, of course, neither your fault nor your parents' fault. Anyway, it is just such a chaotic situation brought about by mankind, in which such a phenomenon has appeared. The yellow people, the white people, and the black people have the corresponding races in heaven. Then, if one is not from his race or does not belong to his people, he will not take care of him….. All interracial children were born in the Dharma-ending period. People are not to be blamed for it, because everyone is drifting in the tide, and nobody knows the truth. This is the way they have come through. If you want to practice cultivation, I can help. As for which paradise you will go to, we will need to look at your situation. I will assimilate more of whichever portion that is better preserved. Anyway, you should concentrate on your cultivation and should not concern yourself with these things.

and

The issue of the interracial children I have just mentioned has told mankind a heavenly secret, but it is not that we would do anything. I said that I have done something even greater in the sense that I can also save a person of mixed blood, but I can only save him in this period of time. Though oriental people and Westerners all live on earth, man does not know that there is something separating the East and the West. It is well known that oriental people believe in the so-called "nine". They like the sound of it, which implies everlasting. "Eight" is pronounced as "fa", implying making a fortune. These kinds of things can indeed have a little bit of effect in the East, such as geomantic omen telling or landscape analysis, etc. But when applied in the West, they appear to be ineffective and do not work. They do not work with the white people. Then again, the so-called astrology or some phenomena believed by the white people do not work with the oriental people either. Some people think that they work. That is because you think they work. In fact, they don’t. Why is it then? It is because the white people's biosphere has its special physical matter formed in its own dimension while the oriental people's biosphere has the special matter made up with their life. Such things run through the makeup of one's life. Thus, the two sides are not the same. After races are mixed up, you will find one’s child born to be an infant of mixed blood. However, there is a partition in the middle of this child's life. If it is separated, he will be physically and intellectually incomplete or a person with an incomplete body. Modern science also knows that it is getting worse one generation after another. It would be like this. Of course, if such a person wants to practice cultivation, I can help, and I can take care of it. It cannot be done to a non-practitioner.

Critics have also questioned whether Li Hongzhi himself lives up to the principles of benevolence and forbearance when it comes to dealing with his critics. Maria Chang (2004) comments: “Despite its professed commitment to tolerance and forbearance, Falun Gong has displayed a disturbing penchant for bullying its critics and for vindictiveness.” [31] Using the example of Chinese journalist and cult-critic Sima Nan, Chang reports that for his efforts to expose religious frauds Sima was viciously denounced by the Falun Gong and cursed by its founder. As reported by Christopher Hitchens in The Nation, Sima claims that Li predicted that he would be “punished by lameness and blindness” and have a law wheel secretly inserted in his abdomen “that revolves in the wrong direction.” [32] However, Falun Gong practitoners argue that the origin of such statements are dubious: they have never been found from any of Li's lectures, interviews or other public statements. In addition, Li teaches that the law wheel revolves in both directions, meaning that there is no "wrong direction".

In Power of the Wheel, authors Adams, Adams and Galati write about Li’s “exclusivity” and his apparent tendency to construct “an enemies list” for anyone who criticizes him or his teachings. They cite one early example in which Li attacked his critics “who consider themselves to be scholars of religion.” [25] In The Essentials for Further Advancemenet Li wrote:

At present, I come to this world to teach the Fa once again-—to directly teach the fundamental Fa of the universe. Some people do not dare to admit this fact . . . There are others who object, using their ordinary human thinking, because their prominence in Buddhism is challenged. Is this a small attachment? Those with ulterior motives who dare to even slander the Buddha Fa and Buddhas, they have already become ghosts in hell. It is just that their lives on earth are not over yet. [33]

These authors go on to cite Li’s “recriminations directed at the back-sliding faithful” and critique his apparent willingness to blame his practitioners for their own persecution. During the height of the crackdown while he was living in the United States, Li lectured his disciples for doing an inadequate job of defending his teaching in China. In "Towards Consumation" Li wrote:

Even if you’re afraid that Dafa is being damaged, they fabricate articles allegedly written by Master. Think about it: the enormous test at present is exactly to see how Dafa fares and how students conduct themselves in Master’s absence. How could Master speak out? How could I again tell you what to do? Additionally, they manipulate wicked human beings to examine Dafa and its disciples, putting them through a comprehensive and destructive test that targets all human thoughts and attachments. Had you truly been able to get rid of those fundamental human attachments in your cultivation, this last tribulation would not have been so vicious. [34]

The authors of Power of the Wheel comment: “In other words, they brought it upon themselves.” Calling Li “the troubled Buddha,” Adams, Adams and Galati contrast what they consider to be Li’s “anger” and “possessiveness” to the traditional Buddist teachings that “human suffering is caused by identifying ourselves with what we are not. We say my wife, my husband, my new car, my profession, my country, my god.” With this ever-expanding circle of “ownership” comes fear. The chapter ends:

A Buddhist would instantly recognize Li Hongzhi as an angry and fearful man, a man whose followers are his chattels. He speaks of his practitioners, is disciples. They work for him their Master. If he can’t save them, no one else can. This ever-widening ownership encircles the globe, and so too does Li’s fear and pain. All around him, he begins to detect real or imagined plots and betrayals. And when he wakes tomorrow in his secret hideaway, his rest will have been disturbed by troubled dreams. [25]

Debatable significance of Falun Gong awards and recognitionsEdit

There is some controversy about how meaningful Falun Gong’s many municipal awards and recognitions are and how they are used to promote the Falun Gong. Patsy Rahn states they “are documents routinely obtained by groups from public officials in the US for public relations purposes” and may be used to mislead people in China into believing “that the American government supports Master Li and his Falun Gong practitioners.” [23] Citing one example from Tampa, Florida, Noah Porter (2003) argues that these awards are not always easy to get and can require an involved process of dialogue between practitioners and officials. [35]

In 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was asked to pass a resolution condemning "persecution" of Falun Gong practitioners. Given San Francisco’s long tradition of tolerance and the Falun Gong’s teachings on homosexuality, there was controversy about the exact wording of the resolution. As reported in the Sing Tao Daily (2/1/2006), four of the supervisors, when asked about the resolution, stated “that they either don’t understand the Falun Gong belief system or do not support it; in addition, they feel uncomfortable about the Falun Gong’s homophobic positions.” The Chinese supervisor who had co-sponsored the resolution, and worked to amend it in committee, was quoted in the Bay Area Reporter:

"I am concerned about these homophobic teachings. It is a good thing these were called out. I don't think people understand the Falun Gong. So to the extent it is educating the community, it is a good thing." [36] :

Aware of these teachings, the sponsors of the resolution amended the original draft language to include a disclaimer. As a result, the San Francisco Supervisors passed Resolution 66-06 [37], condemning the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, while also stating that “the views expressed by Falun Gong practitioners are not officially sanctioned by the City and County of San Francisco” and that the resolution “in no way encourages the practice of any particular faith, philosophy, religion or belief system, including but not limited to Falun Gong.”

There are also reports of politicians being persuaded to support awards or recognitions for Li Hongzhi without knowing all the facts about his teachings. According to a San Jose Mercury News article, American politicians have been caught in the middle in the battle between the Chinese government and the Falun Gong. In January, 2001 four US representatives from northern California—Representatives Tom Lantos, Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Pete Start—signed a letter to the Nobel Peace Prize praising Li Hongzhi for promoting the “highest humanitarian values.” When asked whether they knew about Li’s teachings on homosexuals and race before they signed that letter, three of the representatives said no. Representative Anna Eshoo, who subsequently rescinded her nomination, stated: "Obviously I wouldn’t recommend to the Nobel Institute someone who’s anti-gay, because that’s a human right. ... Mr. Li has made statements that are offensive to me and are counter to many of my core beliefs." [13]

Allegations of making money from Falun GongEdit

According to the Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi has not financially benefited from his teachings. “He is not accorded special treatment, nor does he accept money or donations from students of Falun Gong.” [38] Li stipulated that promoting the Falun Gong could never be done for fame and money, practitioners must not accept any fee, donation or gift in return of their voluntary promotion of the practice. According to the Falun Gong, Li's insistence that the practice be offered free of charge caused a rift with the China Qigong Research Society, the state administrative body under which Falun Dafa was initially introduced, and Li withdrew from the organization. (needed source) However, according to the statement issued by China Qigong Research Society on November 6, 1996, the Falun Gong was expelled because its “publications and activities” seriously violated the regulations of the organization.

In an interview in Sydney on May 2, 1999, Li revealed his poor financial status in the following statement: “In mainland China I published so many books, but added together, they haven't exceeded twenty thousand Renminbi (equivalent to US $ 2,469). This is what the publishing company gave me. When publishing books in other countries of the world, you know there is a rule, which pays 5 or 6% royalties to the author, so each time I can only get a little bit, a few hundred, or a few thousand dollars.”

According to a Wall Street Journal report American Dream Finds Chinese Spiritual Leader, published November 1, 1999 [39] "in June 1998 his [Li's] wife bought a residence in a quiet Queens neighborhood for $293,500...Another house (which cost 580.000) was also purchased in the name of Mr. Li's wife Li Rui, in May, (1999)." Until Mr. Li began his spiritual teaching in 1992, he and his wife each earned less than $500 a year at a state-owned grain company in northeastern China's Jilin province.

After the WSJ article was pubished a follower of Li, John Sun, published a rebuttal letter on a Falun Gong website asserting that he bought the New Jersey house for Li's family, but the gift was firmly refused by Li.[5]

Is Falun Gong a cult?Edit

Critics of Falun Gong in the West argue that because of the relationship of dependency that Li Hongzhi establishes between himself and his followers, using what they say are a variety of manipulative techniques, the Falun Gong should be thought of as a cult rather than a new religious movement or metaphysical qigong. A number of American cult experts, including Rick Ross, Margaret Singer and Steven Hassan, have claimed that Li Hongzhi meets their definition of a manipulative cult leader.

While cult experts have not reached a consensus definition for a cult, they often focus on what is considered the coercive behavior of the group leader as an indicator for the potentially damaging aspects of a particular group. In a New Times article (March 23-29, 2000) cult expert Margaret Singer stated: “Some will say it’s not but Falun Gong looks like a cult to me. My criteria is a self-appointed person with secret knowledge to share, who gets his followers convinced he is the pipeline to the eternal good life. Doesn’t that sound like Master Li?” [4]

Different theories of what constitutes thought control have also emerged, but again without consensus. American psychologist and exit counselor Steve Hassan has “grave concerns about the personage of Li Hongzhi, head of the Falun Dafa and his organization.” [40] Interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, Hassan claimed Li Hongzhi “comes very much out of the cult extreme, the authoritarian stereotype” [41]

In Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Hassan describes the BITE (Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotion) model, which explains mind control as a combination of control over behavior, information, thought and emotions. [42] Three of Mr. Hassan's criteria--control of behavior, thoughts and emotions--were components to the theory of cognitive dissonance developed by Leon Festinger. Hassan states: "It is by manipulating these three elements that cults gain control over a person's identity." Drawing on his experience working with former cult members, Hassan adds a fourth component to his BITE model--control of information. For each of these components, Hassan provides a list of specific practices (eg: a need to internalize a group's doctrine as "Truth" is one aspect of Thought Control). Hassan states:

It is important to understand that destructive mind control can be determined when the overall effect of these four components promotes dependency and obedience to some leader or cause. It is not necessary for every single item on the list to be present. Mind-controlled cult cult members can live in their own apartments, have nine-to-five jobs, be married with children, and still be unable to think for themselves and act independently.

On his Freedom of Mind website, Hassan made the following statement concerning Falun Gong practitioners and whether they would meet his BITE model for mind control: [40]:

As far as the controls exerted by the group on individuals, I am not convinced that this group (Falun Gong) fulfills my BITE model in its entirety. I have not had an opportunity to interview any individuals who have been very involved with this group and decided to leave. I do have a strong impression that Thought control and Phobia indoctrination (emotional control) is very much used. People are made to feel that the only "true" path is by following Li Hongzhi, and that to fail to do so would result in serious physical health problems manifesting.

However, opinions within the scientific community are notably varied. According to Philip Jenkins (2000) (quoted by Porter 2003), along with fringe religious groups almost always came movements to denounce or even eradicate them; the definition of a cult was not created in a vacuum, but rather is "a prefabricated script some centuries in the making, incorporating charges that might originally have been developed long ago against a wide variety of movements". Porter points out that supernormality was already a part of qigong before Falun Gong was introduced, as was moral guidance. Also, "Falun Gong does not force practitioners to sign contracts, threaten physical or economic harm for apostasy, or any other such coercive methods that are often attributed to cults. If someone tried Falun Gong and disliked it for any reason, they would have nothing to fear from practitioners. Also, it is interesting to note that practitioners are cognizant that Falun Gong does not fit neatly into categories like qigong or religion, and some are looking for more accurate ways of describing it to non-practitioners." Porter also opines that it is unfair to make comparisons between Falun Gong and cults such as People's Temple and Branch Davidians; "such statements irresponsibly leave the impression that Falun Gong has similarities to these violent groups, when in fact Falun Gong practitioners have consistently refused to use violence against those who persecute them." [35]

The "thought control" theory greatly divides scholars. The scientific evidence on such phenomena remains inconclusive. For example, in 1984 the American Psychological Association (APA) requested Margaret Singer to set up a working group called Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC). In 1987, the committee submitted its final report to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology of the APA. On 11 May 1987 the Board rejected the report. In the rejection memo is stated: "Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue." [43]

Sociologist Susan Palmer's field notes and a preliminary research report on Falun Dafa practitioners were released in the Nova Religio journal (nr. 4, 1 October 2000). The article states: "When I first decided to embark on studying Falun Gong, I hoped to crack the surface within a month and expected to find an efficient core group behind the scenes, masterminding the missionary programs. I had researched other new religions whose leaders were in seclusion... But Falun Gong does not behave like other new religions. For one thing, its organization - if one can even call it that - is quite nebulous. There are no church buildings, rented spaces, no priests or administrators. At first I assumed this was defensive, that they had established guerrilla-style cells to fend off an intolerant Communist Party. By now, I'm beginning to think that what you see is exactly what you get - Master Li's letters on the Net on the one hand and a global network of practitioners on the other. Traveling through North America, all I dug up was a handful of volunteer contact persons. The local membership (they vehemently reject that word) is whoever happens to show up at the park on a particular Saturday morning to do qigong."

Dr. Margaret Singer, one of America's pioneers of cultic studies included the Falun Gong in her famous Cults In Our Midst:

I have no doubt that FALUN Gong has many of the characteristics of a true cult, including utter obedience to a charismatic leader, coercive thought control, financial exploitation of its followers, a doomsday prediction that promises salvation only through total obedience and subservience to the cult leader, zero tolerance for dissent, and a very strict organization from which it is difficult to escape. (Cults In Our Midst, Revised & Updated Edition, 2003, page 352.)

Falun Gong and homosexualityEdit

Li has made negative statements against homosexuals and homosexuality. Because of these statements, critics of Falun Gong have called the teachings "homophobic." Defenders of Falun Gong dispute whether statements made by Falun Gong's founder are fairly interpreted.

It is also a matter of dispute whether homosexuality as a practice (or "orientation") is compatible with Falun Gong.

Teachings that are seen as homophobic by criticsEdit

Though not central to the beliefs, homosexuality is regarded as not meeting the standard of being human. Li states: "A lot of people have done many bad deeds. Things such as organized crime, homosexuality, and promiscuous sex, etc., none are the standards of being human." [44]

Considered to be an act that brings bad karma upon oneself, Li states in Volume II of Zhuan Falun that "The disgusting homosexuality reflects the dirty mental abnormality that has lost ability to reason at this time."

Also taught is the idea that if it were not for Li’s “upright Fa to keep human beings in check” homosexuals could expect to receive a particularly harsh punishment from the Gods. [45] In Switzerland, Li stated that by renouncing their sexual behavior homosexuals could experience a different outcome. Responding to a question asking why homosexuals are bad people, Li said: "Let me tell you, if I weren’t teaching this Fa today, gods’ first target of annihilation would be homosexuals. It’s not me who would destroy them, but gods.” As an example, Li talked about a similar phenomenon that happened in ancient Greek culture. According to Li, that culture no longer exists “because they had degenerated to that extent, so were destroyed.” [46]

Li further elaborated, "When gods created man they prescribed standards for human behavior and living. When human beings overstep those boundaries, they are no longer called human beings, though they still assume the outer appearance of a human. So gods can’t tolerate their existence and will destroy them." [46]

Continuing his answer, Li explained that events such as “wars, epidemics and natural and man-made disasters” happen in order to remove karma. There are degrees of karma accumulation, however. Li explains that while some sinners “can have their karma eliminated trough the death of their flesh body and suffering” and then go to reincarnate, some people have accumulated too much karma for them to reincarnate again. Instead, “the fundamental elements of their existence will be implicated and destroyed.’ Li is clear that homosexuals fit into this category and although he may have other categories of sinners in mind, he does not give other examples in his answer. He goes on to describe the special kind of destruction homosexuals and possibly others with ”too much” karma will experience:

That kind of destruction, however, isn’t just about disappearing after they’re annihilated. That person is annihilated layer after layer at a rate that seems pretty rapid to us, but in fact it’s extremely slow in that time field. Over and over again, one is annihilated in an extremely painful way. It’s terribly frightening. [46]
In Frankfurt (1998) Li stated that homosexuals could still practice cultivation, provided they give up their bad behavior: "You are wantonly indulging your thoughts. Your thoughts, like the ones I just mentioned, are not actually you. The mentality that makes you homosexual was driven by postnatally-formed bad things. But you yourself were numbed by them and went along with them and wallowed in the mud. You need to find yourself again and stop doing those filthy things. Gods view them as filthy." [47]

Li mentions "homosexuality, licentious desires" in one stanza in his poem The World’s Ten Evils (a direct translation from Chinese):

Humans without kind thoughts / Human against human as enemy.
Destroying traditions / Culture turning decadent.
Homosexuality, licentious desires / Dark heart, turning demonic.
Gambling popular, drugs popular / Following whims and desires.
Lifting restrictions, promiscuity / Leading to evil and wickedness.
Sinister gangs. treacherous factions, / Politicians and bandits, all one family.
Acting on one’s own decisions, deranging the masses / Against heaven, betraying Dao.
Blindly believing in science / Mutant mankind.
Publicizing and revering violence / Fond of audaciousness, competing at ruthlessness.
Religions turned evil / Money seekers, politicians
July 7, 1998 . [48]

Homosexuality in the context of Li's teachings on karma Edit

Template:Sect-stub As in many traditional practices, lust is thought of as something that hinders a person's progress in cultivation. Pointing to this fact, practitioners say Falun Gong practice itself is not homophobic because when Teacher Li speaks, he speaks to practitioners and not to non-practitioners and non-practitioners can do whatever they want and nobody can say whether it is right or wrong.

Chinese authorities and Falun GongEdit

In 1999, Falun Gong was banned in China. Mass arrests were made, and between 900 and 2,000 deaths reported. Chinese authorities and Falun Gong supporters dispute the cause of the deaths, variously attributed to "suicide" or "torture". There are also disputes arising over whether the ban in China was justified.

Attitude toward traditional medicineEdit

These critics point to what they see as dangerous consequences in practicing Falun Gong, including alleged health risks from abandoning traditional treatment when practitioners are sick.

Patent Edit

According to an article in the People's Daily entitled "Clumsy fraud, harmful heresy: PD commentary", Jing Zhanyi, a senior engineer applied for a process patent paid for by Li Hongzhi. [6] This specific article is the only source that has ever made these allegations.

Response to CriticismEdit

Falun Gong members often use ad hominem in response to criticism. Usenet debates often turn into Falun Gong members accusing the critical side as "Lapdogs of Communist China" despite the discussion irrelevant to whether the governmental crackdown could be justified in China. Recently, the "World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong" (WOIPFG), a Falun Gong initiated organization, has initiated an investigation on "Tan Xi", a denizen from the discussion board "Freshrain". Tan Xi has been famous for her critical posts and articles on Falun Gong. The WOIPFG as labelled her as an "Internet Spy of the Chinese Communists" [7]. The article declaring the investigation could only be found on the Chinese page of WOIPFG.

References Edit

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