History of Falun Gong

Falun Gong adherents practice the fifth exercise, a meditation, in Manhattan

Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice that combines the practice of meditation with the moral philosophy articulated by its founder, Li Hongzhi. It emerged on the public radar in the Spring of 1992 in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, and was classified as a system of qigong identifying with the Buddhist tradition. Falun Gong initially enjoyed official sanction and support from Chinese government agencies, and the practice grew quickly on account of the simplicity of its exercise movements, impact on health, the absence of fees or formal membership, and moral and philosophical teachings.[1]

In the mid-1990s, however, Falun Gong became estranged from the state-run qigong associations in 1996, leading to a gradual escalation of tensions with Communist Party authorities that culminated in the Spring of 1999. Following a protest of 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners near the Zhongnanhai government compound on 25 April 1999 to request official recognition, then-Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin ordered Falun Gong be crushed. A campaign of propaganda, large-scale extrajudicial imprisonment, torture and coercive reeducation ensued.

Falun Gong practitioners have responded to the campaign with protests on Tiananmen Square, the creation of their own media companies overseas, international lawsuits targeting Chinese officials, and the establishment of a network of underground publishing sites to produce literature on the practice within China. Falun Gong has emerged as a prominent voice for an end to one-party rule in China.

Timeline of major events

Before 1992

Falun Gong has been classified variously as a form of spiritual cultivation practice in the tradition of Chinese antiquity, as a qigong discipline, or as a religion or new religious movement.[2] Qigong refers to a broad set of exercises, meditation and breathing methods that have long been part of the spiritual practices of select Buddhist sects, of Daoist alchemists, martial artists, and some Confucian scholars.[3][4]

Although qigong-like practices have a long history, the modern qigong movement traces its origins only to the late 1940s and 1950s. At that time, Communist Party cadres began pursuing qigong as a means of improving health, and regarded it as a category of traditional Chinese medicine.[3] With official support from the party-state, qigong grew steadily in popularity, particularly in the period following the Cultural Revolution. The state-run China Qigong Scientific Research Society was established in 1985 to administer and oversee qigong practice across the country. Thousands of qigong disciplines emerged, some of them headed by "grandmasters" with millions of adherents[3][5]

From his youth, Li Hongzhi claims to have been tutored by a variety of Buddhist and Daoist masters, who, according to his spiritual biography, imparted to him the practice methods and moral philosophy that would come to be known as Falun Gong.[6]


Falun Gong was publicly founded in the Spring of 1992, toward the end of China’s "qigong boom," a period which saw the proliferation of thousands of disciplines. Li Hongzhi and his Falun Gong became an "instant star" of the qigong movement, and were welcomed into the government-administered China Qigong Scientific Research Society (CQRS).[9] From 1992 to 1994, Li traveled throughout China giving 54 lectures seminars on the practice and beliefs of Falun Gong.[1] Seminars typically lasted 8–10 days, and attracted as many as 6,000 participants per class.[10] The practice grew rapidly based on its purported efficacy in improving health and its moral and philosophical elements, which were more developed than those of other qigong schools.[11]

At the Asian Health Expo in Beijing, 1994, Li Hongzhi is proclaimed the "Most Acclaimed Qigong Master." Falun Gong also received the "Special Gold Award" and award for "Advancing Frontier Science."

1996–June 1999

Having announced that he was finished teaching his practice in China, Li Hongzhi begins teaching his practice in Europe, Oceania, North America and Southeast Asia. In 1998, Li relocates permanently to the United States.[1]

As the practice continues to grow within China, tensions emerge between Falun Gong and Chinese authorities. In 1996, Falun Gong withdraws from the China Qigong Scientific Research Society, and thereafter finds itself the subject of growing scrutiny and criticism in the state-run press.[3][12] The practice becomes a subject of high-level debates within the government and Communist Party, with some ministries and government authorities expressing continued support for the practice, and others becoming increasingly wary of the group.[3][16] This tension also played out in the media, as some outlets continued to laud the effects of Falun Gong, while others criticized it as pseudoscience.[2]

Tensions continue to escalate over this period, culminating in a demonstration on 25 April 1999 near the Zhongnanhai government compound, where over ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners gather to request official recognition. Following the event, Jiang Zemin, then-General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, quietly prepares for the launch of a nationwide campaign to persecute the practice.

Li Hongzhi (right) receiving proclamation from Illinois's governor, in 1999.
Falun Gong practitioners demonstrate outside the Zhongnanhai government compound in April 1999 to request official recognition.

July 1999–2001

Falun Gong practitioners being arrested in Tiananmen Square following the ban

In July 1999, a nationwide campaign is rolled out to "eradicate" Falun Gong. The persecution campaign is characterized by a "massive propaganda campaign" against the group, public burnings of Falun Gong books, and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners in prisons, reeducation through labor camps, psychiatric hospitals and other detention facilities. Authorities are given the broad mandate of ‘transforming’ practitioners, resulting in the widespread use of torture against Falun Gong practitioners, sometimes resulting in death.

From late 1999 to early 2001, hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners per day travel to Tiananmen Square to stage peaceful protests against the persecution. The protests take the form of performing Falun Gong exercises or meditation, or holding banner proclaiming Falun Gong’s innocence. The protests are broken up, often violently, by security forces.


By 2002, Falun Gong practitioners had all but completely abandoned the approach of protesting on Tiananmen Square, and coverage in Western news outlets declined precipitously.[53]

Falun Gong practitioners continued adopting more novel approaches to protesting, including the establishment of a vast network of underground ‘material sites’ that create and distribute literature,[38] and tapping into television broadcasts to replace them with Falun Gong content.[54] Practitioners outside China established a television station to broadcast into China, designed censorship-circumvention tools to break through Internet censorship and surveillance, and filed dozens of largely symbolic lawsuits against Jiang Zemin and other Chinese officials alleging genocide and crimes against humanity.[52]

From 2002 to 2004, the paramount position of power in China were transferred from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao. Annual Falun Gong deaths in custody continued to grow through 2004, according to reports published by Falun Gong sources, but coverage of Falun Gong declined over the period.[53]

Westerners stages a demonstration in Tiananmen Square, 2002


As Falun Gong becomes more overt in its rhetorical charges against Communist Party rule, allegations emerge that Chinese security agencies engage in large-scale overseas spying operations against Falun Gong practitioners, and that Falun Gong prisoners in China are killed to supply China's organ transplant industry.


Top-level Chinese authorities continue to launch strike-hard campaigns against Falun Gong surrounding sensitive events and anniversaries, and step up efforts to coercively "transform" Falun Gong practitioners in detention facilities and reeducation centers. Lawyers who seek to represent Falun Gong defendants continue to face punishment from Chinese authorities, including harassment, disbarment, and imprisonment.

The human rights torch relay launch in Athens, Greece, 9 August 2007.
Falun Gong practitioners enact torture scenes in New York City


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