Falun Gong Before the Persecution

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Throughout the 1990s, before they were cast as Public Enemy No. 1 in Chinese regime propaganda, Falun Gong practitioners across China had a quiet joy about them. They had discovered the key to health and meaning in their lives and were eager to explore and share it.

They got up in the morning to do their “qigong” exercises—slow-motion movements followed often by a meditation, seated with legs in the lotus position—studied the Falun Gong texts together, and generally minded their own business.

Elizabeth Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner since 1997, would start her exercises at home at 3 a.m., before heading off to work at 6 a.m.; she went to the park on the weekends to meet with other Falun Gong practitioners, but in general engaged with the practice by herself.

“In China back then, you could go to any park or public space and you’d see people practicing Falun Gong. It was very harmonious,” she said. “No one would come and ask what your name is. After finishing practicing the exercises, you just go home.”

Zhang, like many others, was drawn to Falun Gong because of what she said were the immense health benefits that it conferred.

“Before I practiced Falun Gong, I never knew what it was like to have no illness,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in the Washington area.

Zhang was born with a congenital heart defect and underwent open-heart surgery at 11 years old. “My body was always weak. If anyone around me was sick, I would get sick. I could never escape the flu,” she said.

After practicing Falun Gong, colleagues and students would ask: “Teacher Zhang, do you do sports?” She would respond, “’I meditate. I practice Falun Gong.’”

The story of Cui Zijing, formerly a scientist at Tsinghua University, one of the most prestigious in China, is similar: Suffering from severe myocarditis, a kind of inflammation of the heart, she could only walk up one flight of stairs before needing to take a breather. “Sometimes I would wake up at night with my heart palpitating so hard that I was scared of dying,” she said.

Cui now lives in Chicago and left China in 2006, seven years after the persecution against her faith began. Before July 20, 1999, however, Cui was an active and enthusiastic practitioner of Falun Gong.

While it was the health concerns that impelled her to begin practicing, she quickly found that Falun Gong contained something much deeper than that. “I realized that this is actually a cultivation practice,” she said. The term refers to mind-body exercises that have been passed down for millennia in China, usually involving a combination of meditation and moral discipline.

“I didn’t know what cultivation was. I had only heard about Taoists cultivating in the mountains from reading martial arts books. I didn’t understand it,” Cui said, “After practicing Falun Gong, I realized ‘Oh, we’re actually doing cultivation practice, cultivating according to the nature of the universe.’”

The principles espoused by Falun Gong—truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance—were particularly attractive, Cui said, because she felt it was obvious that they were simple and good.

John Meng, a practitioner of Falun Gong who now resides in Australia as a scholar, said the first time he saw practitioners, “They were doing the fifth exercise in a grove. I felt their hand signs were very beautiful.” The fifth exercise is a sitting meditation. “The cheerful mood of mine at that time is hard to describe with human words since I knew I had hope for life,” he wrote in an email.

After he began practicing Falun Gong … more

Article by Matt Robertson/Epoch Times

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