Falun Gong founder visits O.C.
The reclusive Li Hongzhi speaks with 1,500 followers in rare public appearance.
Orange County Register, Feb. 19, 2003
By JOHN GITTELSOHN, The Orange County Register
ANAHEIM – They booked a ballroom under a false name. Only familiar faces were admitted. Few knew that the guest of honor, one of the most wanted men in the world’s largest country, would even be there.
In the end, the reclusive founder of China’s Falun Gong movement preached to 1,500 disciples at the Anaheim Convention Center, but his visit remained a closely guarded secret until well after he was gone.
Despite concerns for his safety,
“He looked bright, happy, glowing with health,” said Gardner, who was arrested last February for protesting in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. “And it felt special for him to come to Orange County. Historic.”
Organizers said a transcript of Li’s comments would be released shortly.
A former government clerk and a trumpet player, Li founded the Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, in 1992, blending Buddhist and Taoist philosophy with traditional deep- breathing exercises known as qi gong. Its motto is: “Truthfulness. Compassion. Forbearance.”
After the Anaheim gathering, about 200 of Li’s devotees staged a vigil outside the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles to protest the arrest of Dr. Charles Li, a Falun Gong practitioner from Menlo Park who was detained in January on suspicion of breaking into Chinese cable-television channels in a plot to broadcast Falun Gong videos.
At its peak, the Falun Gong claimed 60 million followers in China, but it’s hard to find any there today, four years after the group was outlawed. After a protest by 10,000 practitioners in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, China’s Ministry of Public Security ordered Li’s arrest for spreading “superstitious and fallacious ideas to deceive the public, causing deaths of practitioners, and sabotaging social stability.”
Human-rights monitors say hundreds of Falun Gong members have been killed and thousands imprisoned and tortured. Chinese officials deny mistreating anyone, while reporting that more than 1,600 Falun Gong followers have died since 1999 because of suicide, hunger strikes or refusing medical help while following Li Hongzhi’s teachings.
Practitioners say Li promotes health and inner peace.
“When you see Master Li, you feel his immense benevolence,” said Linda Slupsky of Garden Grove, a Falun Gong practitioner for five years. “This was a very special occurrence, and we know Orange County will benefit from his presence.”