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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.