F***n G**g and the Hardest Thing About Studying China

Edit: This post is currently blocked in China (thanks to Kai for letting us know), so we’ve edited the title and permalink in the hopes that will shake off what we suspect is a keyword-based block.

There is nowhere on earth we can learn about or read about without bias, but even given the assumption that bias exists everywhere, China might be the worst country in the world to attempt to study if you’re trying to assess the veracity of anything remotely controversial.

Let’s take, for example, the most recent English language issue of the Epoch Times, sitting for free on a table near the entrance of Yale University’s Hall of Graduate Studies. This issue begins their series marking the tenth anniversary marking the outlawing of Falun Gong in China in 1999, and contains several articles documenting the events that led to the ban. Specifically, they say the regime “zeroed in” on Falun Gong after the publication of Zhuan Falun (Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s rambling treatise). They don’t mention why, what was contained in the book, or, for that matter, that their newspaper was founded by Falun Gong members. It is as though the CCPs banning of Falun Gong was a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky.

Of course, it’s not really a secret that the Epoch Times has an agenda. At best, their reports are “difficult to corroborate” (Orville Schell), at worst, they are an embarrassment to journalism. Still, they have their supporters. UPenn professor Arthur Waldron said “foreigners (and Chinese) who want to get a sense of what is really going on in China should pay at least as much attention to The Epoch Times as they do to the People’s Daily.”

As far as we can tell, he wasn’t intentionally being ironic, but it’s actually a great point. People searching for information on Falun Gong are likely to find a long list of articles and websites run by supporters or a long list of condemnations, depending on what language they’re searching in.

And the truth is, it’s very difficult to tell what the truth is. On the one hand, Falun Gong sounds an awful lot like some of the crazy cults that exist in the US; In the Zhuan Falun, Li Hongzhi writes that:

He can personally heal disease and that his followers can stop speeding cars using the powers of his teachings. He writes that the Falun Gong emblem exists in the bellies of practitioners, who can see through the celestial eyes in their foreheads. Li believes “humankind is degenerating and demons are everywhere”; extraterrestrials are everywhere, too; and that Africa boasts a 2-billion-year-old nuclear reactor. He also says he can fly.

On the other hand, at least some of the reported rights violations — which include some pretty horrifying things — are probably true. After all, the CCP is willing to abuse other citizens with reckless abandon, so why would Falun Gong practitioners be any different? As is often the case, it seems the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but when it comes to China, the extreme voices are often so loud they completely drown out any moderates. Here, it’s People’s Daily vs. Epoch Times. A few weeks ago, it was People’s Daily vs. World Uighur Conference. Whenever the next issue comes up it will happen again.

The problem, of course, is that most people don’t care as much as we do, and aren’t willing to spend hours sifting through drivel and propaganda for the little nuggets of truth that accidentally got left lying around. So they end up believing that either one side or the other murders babies, and everyone digs in further. Falun Gong is an “evil cult” or China is an “evil empire”; there is no middle ground.

This kind of extremism prevents understanding when understanding is what we desperately, desperately need.

For the record, I personally think that Falun Gong is about as crazy as Scientology, and that China has every right to ban the spread of anti-science superstition as it leads to people making idiotic medical decisions; but I also think China could easily enforce this ban in a way that is nonviolent and that allows Falun Gong believers to think whatever they want (and do whatever exercises they want) so long as they stop telling people qigong can cure all of their diseases.

Also for the record, I’ll be monitoring the comments here pretty carefully as this has the potential to lead to its own idiotic screaming match between extremists. What we’re talking about here is how extremism prevents learning, growth, understanding, and intelligent discourse (or how it doesn’t).

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0 thoughts on “F***n G**g and the Hardest Thing About Studying China”

  1. It seems I am taking shafa now, but maybe a few extreme comments could also be helpful for us to find out more about truth.

    btw, what’s wrong with Scientology?

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  2. China might be the worst country in the world to attempt to study if you’re trying to assess the veracity of anything remotely controversial
    Hehe. Try some middle eastern countries…

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  3. The mainland should follow HK’s example, where Falun Gong is everywhere, occupying street corners and shouting slogans, especially tourist attractions where mailand tourists abound.

    But ordinary HK folks don’t really give a flying rat’s ass and usually ignore whatever they say.

    Another way to counter FLG is encourage Taoism and Buddism. After all, Falun Gong prospered partly because such traditional religions had been largely removed from people’s lives.

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  4. I have to say that I think it’s a shame you say that China has every right to ban Falun Gong considering that amounts essentially to suppression of freedom of religion (and belief) a basic human right.

    I’ve talked about this with my girlfriend before and she told me she definitely believes what the government said (that they kill dogs because it will raise the level of their Qi, they murder and eat babies and their own family members, they light themselves on fire and run around screaming, etc) because when she was in high school she and all her classmates were given small books of dates, times, and places where people, in fact, ate their babies and family members, killed their dogs, and lit themselves on fire.

    I’ve also had this same discussion with my classes where I was wearing a shirt that said “dang jiao gan sha, jiu gan sha” (this comp can’t write chinese characters) and I joked how funny it would be if I wore a shirt that says “falun gong dafa hao,” to which they immediately replied, noooooo!!! and began listing the horrible offenses of the Falun Gong. Of course, when I asked any of them what specifically it says, word for word, in the writings of the Falun Gong, no one could tell me. To which I simply told them that I have to wonder how something so obviously ridiculous would then be translated into 47 languages. I’m pretty sure if the Westboro Baptist Church went about the same venture, they’d be laughed at.

    All in all, I agree that the Falun Gong are just as laughable as Scientology, but saying that China probably could have handled the situation a bit better seems like a bit of a cop out considering the brutality many sources (see: wikipedia, which, I don’t care what anyone says, is an incredible source of information) agree that they endured (outside of Chinese government mouthpiece sources).

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  5. @ Josh: What I said was: “China has every right to ban the spread of anti-science superstition as it leads to people making idiotic medical decisions; but I also think China could easily enforce this ban in a way that is nonviolent and that allows Falun Gong believers to think whatever they want (and do whatever exercises they want) so long as they stop telling people qigong can cure all of their diseases.” People can believe whatever they want themselves about the nature of the cosmos or whatever, but I’d argue that the suppression of science — to the point of leading unknowing people to medical harm — falls under the doctrine of “the right to swing your fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”, if you see what I mean.

    Also, I don’t think it’s particularly shocking your students can’t quote the Falun Zhuan verbatim in their arguments against it — after all, it’s banned. I also don’t think the fact that it’s been translated into a lot of languages means there’s a single word in it worth reading. My guess is it would still be Chinese-only if the CCP hadn’t banned it, but everyone likes taking a shot at the commies.

    Also, just because something has been translated into another language doesn’t mean anyone is actually reading it, it just means one Falun Gong member who speaks German has a lot of free time. My guess is a fair number of the Falun Gong supporters outside China couldn’t quote it because they haven’t read it either.

    And re: wikipedia: incredible, yes, but credible? Not really, especially not on issues like this. I do love it, but I wouldn’t trust too much of what it says on any controversial issue, especially not without checking the citations. That said, I used the wikipedia articles of Falun Gong, the Zhuan Falun, and the Epoch Times as sources for this post.

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  6. “What we’re talking about here is how extremism prevents learning, growth, understanding, and intelligent discourse (or how it doesn’t)”

    Anyone who voices support for the parenthetical element of that closing remark is deserving of our greatest sympathy – and medication.

    “As far as we can tell, he wasn’t intentionally being ironic…”

    I’ll bet all the tea in China that he WAS. If not, send for the meds…

    Josh was on the money with his remarks about attitudes among Chinese students towards FG. I’m sorry if this upsets the party faithful, but the most appropriate word would be ‘indoctrinated’. And I’m no supporter of FG, or any other crackpot movement.

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  7. @Wooddoo I like both of your points, particularly about Hong Kong. Suppressing them makes them look like sympathetic martyrs, particularly in the eyes of foreigners, while taking a more wu wei approach lets them look like wacko cultists.

    This is a great post about classic problem in international affairs: when look at a foreign country, people will often side with those they see as victims and take their testimony as God’s own truth.

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  8. Thanks, Ben. I like how you used a Taoist term to describe the approach. Speaking of Taoism, sorry to digress, I’ve been baffled by the apparent lack of official support for it. It’s true that the Manchus tried to wipe it out because it was closely associated with the Han culture, which is part of the reason why the KMT strongly favored it in Taiwan in the second half of last century, but only a blind person hasn’t discovered that Buddhism is the favorite kid in today’s China. Maybe it’s because even though Taoism advocates a wu wei and naturalistic attitude towards life, as a religion it still can be highly organized and draconian.

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  9. wooddoo: Yeah, my impression is that modern Daoism is a long, long way from the Daoism found in Laozi and Zhuangzi. The current focus, as I understand it, is primarily on extending life as long as possible, which seems rather contrary to the stories about death in the Zhuangzi, for example.

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  10. I appreciate the perspective, Custer, but I take issue with one of the overarching claims you make here: “As is often the case, it seems the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but when it comes to China, the extreme voices are often so loud they completely drown out any moderates. Here, it’s People’s Daily vs. Epoch Times. A few weeks ago, it was People’s Daily vs. World Uighur Conference. Whenever the next issue comes up it will happen again.”

    I agree that this happens in Chinese news media, but I think it would be disingenuous to act as if this is not also a dominating aspect of American news media too. Those media outlets that are most popular in the United States (MSNBC, Fox, CNN, CNBC) are often diametrically opposed and present only one side of a given story/analysis. Arguments often become dumbed down quite quickly.

    Extending this even further, American politicians use these rhetorical devices more often than not. The “other side” is labeled as one thing and the issue becomes an “either or” case — moderate perspectives are often mute.

    So it is fair to observe this problem in China’s media, but I would suggest eschewing the “holier than thou” attitude.

    Thanks for the post; I’ll keep reading.
    -Kevin-

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  11. I’m not sure where you’re getting the holier-than-thou from; in fact, I think you’ve misunderstood my point entirely. My point is that China as a TOPIC tends to elicit more extreme sentiments on both sides, not that Chinese people or the Chinese media has any stronger a tendency to “go extreme” than the Western media. The Epoch Times is, I would argue, Western media, and the WUC also operates from the West.

    Of course there’s extremism and black-and-whiteism on non-China topics too, but I’d argue there’s a bit less of it, and that the moderate voices are more readily available.

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  12. “The Epoch Times is, I would argue, Western media”

    I’m not sure how you’re defining ‘western’ here. If Hu Jia and fellow Chinese dissidents launched a publication that attacked the CCP and called for reform would that also be classified as ‘western’ media?

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  13. @Wooddoo and @C. Custer
    To continue the digression, there is a strong tradition in Taoism to use various alchemical, tantric, wholistic, etc., methods to extend one’s life, but this is just one part of the vast religious tradition.

    My guess for why it’s quietly ignored is that it is so explicitly anti-authoritarian and naturalistic, with a long history as being used as an ideological basis for rebellion against the imperial government. Parts of the Dao De Jing say that running a country is like cooking a small fish: poke it too much, and it falls apart.

    Confucianism, with a bit of tweaking*, fits together quite nicely with a centralized, autocratic government, and Buddhism seems to generally stay out of politics.

    *Students have told me that they’re outright taught that certain parts of Confucian thought no longer apply.

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  14. @ Ben: That’s a good point, although I think that Dao de jing line gets quoted way too often these days. I don’t think Laozi or Zhangzi or anyone from the early Lao-Zhuang school was particularly concerned with politics one way or the other — as Zhuangzi so poignantly put it, he’d rather drag his tail in the mud. So if we’re talking about the early stuff, I don’t know if I’d categorize it as anti-authoritarian so much as indifferent.

    But my knowledge is pretty much just based on Zhuangzi, Laozi, that book that came before them that I can’t remember, and the Huainanzi, if you buy that that’s a Daoist text, which I do. Although that’s later and certainly does get into politics quite a bit.

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  15. “If they ran it out of New York City, yes.”

    And if they ran it out of a Beijing cellar?

    You seem to be defining a media outlet’s political/social/cultural leanings by its operational geography. By that logic the overseas edition of the Peoples Daily also constitutes ‘western’ media.

    From the original post:

    ““foreigners (and Chinese) who want to get a sense of what is really going on in China should pay at least as much attention to The Epoch Times as they do to the People’s Daily.””

    And if FG set up a printing press in secret tunnels beneath Zhongnanhai the Epoch Times becomes Chinese media?

    ‘Western’ is a convenient and lazy umbrella term that remains (for me at least) elusive, vague, and ill-defined. It’s certainly no more credible to consider ‘western’ media as a product of location than it is – in the view of many – as synonymous with anything incompatible with the Chinese government’s narrative.

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  16. No, that was just shorthand. For me, it counts as Western media because it is published in the West, by people who live in the West, and reports primarily on things that happen in the West (although those things often relate to Asia in some way).

    For example, the most recent issue includes cover stories about Falun Gong (a recent rally in Washington), the New York Giants, Yankee Stadium, The New York City Department of Affairs targeting unlicensed contractors, and Obama’s health care speech. The people publishing it may be Chinese, but I think calling it “Chinese media” would be pretty misleading. And I doubt you’d find similar headlines in the People’s Daily’s English edition…

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  17. @C. Custer

    Haha, I’ve actually read the book, I swear! I only quoted the second most over-used line from it because I think it’s funny (though true), honest!

    I’m ok with Daoism today being different than what it was so many years ago; religions always evolve. It’s just sad to see it so de-intellectualized and moved from the public sphere to the private sphere.

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  18. I’m a westerner who’s practised Falun Gong for about four years. I am very much interested in Chinese culture, and have studied Chinese for a couple of years.

    As a Falun Gong practitioner I just want the persecution in China to stop, and for people to be allowed to follow their peaceful beliefs without persecution. Even lawyers who defend Falun Gong practitioners are kidnapped and tortured in similar ways: http://www.freegao.com/ .

    Some of Falun Gong’s teachings may appear odd to many people, but I don’t see why that matters. Christianity also has teachings that you could call odd. Everyone can choose how they understand themselves and the universe, and how they understand science, medicine, etc.. These are basic human rights. The practice was massively popular in Mainland China in the mid nineties, so it must have struck a chord with many Chinese people. Many academics and Party officials were practicing it. There were a lot of experiments done on qigong masters in years previously, and many, many Chinese believed that qigong was a “new science,” and that 特異功能 were real. This was mainstream. People in the West have also done a lot of experiments along these lines, look for names like Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, Robert Jahn, Ian Stevenson. Above all these metaphysical speculations, for me, Falun Gong is really focused on individual moral discipline, and the principles truthfulness, compassion, forbearance (真,善, 忍). That’s what it all comes down to.

    It’s not like everyone who reads Falun Gong books has to believe it; all the Falun Gong texts are freely available online, as with the exercise instructions. There is no organisation behind this, pulling the strings, it’s just a bunch of volunteers like me, who read the books and do the exercises in their spare time. Of course, these days we are also responding to comments like this, holding rallies, marching in parades, etc., to demand that the persecution stop. I’m a normal person, I just practice Falun Gong, like I would practice Taiji or martial arts–so what?

    The comparison with Scientology is so unfounded and prejudicial as to be a charicature, really. What is this based on? You just heard Falun Gong was weird and has some weird beliefs, so all of a sudden it’s on par with Scientology? Falun Gong has no hierarchy, offices, nothing formal at all, 大道無形. It’s on par with swimming and chess in terms of centralisation.

    Anyway I just want people to know that we don’t have some political agenda, don’t want to do anything wrong to anyone, and just want freedom to pursue our faith in peace. It’s an extremely simple message, I don’t know why people, even educated and intelligent people sometimes, just fail to get it, or always want to come up with some kind of negative viewpoint. *sigh* Maybe half the issue is that most people have never even met a Falun Gong practitioner, so have no idea what kind of people they are. I’ve been a far more thoughtful and balanced individual since I started practicing Dafa. I used to pass the time smoking weed, listening to drum n bass, chasing girls, and getting blind drunk every weekend. Now I am massively productive, wake up early to meditate, and have basically just found peace in my heart. Tell me what is wrong with that?

    Here’s an analysis of media coverage of the discipline after the persecution: http://www.cesnur.org/2009/slc_lemish.htm

    Around the time of Beijing Olympics: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/986himak.asp

    I can be reached at 12jjyz at gmail dot com if anyone would like resources. I’ve read nearly everything published on this topic over the years. Check the references in the wikipedia articles on the topic, even. I just had a quick look and most look like reliable sources.

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  19. @jjyz: the comparison to Scientology was meant to be based on comparative weirdness of beliefs, not organizational structure. That and the fact that it’s a very new religion, comparatively speaking.

    And I would further challenge the idea that there’s nothing political about Falun Gong. Maybe there wasn’t originally, but there certainly is now. Look at the Epoch Times (lets face it, this is a Falun Gong organization), for example — they’re constantly republishing their “nine commentaries” on the CCP, a tool explicitly designed to reduce CCP membership and undermine CCP power. If that’s not political, I don’t know what is…

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  20. Rupert Murdoch could take lessons from Master Li Hongzhi on how to operate TV channels that can broadcast across the world including North America and Western Europe without any apparent need for financial viability. Let’s take a wild guess where the funding is coming from, shall we?

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  21. Yo.

    Well, there are lots of “weird” beliefs out there. Some people may believe atheism is a “weird belief” or that Christianity is a “weird belief.” I don’t see why it matters that Falun Gong is just a few decades old. Things should be judged on their merits, not subjected to prejudice, you know. It’s just a set of free teachings, and everyone was minding their own business before the persecution started. If we met in person I would be able to talk for a long time about why Falun Gong presents a coherent set of beliefs about the nature of the universe, and about how it is perfectly rational for one to believe in and practice Falun Gong. I studied philosophy at university and have read lots of books. Who is one person to say what is right and wrong about another’s beliefs, as long as they are just being good to people and getting on with their lives? Of course, you can have your opinions, but I’m just saying, please don’t stigmatise us or create ill, vague, and unfounded associations. The association with Scientology is merely a knee-jerk reaction meant to inspire unease and distrust. It’s simple prejudice and ignorance.

    It’s certainly no secret that the Epoch Times newspaper was founded by and is run by Falun Gong practitioners, same with the New Tang Dynasty Television, and a bunch of other ‘media projects.’ This is what every dissident community would wish for, but Falun Gong has actually gone ahead and done it. It’s a major feat. How long have the democracy activists been criticising the CCP, and in these few years, Falun Gong practitioners have made such huge inroads through their grassroots, ragtag campaigns.

    Really, whether you want to call it political or not, I kind of don’t care, as long are you are clear on the purpose of these activities, and why they started. They started in direct response to the CCP’s persecution. For years Falun Gong practitioners appealed to the regime’s leaders, on Tiananmen Square, to appeals offices, sending letters, using every channel. As citizens under CCP rule in China, they were also brainwashed and naive about the leadership. They thought the government really didn’t understand Falun Gong, and they wanted to explain what they were all about. You know what happened, right? They would just get their faces smashed into the concrete, be locked inside soccer stadiums, be arrested at the appeals offices, have their letters ignored, etc., etc.. They are comprehensively denied any public voice in China (this goes for any dissidents, really). Under these kind of circumstances, tell me what you would do? They allowed it to go on for five years, mind you, before calling for an end to the CCP’s rule. Five years of the same peaceful appealing and getting their asses kicked. That is not a normal level of tolerance, that is immensely tolerant. The conditions of this persecution are also very serious. The torture methods used are ghastly and inhuman. There are hundreds of thousands of practitioners in labor camps, and serious allegations have been raised about systematic organ harvesting. It’s all targeted against people for their faith. Who could not be against that? All Falun Gong practitioners wanted, and want, is to be left alone to practice freely. The communists simply will not allow so many people to “do their own thing,” however, and that’s what the persecution comes down to. 70 million people (according to the official count in ’98) were all doing these exercises and reading these books, and taking them as the most important thing in their lives. This effectively undermines–though not through design–the CCP’s ideological control.

    The overarching purpose of the activities is to stop the persecution. By late 2004 that came to be seen as the same as ending the CCP’s rule. They won’t stop persecuting us, so we’ll disintegrate them through peaceful means. All this is being done through wholly peaceful means. This is the same kind of peaceful resistance shown by the major civil rights efforts in history. And of course it’s opposed to tyranny. Just whose side are you on? When a group peacefully disobeys and undermines the tyrannical rule, are you trying to say they are wrong or something? Say it’s “political,” it’s just a technicality, as long as you understand the overall point. If this kind of activity is political, then Ghandi was political, Martin Luther King was political, and Mandela was political. It’s all peaceful resistance to tyranny, so fine.

    Practitioners don’t want political power, and this isn’t some kind of attempt to get control of China. Leave that to whoever wants to do it, but it won’t be practitioners. The point of Falun Gong cultivation is metaphysical transcendence, it’s a way bigger thing, a goal that is completely different from some secular aim. If people don’t believe in it, it doesn’t matter, we just want to be freely allowed to pursue these beliefs, which do no harm to anyone, and which improve our lives, and we absolutely do not deserve to be persecuted for it, nor will accept being persecuted for that. That’s the core of the resistance efforts, and they should be applauded.

    Where’s the funding and manpower coming from, asks mtm? From people like me, my friends who are practitioners, and people who believe in and support these efforts. Falun Gong practitioners have sacrificed so much to end this persecution, and they will continue to do so until it ends. I feel fully confident in this, and I feel I am doing something really worthwhile. It’s definitely not for me, it’s for other people.

    I saw this quote from Desmond Tutu in WSJ today, actually. It will be fitting for you to ponder:

    “You are either for or against apartheid and not by rhetoric. You are either in favor of evil or in favor of good. You are either on the side of the oppressed or on the side of the oppressor. You can’t be neutral.” — Desmond Tutu, 1984.

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  22. I like the rhetorical attempt to link my point of view with racism; unfortunately, it turns out that the world isn’t so easily split into “good” and “evil”. The Chinese Communist Party does evil things, yes, but they’ve also lifted millions out of poverty and made dramatic increases in things like women’s rights in only 60 years. Just labeling “the Party” as evil is pointless, as it ignores nuance and is thus ignored by most Chinese people.

    Furthermore, I wonder if Falun Gong practitioners who advocate eliminating the CCP immediately have considered what would happen to China if the CCP were to collapse. Unless something strong were there instantly to replace it, that could create extreme levels of suffering for all Chinese people, not just the small minority who practice Falun Gong. Everyone in the West wants to see China democratized, but the infrastructure isn’t there, and (as Iraq has proven) these things take time (and that was in a MUCH smaller country with the financial backing of one of the world’s richest powers).

    As I said in the original post (hooray reading!) I’m all for people being able to believe and practice what they want, so long as it isn’t harming others. I would, however, argue that SOME of Falun Gong’s teachings vis-a-vis medicine and science DO harm others. That doesn’t in any way justify the CCP’s persecution or their methods.

    “Just whose side am I on?” I am on the side of peace, stability, and the lowest number of people suffering. I believe that 1) the collapse of the CCP now would be a disaster for the Chinese people, i.e. about 1/6 of the WORLD because there’s nothing to replace it and history has shown us anarchy is usually worse than tyranny; 2) Falun Gong practitioners’ confrontational and overtly political stance has created an us-or-them situation that makes reform on the CCPs part much less likely.

    5 years of tolerating the persecution is a long time to wait with no results. Now Falun Gong has spent 5 years trying to bring down the CCP, and that’s a long time to wait with no results, too. What frustrates me about this issue — and this is what the original post was about — is that a compromise here IS possible, but BOTH sides are too stubborn to even entertain the thought, or to admit that the other side might have SOME logical reason for what they’re doing. So, the CCP is an “evil tyranny” and Falun Gong is an “evil cult”, and the status quo continues.

    It’s just that since NEITHER the CCP NOR Falun Gong is happy with this particular status quo, I wonder WHY we might not, at least for a moment, consider some shades of gray. Seems like it’s in everyone’s best interest. But that’s just me.

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  23. Thanks for responding, and thanks for maintaining this dialogue. I can see you are attempting to approach this issue rationally and neutrally, and to understand things from different angles, which (believe it or not) I think is really important. In particular, I am relieved to read your fourth paragraph, where you explain whose side you are on. Let me get to that.

    I acknowledge that the Party has increased the wealth of the Chinese people; I’m not against this at all. It has also led to 80 million unnatural deaths through its various political campaigns. When a government does some good things for its people, this should be normal. Any government’s purpose is to serve its people, do good for them and not do evil, improve their literacy, wealth, etc.. Basically, unless a government is doing this stuff, it’s a bad government. But just because you have done some good things doesn’t mean you should be able to get away with murder. If a father raises a family but then kills the neighbour’s kids, nobody is going to defend him in court by explaining how he looked after his family. He needs to be accountable for the murder, right? It’s the same with the CCP. Just because it has done these things that any government should do, like run the country, doesn’t mean it can wilfully persecute innocent people. You surely agree.

    About the future of China without the CCP, this is hardly the responsibility of Falun Gong practitioners. We just want to stop the persecution. Please don’t complain about this point. It’s like, if we actually were cooking up a whole bunch of plans about how to replace the CCP, then we would be getting involved in politics, right? This is the point, we don’t want a bar of this messy political stuff. We’re victims of an insane persecution and have every right to stand up against it. If you really think about it, what have we done? Simply told people about the situation: that we’re innocent and being persecuted. I don’t know how you can find fault with this. If you are interested in the future of China without the CCP, I suggest linking up with the overseas democracy groups. They are quite interested in this point; we are interested in stopping the persecution of our faith.

    You said that compromise is possible. Please tell me what you suggest? By the way, it can’t include Falun Gong practitioners giving up their beliefs. And that is the condition of the CCP’s persecution. So, what’s your solution?

    As long as the CCP keeps persecuting people for their beliefs, people will keep exposing it and resisting it. That is the cause-and-effect of this dynamic. Please don’t blame the victim.

    PS: Let me hold you to your own standards with regard to the comment that “SOME of Falun Gong’s teachings vis-a-vis medicine and science DO harm others.” As far as I am aware, there is simply no evidence of this. On what grounds do you hold this view? If you cannot substantiate it, like any scientific statement that can be proven or disproven, I think you need to retract it as unsubstantiated. You can hold the suspicion by all means, but you cannot hold, and say, that the teachings of Falun Gong cause harm to people without providing evidence to back it up (unless of course you want to be an ideologue who does not care about evidence.) But anyway, when engaging in secular discourse, I think it’s important to adhere to objective standards of verifiability etc.. Finally, a related point: it’s every person’s right to choose how they approach healing, medicine, and their own health. Some people go for qigong, some for acupuncture, some for doctors, some for traditional Chinese medicine. Why is it wrong for people to choose their own way of understanding and healing? Why does it have to agree with certain ideological predilections? The point is that people are making free choices about their own lives. All the Falun Gong books are available on the internet; there are no ‘rules’ telling people what they can and can’t do. The books contain teachings and principles that anyone can choose or not choose to follow. People come and go as they please, they follow them to the extent of their understanding, they read them as much as they want. I’m sure you’ll agree that people should be allowed to make choices about their own lives, free from marginalisation and stigma. They should also be allowed to speak out when they’ve been treated unfairly.

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  24. @ jjyz: And I’m not saying the CCP should be allowed to get away with murder. I’m just saying, whether or not you think that improving the economy and making the people’s lives better is sort of the default setting for governments or not, the fact is that the previous government in China didn’t do that. Neither did the one before it. I do agree that that doesn’t give the CCP a carte blanche to do evil things, but I do think it’s something that needs to be considered, especially in the face of arguments that the CCP is just evil. In fact, it’s just a group of people, and like all groups of people, within it there is diversity. Some of those people are evil. Others are not. We should take this into account.

    If Falun Gong practioners just want to stop the persecution, why the anti-CCP rhetoric (rather than anti-persecution rhetoric)? I understand that for some, CCP and persecution are probably more or less equivalent at this point, but surely, you must be aware that anti-Party rhetoric only increases the persecution, and as impressive as FG organization has been, it is never — never — going to be powerful enough to eliminate the ruling party of one of the world’s most powerful nations. And I don’t buy that FG isn’t involved in politics; again, what about the Nine Commentaries? That has nothing to do with spirituality, and everything to do with the eroding the base of a specific political Party. I don’t see how it gets more political than that.

    Compromise is possible because attitudes can change. Yes, currently, everyone is completely unwilling to consider anything other than exactly what they want because both sides have been yelling at each other (and much worse) for a decade. Still, let’s keep in mind that people were making backyard funaces in China a half-decade ago, and Red Guards were beating teachers in the streets more recently than that. China is a country where things can — and do — change quickly. If FG sets itself up in opposition to the PARTY, yes, that’s not likely to lead to much change. But if it sets itself up in opposition just to the POLICY, and drops the anti-Party stuff, it’s not unfathomable that some reformist elements within the Party could get that policy changed. The one-child policy seems to be changing, and I think many people would consider that a much more central CCP issue than their stance on Falun Gong one way or the other (I have no evidence for this because obtaining it would be impossible, but I suspect the average Chinese person doesn’t really care if Falun Gong is banned or not).

    Re: blaming the victim, this isn’t about “blame”. Realistically, it doesn’t matter who started it or who the victim is, the question is how can we most effectively reach the best solution, i.e., the one that the greatest number of people are satisfied with and no one is hurt by.

    Regarding evidence, my guess is that much of the evidence against FG comes from sources you wouldn’t consider legitimate (of course, they probably wouldn’t consider your sources of evidence for CCP violence against FG members legitimate either). That said, here’s some stuff from Western experts I think is relevant:
    http://www.facts.org.cn/Views/200708/t58874.htm
    http://www.rickross.com/reference/fa_lun_gong/falun344.html
    Of course, this always comes down to testamonials from one side or the other, and there are arguments on both sides.

    Perhaps more significantly, I also consider Li Hongzhi’s teachings on race and homosexuality to be deeply harmful, although perhaps not physically. Homophobia and racism are inexcusable in any form — yes, I’m plenty opposed to any anti-gay, anti-interracial marriage churches or mosques out there too. Li has also condemned sex changes and “sexual freedom”, according to religioustolerance.org. These beliefs harm many people, most especially the children of practitioners who may be, for example, gay or questioning. As you say, “people should be allowed to make choices about their own lives, free from marginalisation and stigma.”

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  25. Hi. It’s fun logging in here every couple of days and seeing what interesting messages await.

    I know this is using both of our times, so let me just try to take a step back. We have a situation where the Chinese Communist Party is committing crimes against humanity–we agree on this, right? I assume you’ve taken the time to familiarise yourself with the mountain of evidence and third party support for this.

    In this situation, is it still even a question of “reform”? The people who have done these things need to be held accountable, don’t they? Shouldn’t they be tried and sentenced for what they have done? Shouldn’t reparations be paid to the victims of these insane political campaigns? Shouldn’t we all be calling for the persecution to stop as soon as posible? It seems that we have lost perspective if we still talk of “compromise” and “reform” — how does such language fit into crimes against humanity underway? What historical precedent is there for just forgetting about this stuff?

    In this sense, it really is true that the CCP and the persecution of Falun Gong, and the persecution of rights lawyers, petitioners, the victims of the milk scandal, the parents of the earthquake victims, etc., etc., are the same thing. At this point, the CCP requires suppressing the people to keep its rule on power. If it didn’t do these things, how would it last? For example, you’ve got rights lawyers using the CCP’s own laws to sue it, do you think it’s going to tolerate that? So it just changes the rules, rule-by-law not rule-of-law, and sometimes it just locks the lawyers up (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204313604574325573827638770.html), raids their offices and confiscates their stuff (http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/20015/), denies licenses (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/human-rights-lawyers-disbarred-china-20090715), or in the case of Gao Zhisheng, straight up kidnaps them, takes them to a mountain hide-out, and tortures them for close to two months in horrifying and grotesque ways (http://www.chinaaid.org/downloads/sb_chinaaid/HumanRightsLawyerRecountsTorture.pdf). Please, please take some time to familiarise yourself with these details. Particularly the last case. Please read Gao’s notes about his experiences. If you just read what he went through for nothing more than standing up for Falun Gong practitioners, standing up for justice, you may understand everything else all at once. It is very sobering, and really puts this in perspective.

    I don’t want to put this the wrong way, but the suggestion that the Party could change policies like the persecution of Falun Gong, and reverse the cases above, and just somehow carry on as normal, shows a basic misunderstanding of how things work. Think about it, what if they did this? They have escalated and escalated these things over the years, and climbed so high up this ladder that now there is no way down. How would they explain to the people that the persecution of Falun Gong was just a big mistake? That those years of 24hr propaganda were all somehow a joke? How would they explain it to the victims? To the Chinese people? It’s the same with the rights lawyers, if they let them go free, and actually followed their own constitution, they couldn’t last, because the gaping contradictions in the system would be there for everyone to see. As if they are not already. At this point, their very existence is predicated on suppressing the common people. It’s a police state. Genuine reform already means the end of the CCP as we know it, anyway. And any genuine process of reform would need to account for the mistakes of the past, and bring perpetrators to justice.

    The persecution hasn’t increased because of Falun Gong’s direct anti-CCP line. There is no evidence for this at all. The CCP was persecuting practitioners ruthlessly for close to five years; you can’t get any worse than that. The jiuping and the tuidang movement were the last resort. And they are wholly peaceful means to ending a tyrannical regime and ending a human rights crisis. The purpose isn’t to gain political power, it’s just to end the persecution. If you want to call it “political” then fine, as long as you understand.

    The final issue you bring up is quite separate, actually. That’s a question of Falun Gong’s beliefs; they don’t have anything to do with the persecution, or with the legitimacy of people being able to freely practice Falun Gong. Also, you jumped from accusing the teachings of being harmful because of the medicine issue (which has no evidence) to being harmful because it considers homosexuality etc. as immoral. This is more of a stretch. I have six or seven close friends who are homosexual (I just counted, it’s a lot!), and I don’t treat them any differently or think negatively about them. There’s no such thing. The whole point of Falun Gong is to let go of any kind of negative thought and just try to be a kind, good, and optimistic person, to treat other people well unconditionally. Holding that certain sexual behaviours are immoral is a separate issue; that’s a metaphysical statement. Conflating this with racism and homosexuality is inaccurate. It’s a bad tactic of argumentation. Of course, some would accuse practitioners of thought crimes for holding these metaphysical positions; you may be one of them, I’m not sure. But I think people should be able to adopt what beliefs they want. At the same time, treating everyone kindly, fairly, and equally, without discrimination, is just fundamental. As a practitioner, Falun Gong has only helped me get closer to this goal. Faluninfo.net addresses this well, I think. You can take this as the “official” position, for what it’s worth: http://www.faluninfo.net/article/654/?cid=23 (the facts.cn is a CCP website, by the way, and Rick Ross has no academic credentials and is a CCP croney, speaking at their conferences etc.. Sources like this are very different from human rights orgs. and investigative journalists who have photo, video, documentary evidence and strict methodologies for verifying information; the CCP’s arguments against Falun Gong are strictly ideological, none of them are fact-based.)

    In the end I just think it comes down to two very simple points.
    1) Falun Gong is innocent, people should be able to practice their beliefs freely;
    2) The persecution is wrong and should stop.

    Everything else, and I mean everything, is a mere footnote to these two overriding points. Actually, these are just the most basic points of all of life. They’re almost axiomatic. “Don’t hurt people for doing nothing wrong. Hurting people is wrong.”

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  26. Yes, I’m familiar with Gao Zhisheng’s case. You obviously haven’t been reading this blog for long; we routinely translate the accounts of people who are kidnapped and tortured by government agents of one sort or another. I’m not sure everything you’ve listed can be fairly blamed on the CCP — they didn’t put poison in the milk, and when they were caught, they executed the people who did, as I recall — but certainly, China is a country that lacks legitimate rule of law, yes.

    However, the idea that the Party somehow “can’t” reform because it would seem too hypocritical is completely absurd. They would explain it to the people the same way they have explained it the every time they have a major policy reversal: pick a scapegoat, kick him out of the Party, blame him. Seriously, have you studied Chinese history at all? The Party has routinely made much bigger policy reversals (i.e., after the GLF, 100 flowers, CR, etc.) than the repealing of anti-FG laws would be. There are already gaping contradictions in the system there for everyone to see. The idea that changing the ruling on Falun Gong would have some pivotal effect on Party legitimacy shows, I think, a fundamental lack of knowledge about how much people in China care about Falun Gong, as well as about what the Party has been able to pull off in the past.

    OK, fine, the purpose is to end the persecution, but I’m going to continue to call FG’s pursuit of that goal political because it is political. That’s fine, but let’s call a spade a spade here.

    Re: (yes, it’s a separate issue) the last point, I reject the notion that one can somehow hold the “metaphysical” viewpoint that homosexuality and interracial marriage are immoral without letting that effect their treatment of others. It may not be a conscious thing, but I if someone truly believes something, it’s going to manifest itself sooner or later in their speech and behavior, and those things manifest as homophobia and racism, period. It’s not an “argumentative tactic”. Li Hongzhi has called homosexuality and interracial marriage evidence of the degradation of humanity; that is a homophobic and racist statement. He said it out loud, to an audience. It was published. Saying it’s a metaphysical belief and therefore somehow doesn’t count as prejudice is ridiculous, and it obviously isn’t purely metaphysical if the founder of FG is talking about it at conferences anyway. Do you think a homosexual or someone married to someone of another race would be comforted after hearing him speak like that to know that he just “holds those metaphysical positions”? (Hint: as someone who is dating and plans to marry someone of another race, I take no comfort in that whatsoever. Mostly, what I get out of it is a vague desire to punch Li Hongzhi in the face, truth be told)

    It doesn’t matter how many gay friends you have, if you believe homosexuality is immoral, you are a homophobe. Your gay friends might be cool with you, but that doesn’t prove anything. And the “official position” you linked to is just as misguided, just because you allow gays to join FG doesn’t make everything OK. Even from the wording of that statement, which is obviously quite intentionally vague, it’s pretty clear that homosexuality and interracial marriage are discouraged. It may not be an official “creed”, but it’s clearly there.

    As for the two points:
    1) So long as their beliefs don’t interfere with the rights of others. However, I would argue that some FG beliefs (i.e. homsexuality, etc.) do (potentially) interfere with the rights of others.
    2) Agreed.

    I just don’t think that presenting the issue as good vs. evil is entirely truthful, nor do I think it’s going to lead to any kind of resolution of the problem. However, you’re free to disagree. History has certainly proved the CCP is capable of MASSIVE, self-contradictory change; only time will tell what will happen in the future. I just personally believe the current FG strategy is a bit misguided and (it is a separate issue) find some FG beliefs offensive.

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  27. C. Custer….
    I agree with most of what you have to say. Recently, I did some background on the Falun Gong so that I might write a post for my blog.

    The one thing that kept recurring was the FACT that Falun Gong membership exceeds that of the Communist Party. Red flag? You bet.

    I know of no ORGANIZATION with such a large membership that IS/WAS/EVER HAS BEEN/EVER WILL BE permitted to exist within the borders of the CCP.

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