Experts say suits may hinder democracy
Pasadena Star-News, Aug. 1, 2003
By Marshall Allen, Staff Writer
PASADENA — Chinese dissidents who formerly followed the founder of the Zhong Gong spiritual movement have filed another lawsuit against him, intensifying a conflict that may be detrimental to the democracy movement in China, experts say.
The lawsuit is the latest in a string of accusations against Hong Bao Zhang, 49, that claim the exiled founder of Zhong Gong is a violent racketeer.
“(Hong Bao Zhang’s) esteem is down, obviously,’ said John Kusumi, an observer of the democracy in China movement with the China Support Network. “If you take a look at the series of dissidents coming out against him, that really suggests there’s a fall in the esteem he’s got in the heart of the democracy movement.’
Zhong Gong is reportedly the largest of the traditional Chinese qi qong organizations spiritual wellness groups that use meditation and breathing exercises to promote holistic health. The movement once claimed up to 40 million followers, according to observers of the China democracy movement.
In 1999, the Chinese government starting putting Zhong Gong followers in labor camps or prisons, so Hong Bao Zhang fled. In April 2001, he was granted asylum in the United States, after lobbying efforts by powerful Washington figures including Sens. Trent Lott, R- Miss., and Jesse Helms, R-N.C.
When he was granted asylum, the spiritual leader made a commitment to support the democracy movement in China in any way he could, said Timothy Cooper, international director of the Free China Movement in Washington, D.C.
The plaintiff in the latest lawsuit filed against Hong Bao Zhang, 49, is Qi Zhang, a Chinese dissident living in Reston, Va. Qi Zhang’s lawsuit was filed in Pasadena Superior Court on July 18, and accuses Hong Bao Zhang of crimes including racketeering and slander. The lawsuit is seeking $6 million plus special damages.
The other dissidents suing Hong Bao Zhang are Qi Zhang’s sister, Qing Xin Yan and her husband, Arthur Liu, the attorney in both lawsuits. Liu, who was a student leader in the Tiananmen Square uprising, also is a leader in the pro-democracy movement in China, Kusumi said. Liu said he never has been a practitioner of Zhong Gong.
Yan, who was Hong Bao Zhang’s domestic partner for 12 years, filed her lawsuit June 26 in Pasadena Superior Court. She is now a resident of Alameda County, Liu said.
Until September 2001, Yan was Zhong Gong’s second in command and helped build the organization into a powerful entity that made billions of dollars, Liu said. Yan accused Zhang of violations including assault, battery and false imprisonment.
In the latest lawsuit, Qi Zhang’s slander allegation is related to an international incident in June 2002 where she, her fiance, Bingzhang Wang, and a third dissident, Wu Yue, became known as the “Democracy 3′ after being kidnapped and held in China. After protests by human rights organizations, Qi Zhang and Yue were released, but Wang who is known as a Nelson Mandela-type figure in the free China movement still is being held in China, Liu said.
For some time after their disappearance, no one knew what happened to the “Democracy 3,’ and Hong Bao Zhang allegedly spread rumors on the Chinese Internet that Qi Zhang killed Yue, Liu said.
“The purpose of this rumor was to destroy her reputation in the democracy movement,’ Liu said. “Because she has lobbied Congress and she’s actively involved in the rescue of her fiance.’
Hong Bao Zhang also has made death threats to Qi Zhang and Yan on the Internet, and made up stories about Yan being a Chinese double agent, Liu said.
Cooper said he knew about the “bad blood’ posted on the Internet.
“The Chinese are very sensitive about face and when things are said in public recrimination is forthcoming and grudges last a very long time,’ Cooper said.
Qi Zhang’s lawsuit also claims that Zhong Gong is a cult.
“This enterprise developed its own doctrine, claiming to have eight levels of development based on the diagnosis and treatment of disease through cult practices,’ the lawsuit said. “Admission fees were charged to members for each level, to show ‘submission to the master.’ ‘
The alleged cult practices included selling water that’s been “blessed’ by Hong Bao Zhang, and claiming followers could reach levels where they acquire powers “such as greatly enhanced vision and hearing,’ the complaint said.
“All such claims are, of course, false, fraudulent, and made without any belief in their truth,’ the complaint said.
Hong Bao Zhang’s civil attorney, Matt Geragos, did not return calls for this story, but denied any violence on the part of his client previously.
“My view is that because of his popularity they find him an easy target,’ Geragos said after Yan filed her lawsuit. “He’s going to defend all of (the charges).’
In addition to the dissidents opposing Zhang, he also faces five felony counts after a March incident where he allegedly beat his personal assistant, Nan Fang He, at his Pasadena home. He also filed a civil lawsuit against Zhang.
Zhang’s criminal attorney, Mark Geragos, Matt Geragos’ brother, said there’s “no truth’ to the criminal charges against Hong Bao Zhang.
The conflict between Hong Bao Zhang and the Chinese dissidents is not going to slow down the democracy movement in China, Kusumi and Cooper said. But it’s at least a distraction, Cooper said.
“It colors some of the characters in at least some of the elements of the movement in a way that’s not helpful,’ Cooper said. “It’s destructive instead of constructive.’