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Archive for October, 2011

Qigong Fever

If this book I’m holding here had been published in 1997 instead of 2007, I probably wouldn’t have set out to write my own book on the history and cultural origins of qigong. I also probably wouldn’t have failed in that endeavor and ended up putting my collection of writings up on the Internet in the form of a blog called “Weakness with a Twist”and you wouldn’t be reading it!

Qigong Fever: Body, Science, and Utopia in China, by David A. Palmer. Published by Columbia University Press, 356 pages.

The book is a history of Qigong, which appropriately frames the subject as a political movement built around a body technology with religious characteristics, and scientific pretensions. It is a book which resists symmetrization. Never the less I’m going down that road.

Qigong Fever tells a really shocking story of mass hysterical enthusiasm. The kind of popular insanity that can only happen in a world where 2+2=5 if the Party says it does! The state in essence banned religious devotion, magic tricks, spontaneous expression, deep emotion, and even self-respect. The Party claimed to be in favor of using science to save the world, but obviously science cannot be practiced in an environment where 2+2 might equal 5. It was from this skewed environment that qigong came to be capable of healing anything and everything. All over China otherwise ordinary people could see with their ears, control guided missiles with their minds, tell the future while balancing on eggs—qigong became the source for the development of everything weird, magical, new age, charismatic, and psychic. That all this could happen in the name of science would already be beyond normal comprehension, but the Communist Party brought what would otherwise have been just weird and wacky to a fever pitch by issuing an order essentially forbidding skepticism.

The title Qigong Fever refers to the explosion of interest and participation in qigong methods, research, charismatic religion, and a whole lot more that reached a peak in the decade from 1985 to 1996, after which the government cracked down on qigong people in general and particularly on the followers of the dangerously unbalanced Li Hongzhi, known collectively as Falungong.

Palmer tasks himself with creating a historic record for a subject that is made up of seemingly limitless false claims and (even more challenging for the historian) partially false claims about its origins and functions. In addition he tackles problems as an anthropologist carefully milking the overlapping realms of scientism, charisma, national consciousness, repression, religious impulse, and shifting political networks into a frothy qi infused tonic.

The political alliance that made the qigong movement possible eventually fell apart creating outlaws and refugees. The last chapter of the book deals specifically with the Falungong and its transformation from a qigong cult into an outlaw and exiled revolutionary utopian movement.

The book has a lot of footnotes. Palmer draws on a wide array of original Chinese sources for historical material and makes good use of the history of ideas. His writing moves easily between telling the story, putting it in context, and bringing in other peoples ideas and research to convey the depth of his analysis.

If you like this blog you’ll like this book.

Responses

2008 January 31
Daniel Mroz

Well, Scott is probably more informed, but I don’t think its particularly great qigong so I wouldn’t do it. The leader thinks he is single handedly preventing the Earth from being invaded by aliens and lives in luxury in the USA while his followers are allegedly persecuted. Its a great shame if people are actually being persecuted of course, but I believe its a cult because they recruit aggressively. They have a freebie newspaper, The Epoch Times, that is basically McNews with a very anti-China spin that gets handed out at every subway station in Toronto and other cities with large Chinese populations, so they are trying to manipulate public opinion. Finally, if you want to be Buddhist, be a real Buddhist – there are lots of legit practices out there. My friend Ken Cohen wrote a good debunking of Falun Gong for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle a few years ago…

2008 January 31
Scott P. Phillips

Yes, Daniel has it right. Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV are both Falungong operations. I have a couple of friends that are involved in the cult and work for both media groups.
Falungong is the best organized anti-Chinese government group around so some of the people involved are more political actors than qigong kooks.

Falungong practitioners are forbidden to read real Daoism, Buddhism or material from other qigong systems. That should be enough to keep anyone away. If you tell them to their face exactly how and why they are wacko they believe you are purifying them by taking away their black negative energy and giving away your white purifying energy. They can not be reasoned with.

2009 December 29
Scott P. Phillips

Hi Donglin,
Thank you for the comment. I followed your links and it might interest you to know that Falungong in America is going through a sort of reformation. If you read the above book or you actually pick up Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falungong’s books, you will find that I have not misrepresented them at all. They are by Modern American standards totally nuts. But much like the Mormons (The Church of Latter Day Saints) they are cleaning up the weirder stuff and pretending it never happened. (The Mormons in the early days tried to form their own nation state of polygamy and they still all wear sacred underpants.) It is evident from the dialog in the comments of the links you sent that early Falungong writings are extremely nasty to read from the point of view of a Buddhist or a Daoist.

All that being said, I get along with Mormon’s just fine, why not people from Falungong? Weird beliefs or religious practices can often just be ignored and may even inspire behavior I find admirable. (Heck, we don’t have to go to religion to find cult-like irrational behavior, just look at the “Global Warming Craze.”)

But all of this hinges on what Falungong’s intentions are. If the Chinese government were to fall would Falungong step in to take over? They are the most organized “opposition” to PRC rule at the moment, unless you count Taiwan or Tibet or the Uyghur movement. Frankly, there isn’t an obvious way to oppose PRC rule other than supporting Taiwan as an independent country.

Honestly I’m hoping we do not have to choose between a Falungong faction and the current PRC led faction in a civil war. I find both of them troubling. What this book explains, and why you should read the book, and why the PRC hates Falungong, is that they came into existence at a moment in Chinese history (1986-1996) when it was basically illegal to criticize any type of Qigong practice, research, or science–Because of this Li Hongzhi could make absolutely any crazy claim without anyone challenging him!!! The PRC government blames itself for creating a monster!!!

About the author

Scott P. Phillipsbegan training in martial arts and qigong in 1977, he has been teaching for 17 years. While he was in his twenties he trained eight hours a day. His students range in ages from 5 to 75. For the last five years he has been on the faculty of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM). For the last seven years he has been on the faculty of Performing Arts Workshop (PAW). His teachers have included: Bing Gong, a senior student of Kuo Lien-Ying, one of the first Chinese ‘internal’ martial artists to begin teaching in the United States. Scott has also studied extensively with George Xu, Zhang Xue Xin, Ye Xiao Long, Kumar Frantzis, and at the Oomoto School of Traditional Arts in Japan.

Scott is a master teacher of Northern Shaolin as a Performing Art. His knowledge of Chinese culture, religion, and history makes him one of the few practitioners capable of actually explaining difficult to translate concepts and experiences.

text from: http://english.kaiwind.com/puop/201101/t123271.htm

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As neighborhoods across the city are lining the streets with Old Glory and making final arrangements for the holiday, Chinatown’s Independence Day festivities have become mired in controversy, with members of a spiritual group asserting that discrimination has stalled their efforts to enter the annual neighborhood parade.

Claiming that the Chinatown parade organizers are concerned with business alliances in China, followers of Falun Gong — which is banned in China — addressed their concerns to members of Community Board 3 during the public forum at the board’s June 22 meeting.

“It’s an outrage they can’t march in the parade, especially on the Fourth of July, and it’s not something I would expect to happen in New York City,” Carsten Bornemann, a practitioner of Falun Gong, said of the parade scheduled for July 3. “They are pretty much trying to find excuses. “The main reason they give is a security issue because Falun Gong is controversial,” he said. “In past years we’ve never had problems with the police. They are just looking for excuses to justify their decision.”

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a form of qigong , a Chinese form of exercise and meditation dating back 3,000 years. Espousing values of truth, compassion and tolerance, the exact number of Falun Gong practitioners in New York City is difficult to estimate, since the group does not have an official organizing body. Some practitioners estimate their numbers in New York City at several thousand, with the majority of their members of Chinese descent. Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, and the group now claims tens of millions of followers around the world.

Steven Wong, one of the parade organizers, said that the decision is ultimately up to the other participants in the parade, which will include about 160 community groups.

“I have to make sure how people feel about it,” Wong said. “We try to execute everything where the majority makes the decision.”

Last year’s Independence Day parade was cancelled due to Chinatown’s American Legion Post acceptance of Falun Gong without approval of the United Chinese Association and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, both of whom sponsored the event.

As one of the organizers of the parade during its inaugural year in 2001, Wong said many individuals are hesitant to let the group participate because their limited connection with the community and confusion over Falun Gong’s beliefs and intentions.

“Personally I believe it’s a new organization and nobody knows this group,” Wong said. “They don’t understand them and they feel uncomfortable with this group. I believe they should let people know about themselves.”

Other individuals closely associated with Chinatown echoed Wong’s belief that parade organizers are hesitant to admit the group because of some of the mystery surrounding the group.

“People don’t have much understanding of them because there are so many controversies about them,” said Edward Ma, a member of Community Board 2 and the Chinese–American Planning Council who was also skeptical of Falun Gong’s source of funding and belief system. “They have to help people to understand. It is a sensitive area and it’s something that people try to avoid since you might become labeled.”

Wong feels that the criticism the group has directed at him is undue.

“I try not to take any position and then Falun Gong accuses me that I am taking orders,” he said. “I don’t think that is right and I think they are violating their slogan of truth, compassion and tolerance.”

Falun Gong has been subject to criticism itself, being called a cult and for allegedly presenting homophobic messages. Members attribute their tarnished image to the Chinese government.
“That’s just people who don’t understand Falun Gong and the propaganda from the Chinese government,” said Falun Gong Manhattan coordinator Scott Chinn, who has been a practitioner since 1999. “I know that through these principles I have more understanding of gay people. There’s never been an incident of antigay sentiments from any practicing members.”

For his part, Bornemann said that a Buddhist text dating back 100 years that is associated with Falun Gong may have some conservative, anti-gay sections, but that in its current practices, the group isn’t homophobic. He said he has gay friends who do Falun Gong with him in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park and their sexuality hasn’t been an issue at all.

However, the issue has been raised by community board members at both Community Boards 2 and 3 when Falun Gong members spoke during the public sessions, encouraging people to come out and try the exercise. After accusations of homophobia were raised, Board 3 recommended denying Falun Gong’s request to put a banner in S.D.R. Park where they meditate.

text from: http://english.kaiwind.com/Reports/World/201012/t123200.htm

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What would prompt a New Yorker with a medical degree from the University of Chicago to yell at Chinese president Hu Jintao during a state ceremony and risk facing likely arrest and prosecution?

Apparently it’s nothing on the scale of domestic spying or holding foreign nationals captive without charges. No, those are likely small peanuts to Wenyi Wang, a believer in a religion that has been described as a “syncretistic update of Confucianism and Taoism.” For her troubles, Wang could face six months in jail.

Check out the Washington Post’s take on the incident and the aftermath:

The White House had issued Wang a one-day press pass to cover the ceremony after she presented credentials as a reporter for the Epoch Times. Many of the newspaper’s staff members, like Wang, are Falun Gong practitioners, according to a newspaper spokeswoman.

Falun Gong is a Buddhist-based spiritual movement with millions of members in China and elsewhere. It became the focus of controversy when it was banned by the Chinese government in 1999 after followers staged a series of peaceful protests in Beijing. Founded by a Chinese soldier in 1992, Falun Gong in Chinese means “Practice of the Wheel of Law.” It blends meditation and martial arts.

Adherents say thousands of the group’s followers have been imprisoned by the Chinese government. The Epoch Times recently published articles alleging the harvesting and sale of organs from still-living practitioners held in Chinese labor camps. In the past, the harvesting of body parts from executed prisoners has been widely alleged and detailed in official Chinese government newspapers. The Chinese government has called Falun Gong an “evil cult” and accused its leaders of trying to overthrow the ruling Communist Party.

Terri Wu, spokeswoman for the Epoch Times, said Wang has a medical degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago and has been working for the newspaper for six years, specializing in medical issues. The newspaper issued a statement saying that it did not know that Wang was planning the protest. The statement apologized to Bush and the White House — but not to Hu.

The harvesting of organs from executed prisoners sounds like something any reasonable person would oppose. What is Falun Gong doing that prompts China’s leaders to dismiss it as an “evil cult” bent on overthrowing the government?

Other than mentioning “meditation and martial arts,” the Post article gives us little clue. Meditation and martial arts covers everything from Buddhism to Jackie Chan. Is Falun Gong really that broad or that dangerous?

The Post also published a brief sidebar on Falun Gong, but it leaves many questions unanswered.

This Wikipedia article on Falun Gong — disputed for an alleged failure of neutrality — contains some rich background, and anyone who has walked the streets of New York or Washington has most likely seen the group’s fliers. The information is out there, Post editors.

text from: http://english.kaiwind.com/puop/201012/t123125.htm

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Aug. 9 (Kaiwind) – Taiwan Falun Gong practitioner Hong Zhuyi is facing a serious illness of paralysis; he is the eldest son of Hong Jihong, director of Taiwan Falun Dafa Association.

Hong Zhuyi once suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Influenced by his father, he began to practice Falun Gong with the hope of curing arthritis through exercise. He deeply believed in Li Hongzhi’s preaching, and then didn’t seek medical treatment in time. His condition continued to deteriorate this year, resulting in walking difficulties. Recently, Hong Zhuyi went to the hospital secretly to be examined accompanied by his wife. The doctor diagnosed that there was some precipitate in Hong Zhuyi’s joints, if Hong still refused medical treatment, he would be paralytic within two years.

Hong Jihong is Secretary-General of Taiwan Falun Dafa Association. Under his influence, his wife Zhuang Shuqin, younger sister Hong Yuexiu, eldest son Hong Zhuyi practiced Falun Gong successively. In the documentary titled “Falun Dafa in Taiwan” produced by the Taiwan FGM TV Group, Hong Jihong and his whole family shared their “own experiences” to tout Falun Gong’s magic effectiveness. Hong Jihong said: “The energy of Falun Gong practice is so high that it could dredge the meridians and activate cells,” “Falun Gong is good for health.” However, this effect never demonstrates on his eldest son Hong Zhuyi.

Currently, Hong Zhuyi still insists on practicing Falun Gong without taking any medicine, expecting the Master Li Hongzhi can rescue him.

(Kaiwind, August 10, 2010)

text from: http://english.kaiwind.com/Feature/ofdf/201012/t123031.htm

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