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date: 05 December 2020

Religious Frames: Falun Gong in Chinalocked

  • Junpeng LiJunpeng LiAsh Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Summary

The crackdown on Falun Gong by the Chinese Communist Party demonstrates the unintended consequences of the deep penetration of politics into religious affairs in an authoritarian regime. Falun Gong emerged in China in the early 1990s as a state-sanctioned health practice, or qigong. Initially it focused on treating physical diseases and promoting general health, and therefore received recognition from the state, which has granted legal status to only the five institutional religions while relentlessly suppressing secret religious societies. Qigong, however, has contained spiritual elements since its inception. In the mid-1990s, Falun Gong began to reveal and highlight its spiritual teachings. While this differentiation strategy brought it a huge following, it sent alarming signals to the ruling Communist Party. As the state sought to curb its influences, Falun Gong responded with open defiance. In particular, its tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance encouraged the practitioners to launch a “truth clarification” campaign, targeting local political authorities and media outlets. The campaign achieved moderate initial success, but Falun Gong’s persistent and coordinated efforts to demonstrate its “apolitical” nature convinced the state that it was indeed a politically subversive force. Falun Gong’s political defiance culminated in a large, 13-hour sit-in protest near the central government compound in Beijing. Three months later, the state officially banned Falun Gong and mobilized its entire security and propaganda apparatus to eliminate Falun Gong in China.

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