Falun Gong and the World: How Many Eight-Years Do We Need? – Comment on Langone (2007)
Frank Tian Xie, Ph.D.
Department of Marketing
In the Western world, to truly understand the Oriental meditation practice of Falun Gong and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that is persecuting Falun Gong, one must both overcome cultural barriers and rethink where one stands vis-à-vis the existence of a higher level of spiritual beings. To understand CCP, a good source of introductory materials is the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (http://ninecommentaries.com/). Toward a better understanding of Falun Gong, many individuals, including Dr. Langone (2007), whose article is the subject of this commentary, have made praiseworthy attempts in this long and arduous process, although, as argued below, such understanding is still short of the goal. It’s heartwarming to know that, though critical of aspects of Falun Gong, Dr. Langone condemns the PRC’s persecution of the movement.
Langone has argued, accurately, that the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s)—the CCP’s— unwavering adherence to ideological atheism has caused unnecessary and destructive social conflict as the result of the suppression of Falun Gong and other religious groups; yet Langone’s mention of the harm of “medical neglect” directly related to Falun Gong as its downside is less than accurate. If psychology and psychiatry could work to improve the human physical condition, why wouldn’t an Oriental meditation practice, with its indigenous emphasis on the oneness of mind and body, achieve the same result? The remarkable healing efficacy of Falun Gong, although not its intention, is not just a “psychological” effect of some practitioners.
Langone’s suggestion that Falun Gong has changed over time to become something other than a cultivation practice because of the CCP’s continued suppression and Falun Gong’s doctrinal tenet is unfounded. Any deviation from Falun Gong’s tenet would make it no longer the same practice. But Falun Gong’s founding theory, Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance, has never changed, and the same is true with the behaviors of its practitioners worldwide.
Besides, what is the reasoning of Langone’s observation of the group’s so-called trend toward becoming more cult-like? Is there any historical or theoretical evidence to show that a spiritual movement, after it has been persecuted, would naturally and gradually become cultish? We do not see evidence of that consequence in the development of either Christianity or Buddhism, and members of both groups were persecuted for hundreds of years after the groups began.
If a group or movement that is being publicly persecuted shows even the slightest inclination toward being cult-like, all of its attributes and characteristics will be thoroughly looked into and exposed, and every part of its doctrine thoroughly examined. With such close scrutiny, the group will have to become more open and transparent to the public. In particular, Falun Gong is a group that from its very beginning has been completely open to outside scrutiny; it invites anyone and everyone to join and practice, or to leave as they please at any time.
In his review of historical factors and the PRC (CCP), Langone mentions Rahn’s discussion of the “ruler-sectarian” paradigm (2003); for more about that paradigm, he advises readers to see our analysis (Xie and Zhu 2004) of the issue. As we have indicated in that analysis, the CCP is a direct offspring of those rebellious groups cited by Rahn, as the CCP itself proclaims; in fact, the CCP resembles those violent and murderous groups, such as the Yellow Turbans, the Taiping, and the Boxers to such an extent that these groups are the subject of worship in Communist textbooks.
It must be noted that Wessinger’s definition of qigong (2003) is inaccurate. As anyone familiar with Chinese literature would attest, the term qigong, or “氣功” in Chinese, does not exist in ancient literature; it is a term coined only in modern times during the Cultural Revolution to avoid persecution by the atheist Communist regime. And regarding the popularity of qigong in China, Ownby (2003), and Beyerstein and Sampson (1997a) were correct in suggesting that its popularity is partly due to the government’s desire to reduce healthcare costs. But qigong is not necessarily popular because of “nationalist pride.” Most Chinese people do not believe in qigong themselves, let alone consider it a “Chinese science.”
With all humility, I was trained in physical science (geochemistry and cosmochemistry) at Peking University, which is among the most prominent institutions of higher education in China; I also was in a doctoral program in science (analytical chemistry) for four years at Purdue University in Indiana before being granted a doctorate in business. This educational experience, coupled with an atheist view of the world, made me extremely suspicious and cautious when dealing with anything supernormal. Yet the supernatural experience cited by Langone (Xie & Zhu, 2004, “On ‘Mr. Li Hongzhi and his relationship with his students,’” paragraph 5) was real and personal, and came from the critical mind of a well-trained scientist. So what is really going on here, and how should one view the statement by this scientist turned practitioner?
In any country/culture, there are likely three classifications of people: those who believe in the existence of a higher level of being or beings (be it God, Allah, gods, Buddha, or Tao), those who are uncertain about such existence, and those who disbelieve. Within the first two categories, there are also probably three subcategories: those who believe they too could become immortal; those who are uncertain about that possibility; and those who think a belief is just a belief, and no one can ascend from this secular world.
As to ways of becoming immortal, some individuals might think they can achieve immortality by believing in, for example, Jesus Christ; some through worshiping and following a certain path in churches, temples, or synagogues; and still others through diligently cultivating themselves to attain immortality. It’s challenging enough for people who fit within the third group to believe in the first two options, and it is even more difficult for them to accept the first two approaches if those with the beliefs are from another culture.
In physical science, intersubjective verifiability is possible and necessary, but when we are dealing with human beings, especially with regard to human mental activities and spirituality, this requirement is simply impossible. If we know that no two people are identical with regard to their birth, life experience, sickness, aging, and eventual death, how can we assume that any two persons have the same or similar mental, physical, and health conditions, and therefore will react to medicines, meditations, and other stimulants in the same manner?
One day I was having a conversation with a biological and medical researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, and I asked her how, when they use mice to conduct research, they establish that those mice are identical and have the same physical conditions, so they can determine that the primary research results have to do with the external stimulants and not with the individual differences among those mice. Her reply was that they are not that certain. Their only assurance is that those mice in the subject (control) group and in the reference groups have the same breeding, parents, and living conditions, and are the same age—and that degree of standardization is probably all they can achieve. Do we honestly believe the same logic can apply to human beings? For example, that siblings who are identical twins, triplets, quintuplets, or even quindecaplets, with the same parents, the same time of birth, and the same genealogical background, will have the same physical and mental characteristics, the same life experiences, the same level of happiness, and the same sicknesses, and therefore will also react in the same manner with regard to a medicine, a belief, or a meditation? Obviously, such conclusions are not valid.
Langone cited Ownby’s explanation for Falun Gong’s popularity: its moral system (truth, compassion, and forbearance); its linking of modern science to Chinese traditions; its “promise of supernatural powers” to practitioners; and its pride in being Chinese. Although the first two reasons are valid, the third and fourth are not. The mention of supernatural powers—or rather, one’s inborn supernormal powers—was made to guide practitioners in their cultivation of the practice, so they would know how to deal with such inborn powers if and when they emerge. The purpose was not to give a “promise”; in fact, the opposite is true because the attachment to achieving supernatural powers is something practitioners will have to relinquish. The so-called “pride in being Chinese” is also unfounded because nowadays more and more non-Chinese people are taking up the meditation practice, and the book Zhuan Falun has been translated into more than thirty languages throughout the world. The teachings of Falun Gong are truly universal.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) scientists probably would, as Langone suggested, criticize the warning of Xie and Zhu (2004) about positivistic research on qigong; but as we indicated in that section (“Positivist Research on Qigong? A Caveat”), who dictated that we have to judge qigong using science? Why is science, or more precisely, Western empirical science, the only way for human beings to acquire knowledge and to explore, understand, and comprehend nature, human beings, and the colossal cosmos? Can we judge science using qigong? It is true, and justifiable, that science uses various methodologies to conduct its research. But when we use placebo-controlled clinical trials to test not a medicine, not a treatment method, nor a new apparatus, but ourselves as human beings, our interaction with nature, and our relationship with higher-level existence, aren’t we making the assumption that empirical scientific methods are equally applicable to something supernormal, such as qigong, and that we are no different from those mice in that we all react to outside stimulants in exactly the same manner? Within a secular worldview, we know all human beings are different with regard to their lives and their deaths, and their vulnerability to diseases; and from the point of view of karmic relationship, we know further that no two humans on earth have the same path and destiny.
It’s not my intention to comment on or to criticize science in this article; in fact, as noted, I have received rigorous scientific training in China and the United States, and my Ph.D. in business is based on management and marketing science. It’s just that we must realize that science is limited, while qigong is extraordinary, and when we apply science to qigong, we are bound to make mistakes. Many scientists with open minds have realized the limitation of science and have kept an open mind about qigong, and that is the real scientific attitude.
With regard to the ruler-sectarian paradigm (Rahn, 2003 and Ownby 2003), it must be noted that there were times in Chinese history when the royal court was at odds with religions. But during most of the 5 thousand years of Chinese history, most emperors/dynasties were actually advocates for religions, sometimes Buddhism, sometimes Daoism, and some other times Confucianism in particular, while they allowed others to coexist peacefully. Overall, all three of these religions have been popular, alive, and well throughout Chinese history.
It must also be noted that the CCP felt threatened because of its lack of legitimacy, since it used violence to take over power. The CCP has feared losing power ever since, and has resisted any political reform, even though a certain amount of economic reform has been underway.
The two clashing trends cited—the upsurge in spirituality in China, and the CCP’s perception of Falun Gong as a threat—cannot be used as a way to explain why the CCP’s persecution of Falun Gong began. As stated previously (Xie and Zhu 2004), from its very beginning in 1992 when Falun Gong was first introduced to the public, it was meant to be a cultivation practiced toward high levels, not a method for keeping fit and healthy (chapter 1, paragraph 1 of Zhuan Falun, Li 2001). Falun Gong never changes its tenets or goal, and it is a cultivation method toward Buddhahood or Tao, all the same. It is the repressive nature of the CCP, and of any communist regimes, for that matter, that accounts for the initiation of the persecution. Langone’s accounts of his human-rights colleague with regard to people’s fear of even mentioning the word Falun is a good indicator of the severity of the persecution.
Although they realize that the worldview promulgated by the CCP is fundamentally different from that of Western democracies, many scholars, scientists, professionals, and government officials still take at face value the words from pro-CCP scholars from China. We must note that, under Communist rule, there is NO independent scholarship, scholarly research, and objective investigation possible in China. The so-called “scholars” from China, such as Xi, at the 2002 ICSA conference in Orlando, are nothing but mouthpieces of Chinese Communist propaganda. What Xi (2002) and Luo (2003) stated repeatedly is simply a relay of the smear campaign used by the CCP to justify its persecution. Dr. Langone is correct in saying that the remarks of “every means of the state machinery” by the so-called scholar from China grates against American sensibilities, but that example is actually a blatant manifestation of the severity of the persecution in China that cultural hit men such as Xi tell about.
Twelve years have passed since Falun Gong was introduced to the West in 1995. That time is longer than the period of time Falun Gong existed in China before the persecution started (between 1992 and 1999). During these twelve years, has there been any report of Falun Gong in the West hurting its practitioners or their families? Or any incidences of suicide, self-immolation, and other destructive acts such as those the CCP portrays as occurring in China?
With regard to Langone’s speculation of “schemer” and “dreamer,” it is apparent that most of the arguments are a result of disbelief in the Oriental tradition of cultivation and self-improvement, a likely disbelief in supernatural existence even in the Western sense, and an attempt to understand and judge using something that is clearly beyond the realm of empirical science. It is true that a skeptical reader cannot help but ask, “How does he know these things?” But we must realize that education is not the only way for one to acquire knowledge or know-how, as evidenced by many, many examples in Buddhism, Christianity, and even science (remember the discovery of the benzene ring?).
Langone has agreed that the foundational strength of Falun Gong is that “practitioners become better people.” Isn’t that wonderful, and the goal of all good, orthodox religions, and what human beings should aspire to achieve? In light of these observations, how could Langone advance the schemer and conspiracy theory in his subsequent analysis?
Imagine that someone in Jesus’ or Sakyamuni's time, because of the increasing popularity of their beliefs and the benevolence of those two individuals, would suspect that Jesus and Sakyamuni might become a threat to the king. Keep in mind that Sakyamuni was a prince and was next in line for the throne, but he chose to become enlightened in Buddha school instead. The schemer theory is simply unwarranted and unnecessary. And although I do not intend to draw a parallel, the conspiracy concern is exactly the reason that the CCP, led by Jiang Zemin, started the persecution of Falun Gong, for fear that some day it might turn against them.
Langone’s concern that Falun Gong might one day become something else and its practitioners become a force that could damage society is also unwarranted. Practitioners practice and follow the teachings of Falun Gong because of its tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance. If Falun Gong turns away from any one of its tenets, it is no longer Falun Gong. Falun Gong practitioners follow the principle; if it’s not the same principle, then Falun Gong is not what they would be following. It’s just that simple. Mr. Li Hongzhi is a teacher and a master who introduces a cultivation method to the people of the world. He is certainly not a “dreamer” who “stumbled into a profitable niche,” nor “a schemer who cleverly carved out the niche.”
Finally, to predict or suspect Falun Gong practitioners would lose, as Dr. Langone stated and hoped he was wrong, would imply that evil and persecution shall prevail over compassion and goodness, which has never been the case in history and never will be in the future. Here again, I would like to suggest that readers and researchers read the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party published by EpochTimes. This text has already resulted in more than 27 million people renouncing their membership in CCP and its affiliated organizations. The party is, after all, collapsing as we speak. In the eyes of many scholars who are keenly aware of what is currently going on over there, a free China is actually on the horizon.
Langone, Michael D. (2007). The PRC and Falun Gong. Cultic Studies Review, 6(3). 235-285.
Li, Hongzhi. (2001). Zhuan Falun: The Complete Teachings of Falun Gong. Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Ownby, David. (2003). A history for Falun Gong: Popular religion and the Chinese state since the Ming dynasty. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 6(2), 223-243.
Rahn, Patsy. (2003). The chemistry of a conflict: The Chinese government and Falun Gong. Cultic Studies Review, 2(2), http://www.culticstudiesreview.org/csr_member/mem_articles/rahn_patsy_csr0202m.htm
Wessinger, Catherine (2003). Falun Gong symposium: Introduction and glossary. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 6(2), 215–222.
Xi, Wuyi. (2002, June 14–15). An analysis of cults and pseudo-religion from Chinese cultural perspective. Paper presented to the 2002 Annual Conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (then known as American Family Foundation).
Xie, Frank Tian, & Zhu, Tracey. (2004). Ancient wisdom for modern predicaments: The truth, deceit, and issues surrounding Falun Gong. Cultic Studies Review, 3(1), http://www.culticstudiesreview.org/csr_member/mem_articles/xie_frank_zhu_tracey_csr0301a.htm
About the Author
Dr. Frank Tian Xie is Assistant Professor of Marketing, in the Department of Marketing, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. (firstname.lastname@example.org). He received his Bachelor’s degree in science from Peking University and MBA in finance and Ph.D. in business administration from Georgia State University. Prior to his career in academia, he had eight years of experience in the industry, serving in technical, supervisory, managerial, and consulting positions in scientific, retailing, financial, and marketing services companies. His research appears in The Meteoretics, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, Journal of Interactive Advertising, Journal of Marketing Channels, and World Economic Review. He is also the Director of Marketing, of the Greater Philadelphia Asian Culture Center (GPACC), a non-profit organization serving to bridge between Chinese and Western communities. His weekly column on marketing and selling appears on Epochtimes, a worldwide Chinese language newspaper.