Conference at University focuses on Chinese spiritual practices

by Andy Skemp

Those who attended the Falun Gong press conference Wednesday appeared tempted to restfully shut their eyes sometime during the second half-hour.
This peaceful drowsiness was not a symptom of boredom, but a reaction to the slow, methodical movements of the “five exercises,” as demonstrated by 20 local Falun Gong at the St. Paul Student Center.
The conference, held in response to the Chinese government’s recent ban on the spiritual system, provided basic information about the ideology and practices of Falun Gong. Since the ban was announced on July 22, the Chinese government has arrested more than 1,000 Falun Gong practitioners, accusing the spiritual group of trying to develop political power.
“We want to let others know the truth about what is going on in China and the truth about Falun Gong,” said Yu Zhou, a University mechanical engineering doctoral candidate.
The teachings of Falun Gong combine aspects of martial arts, Buddhism, Taoism and conservative social ideals on how to live a moral life.
“It’s a high-level science. When I practice, my physical body feels very healthy,” said Zhou, who has been a practitioner for more than two years.
Zhou said he knew of at least four other students at the University who practiced Falun Gong.
Cheng Wan, a first year mathematics graduate student at the University, said he first began to practice Falun Gong three years ago in his hometown of Shashi, China.
Wan said that he and his family have been directly affected by the recent Communist government crackdown.
“When I call home, people listen to our conversation. I can hear somebody breathing on the other end of the line,” Wan said.
“When we bring up Falun Gong, they cut the line. It’s really terrible, what they’re doing over there,” he said.
The founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, has been living in the United States for several years. Though there is one master teacher, practitioners maintain that Falun Gong is not a cult.
“Cults follow people. We follow the principles he (Li Hongzhi) teaches — truth, compassion and forbearance,” said John Nania, a consultant in Minneapolis who has practiced Falun Gong for about three months.
Nania said that, while cults ask for money and demand that members give up everything, Falun Gong does neither.
According to practitioner Jingduan Yang, there are about 100 participants in the Twin Cities area.
Yang, an acupuncturist who has lead many local study groups, based his approximation on the turnout at weekly group practices, which take place at Como Park and the University’s St. Paul Student Center.
While local practitioners are free to talk about and practice Falun Gong, their 70,000 Chinese counterparts are not so lucky.
After banning public and private practice of Falun Gong in July, the Communist government ordered the arrests of nearly 1,200 government officials accused of associating with the meditation group. Numerous arrests took place prior to the ban’s enforcement.
While Li Hongzhi and his practitioners maintain that Falun Gong is not subversive, secretive or politically orientated, the Chinese government claims that they spread superstition, stir up trouble and sabotage social stability.
Yang said that the Chinese government has reacted because it fears both the sheer numbers of practitioners and difference between Falun Gong ideology and Communist ideals.