Amoghavajra (Bukongjin’gang不空金剛; 704/5-774) was a historically significant Buddhist monk who operated in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). He was a prolific translator and is widely regarded as the founder of an Esoteric or Tantric Buddhist tradition in East Asia. Arriving in China at a young age, Amoghavajra became a monk and practiced under Vajrabodhi (Jin’gangzhi金剛智; 671–741). Following his master’s death, Amoghavajra undertook an ocean voyage to Sri Lanka and southern India. He returned to Tang China in 746/747 with a collection of newly acquired Buddhist texts and training in ritual practices. He was the recipient of patronage and support from members of the ruling elite in Tang China, including a succession of three emperors—Xuanzong 玄宗 (r. 713–756), Suzong 肅宗 (r. 756–762), and Daizong 代宗 (r. 762–779). Amoghavajra served the Tang government with his ritual services and was appointed a minister in the central government bureau charged with overseeing official ritual services for the Tang state. With this support and influence, Amoghavajra translated a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures and authored numerous commentaries, ritual manuals, and compendia, and he effectively established a teaching of Buddhism in China that is generally referred to as “Esoteric Buddhism.” This teaching of Buddhism was subsequently transmitted by Kūkai 空海 (774–835) to Japan, where it became established as the Japanese Shingon school. In Chinese and Japanese Buddhist histories, Amoghavajra is regarded as a patriarch of Tang dynasty Esoteric Buddhism and Japanese Shingon.
James Lewis and Huang Chao
Falun Gong (FLG) is a Qi Gong group that entered into conflict with the Chinese state around the turn of the 21st century, and gradually transformed into a political movement. Qi Gong, in turn, is an ancient system of exercises that has been compared to yoga. Falun Gong was founded in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) by Li Hongzhi (LHZ) in 1992, in the latter part of what has been termed the Qi Gong “boom.” As the leadership of the PRC became increasingly critical of the traditional folk religion and superstition that was emerging within some of the Qi Gong groups, Li Hongzhi and his family emigrated to the United States. From the safety of his new country of residence, LHZ directed his Chinese followers to become increasingly confrontational, eventually staging a mass demonstration in front of government offices in Beijing on April 25, 1999. The movement was subsequently banned. Falun Gong’s story does not, however, end there. Prior to the banning of FLG, Li Hongzhi had gained a following outside of China, both among the overseas Chinese expat community as well as among citizens of other countries, particularly Western countries. These followers quickly created websites and other alternative media that helped shape public opinion outside of China. Falun Gong sources portrayed the crackdown against FLG practitioners as particularly harsh, eventually claiming that thousands of followers had been brutalized and murdered. These claims gradually expanded to include the accusation that the PRC was “harvesting” organs from live practitioners and selling them on the international organ market. In more recent years, FLG “Shen Yun” troupes have been touring the world, marketing their critique of the PRC as part of music and dance routines.