Thursday, April 17, 2008

David Ownby's "Falun Gong and the Future of China"

David Ownby is Professor of History and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the Université de Montréal, in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in Early and Mid-Qing China: The Origins of a Tradition, and the co-author, with Qin Baoqi and Susan J. Palmer, of The Millennium and the Turning of the Kalpa: The Historical Evolution of Apocalyptic Discourse in China and in the West.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Falun Gong and the Future of China, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Falun Gong and the Future of China discusses Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s teachings about the limitations of science as an adequate tool for understanding the meaning of life. While the conflict between the Falun Gong and the Chinese state has been much in the news, Li’s teachings and Falun Gong practices remain obscure, and one of the goals of my book is to explain the nature of Li’s ideas and what made them attractive to millions of Chinese. I argue that Falun Gong, and indeed the larger qigong movement which gave rise to Falun Gong, represent a recycling of traditional Chinese medical and spiritual concepts related to healing and wellness, repackaged as a “new and improved Chinese science” beginning in the 1980s, as Mao’s Communist revolution withered and died. Tens if not hundreds of millions of Chinese followed one charismatic master or another, doing qigong exercises, buying qigong manuals, drinking qigong tea…in a nation-wide craze which swept urban China. Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi emerged in 1992, toward the end of the qigong boom, and accentued the moral and religious elements already implicit other schools of qigong, demanding that his followers read and reread his scriptures (available free on the internet) and promising them that moral behavior would help reduce their “karmic debt.” Li quickly attracted a following of several million and became a major player in the qigong world.

Chinese authorities initially supported qigong and Falun Gong, and many high Party officials were qigong practitioners. These leaders appreciated qigong and Falun Gong’s nationalistic pride in China’s traditional heritage, and hoped that a healthier population resulting from widespread qigong practice would reduce health care costs and contribute to good governance. As time passed, however, these same leaders came to realize that they had facilitated the creation of organizations of millions of people under charismatic leadership, a worrisome problem for an authoritarian regime concerned about its legitimacy. The result of China’s attempt to rein in the qigong movement was the spectacular demonstration of April 25, 1999, when some 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners staged a peaceful protest outside the gates of Chinese Communist Party headquarters in Beijing. The ensuing campaign of suppression continues to this day.
Read more about Falun Gong and the Future of China at the Oxford University Press website, and visit David Ownby's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue