I work in New York City not far from the United Nations and every so often I’ll stumble across a protest aimed at one foreign government or another. One day, while taking a walk at lunch, I came upon a group of 25-30 “protestors” that was strangely silent, no chanting like you sometimes hear at these gatherings and there was barely a placard in sight.
The group was mostly of Asian descent and had it not been for the steel barricades and police presence around them, I might have mistaken the group for Chinese tourists waiting on a tour bus. As I walked past them I was handed a slim newspaper. Its headline read:
STOP ORGAN HARVESTING IN CHINA
The protestors were affiliated with the spiritual group Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa). An accompanying subhead on the front page of the paper read: Thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been killed for their organs in China and a story inside the paper was titled Chinese Doctor Admits Organs Available On-Demand from Falun Gong Adherents.
Could this be true? Is the Chinese government not only persecuting Falun Gong, but “harvesting them for their organs”?
A lot of people seem to think so. A former Canadian Secretary of State investigated the issue and came “to the regrettable conclusion that these allegations are true”. Over the past decade, several members of the US House of Representatives have introduced resolutions in support of Falun Gung, including one in June 2013 that states “serious allegations suggest unimaginable abuses have occurred”.
Online reports on the number of people killed for their organs varies widely, from a low of 9,000 to a high of 120,000. And of course, Chinese officials have denied it all. Yet at minimum, it does appear that “Falun Gong practitioners in China have been sentenced to long prison terms, faced arbitrary detention, and been held in hospitals and in ‘re-education through labor’ facilities”.
So what has the Falun Gong done to get the Chinese government so ticked off?
It seems innocent enough. Falun Gong is based on the ancient Chinese practice of qigong, a system of physical exercise and breathing control related to tai chi—with a heavy-dose of new-agey philosophy layered on top of it. According to its own literature, Falun Gong is:
A self-refinement practice of mood, body and spirit that is deeply rooted on the traditional Chinese culture. It consists of moral teachings based on the universal values of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance, and a set of five meditative practices that is highly effective for improving health and well-being.
The group’s positions on subjects like sexuality are conservative and moralistic, something you think would go over very well in a country that still harbors a one-child policy. For instance, “practitioners cannot smoke, do drugs, gamble, drink, have premarital sex, be homosexual, or kill living things.”
Yet, Falun Gong has failed to make the list of five official state-sanctioned religious organizations in China, and if you listen to the government, the group is a “cult”. Beijing says that Falun Gong is responsible for the needless deaths of thousands of practitioners because “they refuse to seek medical treatment for their illnesses”. According to officials:
Falun Gong is against modern science, preaches the end of the world, forbids its followers watching TV or being treated in hospital and maintains that diseases do not exist and that ailments are due to sins people commit. They preached that UFOs had arrived on earth; aliens had taken over human bodies, and were trying to annihilate humanity through the control of TV and radio.
Okay, I get the not-allowed-to-watch TV part. But aliens landing on earth and taking over the bodies of humans? This sounded like good-old fashioned Chinese propaganda to me. But I was able to dig up a 1999 Time magazine interview with the group’s founder, Li Hongzhi, in which he makes some astounding claims about the role of aliens “from other planets” that “have corrupted mankind”. According to Hongzhi:
The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes…everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man…the ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans.
According to a BBC report, Hongzhi believes that “he is a being from a higher level who has come to help humankind from the destruction it could face as the result of rampant evil”. And it’s interesting to note that his story dovetails with a recent news report on another Chinese leader who preaches the gospel of qigong and has amassed tens of thousands of followers.
Wang Lin recently sought asylum in Hong Kong after being charged with fraud and tax evasion in China. In a recent New York Times article, he is described as “a diminutive 61-year-old whose sculptured eyebrows and slicked-back hair are reminiscent of Liberace’s” who was “wearing the glittery style of ring and watch favored by many newly wealthy Chinese people.” He owns three Hummers.
It is said that Lie has the “power to cure cancer and has performed other mysterious feats like conjuring snakes out of thin air”. (You can see the video above.) Reports elsewhere say he has the ability to “fly”. It is also claimed the supernatural abilities he possesses can be learned by his followers.
So is the Chinese government, which has accused Lie of selling “spiritual opium” and labeled the Falun Gong “a menace to society” merely protecting its own people? Or is its greatest fear the rapid growth of these spiritual communities and the fact Falun Gong practitioners now outnumber Communist party members almost two-to-one?
I don’t know the answer, but either way it has to make you appreciate the religious freedom we have here in the United States. We’re free to follow whatever freaky religion we want—without the fear of having the government forcibly removing our body organs as a consequence.