Falun Gong and freedom

The Commercial Appeal / GoMemphis.com, July 9, 2003
By David Waters

Shirley and her husband were in St. Louis last week to take in the Fourth of July fireworks.

Meanwhile, in the country that invented fireworks, Shirley’s mother was in prison for breathing and believing.

“Freedom of belief is one of the fundamental human rights,” Dr. Xueyuan ‘Shirley’ Wu said Tuesday.

“Here in America, you celebrate it. In China, we wish for it.”

Wu and her husband, Dr. Bei Gou, are on their way to the University of Texas at Arlington. Bei is taking a job as an engineering professor.

They have been living in New York, where Shirley was a physicist at Rensselaer Poly technic Institute.

Tuesday, they stopped in Memphis to see friends and to tell people about Shirley’s mother, Lingwen Zeng.

Lingwen, a retired professor, was arrested and imprisoned in a forced labor camp in February 2002. Her family hasn’t seen or heard from her in five months.

“I don’t know what else to do to help her, so I tell everyone I can that she is there and why she is there,” Shirley said.

So why is she there?

Lingwen Zeng, 68, is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritually grounded exercise regimen akin to tai chi.

Falun Gong blends breathing techniques, slow-motion calisthenics and meditation with three central moral virtues of Buddhism and Taoism – truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.

It also has some odd apocalyptic elements taught by Li Hongzhi, who created the “self-cultivation” practice of Falun Gong in 1992. He spread his teachings on physical and moral fitness via books and videotapes.

Within a short time, millions of people in China were practicing Falun Gong, including Lingwen Zeng. Shirley said her mother believes Falun Gong made her healthier physically, mentally and spiritually.

The Chinese government, which doesn’t appreciate any mass movement it doesn’t control, believes it made her and others like her dangerous. In 1999, the government banned Falun Gong as a cult.

Government officials began cracking down on practitioners, arresting and imprisoning thousands and ordering them to renounce Falun Gong. Officials even began a drive to get one million children to sign an anti-Falun Gong statement.

“Those who refused to recant their beliefs after weeks of intensive anti-Falun Gong instruction reportedly were sent to reeducation-through-labor camps, where in some cases, beatings and torture were used to force them to recant,” the U.S. State Department reported.

More than 700 Falun Gong practitioners reportedly have died in custody. Thousands remain imprisoned.

Chinese officials have tried to focus attention on Falun Gong’s founder, Li Hongzhi, who has said some odd things over the years. He has written that he can heal disease, stop speeding cars, and fly, metaphysically speaking.

But practitioners say Falun Gong isn’t a cult or a religion. Falun Gong doesn’t have a divinely inspired holy book, sacred rites or rituals, houses of worship, clergy, recruiters, members or dues.

“As a scientist, I can’t explain how Falun Gong works, but it does,” said Shirley Wu, also a practitioner along with her husband, who credits Falun Gong with helping him quit smoking.

“It’s not a religion or a cult. It’s just a spiritual practice based on ancient Chinese ways.”

Check it out for yourself.

Annie Wu, a computer programmer and no relation to Shirley Wu, offers free weekly introductions to Falun Gong 7-8 p.m. every Wednesday at the public library in Germantown.

“Some people just like to learn the exercises, but there’s a spiritual content to it as well,” Annie Wu said.

Falun Gong’s spiritual content is grounded in Buddhism, Taoism and other Eastern approaches to mind/body spirituality.

“Those who try to control, who use force to protect their power, go against the direction of the Tao,” it says in the Tao Te Ching.

Beliefs such as that may be what the Chinese government is so afraid of.

Not to mention millions of people who believe in powers greater than the state.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 9, 2003.
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